Quote of the Day – Streamers Should Pay

Streamers worried about getting their content pulled because they used music they didn’t pay for should be more worried by the fact that they’re streaming games they didn’t pay for as well. It’s all gone as soon as publishers decide to enforce it.

-Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director for something owned by Google, on Twitter

This was sort of toss out of left field I wasn’t expecting.

This all started on Wednesday when Amazon’s Twitch streaming service delete a large number of saved video stream for DCMA takedown requests without notice or an option to appeal, followed by an email about how streamers should familiarize themselves with the DCMA process… which isn’t supposed to work like that.

Twitch is Twitch

That is a whole tempest in itself, and Ars Technica has a good summary.

So a lot of streamers were pretty upset about this.  And onto the hot coals of their ire, Mr. Hutchinson decided to pour is own oil of scorn.

This was followed by two more tweets:

Streamers worried about getting their content pulled because they used music they didn’t pay for should be more worried by the fact that they’re streaming games they didn’t pay for as well. It’s all gone as soon as publishers decide to enforce it.

The real truth is the streamers should be paying the developers and publishers of the games they stream. They should be buying a license like any real business and paying for the content they use.

Leaving aside the whole “kicking people when their down” aspect of this tweet, which is loathsome in itself, I can think of no quicker way to put an end to video game streaming that trying to extract a license tax from streamers.  A few streamers make some decent money, but most make little to nothing, and any fee would just put a stop to them.

And he seems to be pretty sure that game publishers can make this happen.  I’m not sure if the EULA and or ToS of every single video game is up to the task, but it is possible I suppose.  Shut it all down.  That is what he appears to want.

Remember, this comment is in a world where some game companies give popular streamers free copies of their games to play and often promote such streams.

And that isn’t the only problem with this sentiment.  It also appears to equate video games with forms of entertainment like music or movies, things that yield the same experience if you buy it yourself or listen/watch somebody play it online.  That seems to be a stretch for me.  Watching people play video games is a very different experience in my book than actually playing a video game.

Then there is the fact that, here in 2020, that horse appears to be well and truly out of the barn and gone.  If you can’t stream it, or have the saved recordings of those streams, what does that mean for YouTube?  We’re about fifteen years down the road on game videos on that front.

However, I think the most shocking thing about these statements is that they don’t really seem to be something others in the industry have been grumbling about.  “Streamers should be paying us!” isn’t something I’ve heard, and this is an industry that boils over now and then about used game sales, Steam sales, the cut apps stores (and Steam) take on sales, the cut physical retail stores take on sales, any barrier between them and publishing, too much competition due to lack of barriers to publishing, and the fact that people won’t spend their money on crappy 99 cent games rather than their morning latte.

Oh, and piracy.  Always piracy.  Literally a “make devs angry” thing for at least forty years, and one that has seen more money thrown at it for less benefit than anything I can think of.

But Mr. Hutchinson clearly sees this as piracy, so there is no doubt that fire in his belly on the topic, having been a game developer himself in the past.  And, as was pointed out over at MMO Fallout, he has had his own issues in the past. and might even be stretching the truth in his Twitter bio.

The funniest thing about today’s streaming drama is that everyone thinks Alex Hutchinson runs Google Stadia (because his Twitter bio says “Creative Director @ Google Stadia”). He’s actually a creative director at a Montreal game studio that was purchased by Google last December

[He has since updated his profile to reflect this.]

Anyway, being a creative director of some sort at Google’s means he likely isn’t in a position to do anything about this.  It looks like just so much hot air.  And I doubt there are many studios out there keen to press this issue and make enemies of streamers.  This is akin to the Mark Twain saying about not arguing with a man who buys ink by the barrel.  The videos are already blossoming on YouTube and elsewhere about this.  It may die down soon, but the embers will remain, ready to burst into flames it stoked.

I’m also pretty sure most game studios or publishers are smart enough give this idea a wide berth.  Even EA can’t be dumb enough to get on board with this idea.  And Google has made sure to carefully distance itself from the idea.  In a statement they said:

The recent tweets by Alex Hutchinson, creative director at the Montreal Studio of Stadia Games and Entertainment, do not reflect those of Stadia, YouTube or Google.

