Should Streamers Pay Game Developers to Stream Their Games?

by in General | Oct, 27th 2020

There are many complicated aspects of video games, be it the actual development of them and what happens when they come out. One particular element of games is streaming, and a recent topic has appeared online about should streamers pay game developers?

Google Stadia Creative Director Wants to See Streamers Pay Game Developers to Stream

Initially, looking at the question of ‘should streamers pay game developers?’ is a weird one. After all, why would a streamer need to do that? But that premise is what one particular game developer would like to see in the future.

This whole topic began recently with a tweet from Alex Hutchinson, the creative director for Google Stadia Games and Entertainment’s Montreal studio, formerly known as Typhoon Studios. He is a prominent figure in Stadia’s production, Google’s streaming service, that hasn’t exactly been too loved thus far.

Hutchinson posted on Twitter recently about the Twitch issue, which is its separate problem, where the company is cracking down on videos on its service that use copyrighted music. Copyrighted music is owned by someone else, so Twitch is nipping any legal issues in the bud by simply taking those videos down.

However, that was the only launching point for what Hutchinson wanted to say regarding streamers in general. The creative director noted on Twitter that content creators worried about losing their videos due to music that they didn’t pay for have something else to worry about.

Hutchinson claims that content creators should be more concerned about the fact that they’re streaming games and making money off something they haven’t paid for. He means paying for the right to use the game, not just purchasing the game at retail.

He further elaborated that he believes that streamers should pay developers and publishers of the games they want to stream. Hutchinson believes that content creators should have to purchase a license to stream the games, much like you would for copyrighted music.

His Tweet Does Not Reflect Google’s Stance

However, before we even answer the question of should streamers pay game developers, the story doesn’t even end there. Without a doubt, the opinion that the creative director has is a controversial one. It received its fair share of criticism on social media.

You could even say that his thoughts received criticism directly from his employer as well. In an official statement to 9to5Google, a spokesperson for the company stated that “the recent tweets by Alex Hutchinson… do not reflect those of Stadia, YouTube, or Google.”

That is pretty cut and clear there that Google isn’t going to back up what he is saying at this time. However, at the same time, we shouldn’t read between the lines about what the spokesperson was potentially alluding to and take it at face value.

It doesn’t end there either as the global head of gaming for YouTube Ryan Wyatt tweeted about the topic. Wyatt noted that publishers and content creators have a “wonderful relationship” that has allowed a “thriving ecosystem” to be created as part of it that has mutually benefited everyone involved.

Wyatt focuses on the benefits of the relationship that currently exists. Content creators can stream and make videos about games, benefiting themselves with new subscribers and