Google is not keen to burn bridges or throw away whatever small success they have managed to eke out with Stadia.

So, in the end, one person’s noxious opinion did not represent their company or the industry and probably would have largely ignored if their profile had not represented their position as a senior exec at Stadia and not somebody in a subsidiary far from Google HQ.  The status quo was maintained.

But, as we well know, the internet is a place where bad ideas find followers easily.  This might come up again.  Some other company exec, one with actual influence this time, could grab on tot his idea and run with it.  And if they do, I’ll buy some popcorn.  The drama will be excellent.

Others on this topic:

15 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – Streamers Should Pay

  1. bhagpuss

    Didn’t we already have this conversation a few years back? I swear i remember there being some furore about one or more well-known games company threatening to clamp down on streamers for abuse of intellectual property or some such.

    I’m not so sure about there being all that much difference between watching people playing games and watching people listen to music/watch movies or t.v. shows though, other than that the former is currently a lot more popular. There are plenty of videos on YouTube where people “react” to songs or movies or shows, which is basically talking over music or video while making a big deal of it, as far as I can make out. Not that I actually watch any of them, you understand…

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. kiantremayne

    I can see where the guy is coming from. That’s not the same as me saying that charging streamers licence fees is actually a good idea, but from the game publisher’s point of view those streamers are (in a few, most popular cases) making money from the intellectual property that they spent millions of dollars developing, so why shouldn’t they ask for a cut of the proceeds? As for the “but I’m giving you free advertising” argument – well yes, but the publisher may or may not decide that the advertising is worth the licence revenue he’s forgoing. If it’s worth it, then he can decide to let the streamer stream for free, but that’s a decision for the PUBLISHER to make.

    Practically speaking, most streamers don’t make enough money to be worth pursuing for that cut, and the revenue earned wouldn’t be worth the bad publicity shitshow that would ensue. But if a publisher did decide to enforce a TOS that said that the copy of the game you bought was for your personal entertainment only, they would legally be in the right.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @FuzzySteve – MMORPGs like EVE Online are especially suited to streaming too. You can sit and watch things happen that might be one of a kind, or at least once in a blue moon, events that you don’t just “get” by subscribing.

    @bhagpuss – My problem is that his argument is based on an assertion that seeing a video game played is the same as reading a book, seeing a movie, or listening to a song. To my mind, video games a very different experience. Listing to a song on YouTube is an effective replacement to me buying the CD and listening to is. Same experience. Watching somebody play a video game is a completely different experience… again, in my eyes at least… than playing one myself.

    People reacting to pop culture… music or movies… sometimes rise to what I guess could be considered a transformative experience… something apart from just the music or movies themselves… but it is pretty rare.

    @kiantremayne – Could a company do it? Probably. There are already many noxious elements buried in EULAs and ToS agreements. Would you want to do it? You would want to at least have all the major publishers get on board before you tried. No matter what you’ll drive away all the small streamers, but the few that make money will simply avoid your games as well if went that route alone. They’ll still make money and your games won’t get any screen time.

    This is why I brought up piracy. That is stealing and maybe a company shouldn’t take it laying down. The problem is that the more onerous you get with methods to fight it, the more it pisses off the users who buy the game and just want to play. Ubisoft is on my “never buy” list due to horrendous anti-piracy schemes long ago. Steam was too for a stretch, for banning my legally purchased retail copy of HalfLife 2 back when that launched. You don’t want to become that company. The cost is greater than the upside and, in my experience, most companies have more important things to worry about.

    I think most times somebody makes the “for exposure” argument, it is BS. But in this case, people streaming arguably does not cost the company anything… they don’t have to “do” anything, and the experience of watching a stream of a game is not the same as playing the same game… and at times it can be of great benefit to the company… look at how Among Us is doing lately, all because a popular streamer picked it up two years after it launched… again, with no cost associated.

    And then there is the irony front, because Stadia is setup up to let players stream over YouTube, both owned by Google, so the “for exposure” is built into that whole ecosystem, which makes his particular complaint especially meaningless.

    In a way, this idea reminds me of the guy who had a patent for something that he managed to claim applied to podcasts. Then he went and sued a bunch of podcasters and found out that making a podcast was not a lucrative profession and that he stood to make almost nothing even if he got those he sued to pay for his legal fees. Not worth the worry or effort.

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  5. Kaylriene

    My favorite bit of trivia about this whole saga is the fact that this is the first time Stadia trended on Twitter since, I believe, the announcement, and it came so soon after their multi-day series of Stadia announcements that were supposed to be exciting which makes it extra funny (from outside looking in, of course).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Kaylriene – It certainly got attention. And some people went off the deep end with it. I saw one video on YouTube with a title along the lines of “Google Stadia Bans Streaming.”

    I was wondering if this would become something like the XBox guy who wrecked his career by getting angry at people complaining about the always connected to the internet feature or if it would die down like the “Don’t you guys have phones” quip from the Diablo Immortal demo at BlizzCon. Seems like more of the latter, though Mr. Hutchinson is taking a bit of a break from social media right now.

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  7. Space Noob

    I think it’s indicative that the normal media still don’t really understand gaming. They can’t parse that this is one fool whose associated marketing department is reeling in horror that they won’t get global free press anymore. It seems like it’s a statement from someone in industry anonymous middle management, hired for generality. I’d probably fire him and probably formally warn the people that hired him. I can see the intellectual property issue but it’s par for the course. I can’t recall the time I last bought a game without checking out a streamer actually playing it first.

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  8. SynCaine

    Considering video game companies, including the makers of huge titles like PUBG, court streamers to play their games, this take is so off its a joke. How this guy works in gaming and thinks this is… well something.

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  9. Nogamara

    My first thought was that the guy was ridiculous, but thinking more about it.. if we ignore the small streamers who just try to make a living and focus on the ones being better paid than the people who made the game… (and maybe not having to work crunch time for months).

    But this doesn’t mean that I agree, maybe just that capitalism has its downsides and people who “made it big” due to a certain game maybe should get some tiered pricing of giving 5% of their revenue once they break 5k revenue per month? Twitch takes their cut from subs and sub donations and bits, maybe the game studios are indeed entitled to some sort of royalty, like when playing a song. It gets complicated when there’s a lot of money involved..

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  10. zaphod6502

    @Nogamara – You can count on two hands the number of streamers that make a decent amount of money out of streaming. I will agree though this is something Twitch themselves would need to address as they are the company that takes a cut from revenue generated from streaming. This whole issue is a very slippery slope and will hurt all parties involved if royalties payments are forced on streamers. It will kill the game streaming community except for the very few that make 90% of the money.

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  11. swiftrainatsea

    I can actually think of one good and one potential reason a company might want to pull down streaming of a game of thiers. One is if the streamer is behaving so badly making racists joke for example while streamng your game may well look like potential brand damage and you would want a method to stop it. The second is for hevily narrative games where spoiling the plot and thus making the game rather less good for other. Firewatch springs to mind for the second, having watched it I have no desire to play (and buy) it. But like piracy I am only a lost sale if you think of it that way, you could also say that given i would never have hear of it otherwise I would also never have bought it if not seen it.

    Both of these though are rare examples but i think vaild, lets have a little nuanace rather than all goor or all bad. I suspsect the end result will be streamng will be find, as the larger company know that ganing a reputation as nasty is easy loosing it is hard.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @swiftrainatsea – Companies already have a vehicle for that. They can use the DMCA to take down content. Nintendo does that quite frequently with YouTube videos that use its games or IP for anything about which they may not approve. I’ve even seen a few companies abuse the DMCA to try and pull down negative reviews of games because they used images or clips from the game. So that is covered.

    This guy doesn’t want streamers to stop. he’s angry that some of them are making money doing it. He spent some of his career at Ubisoft, which has long had a culture of resentment about their players, so I suppose I should not be surprised.

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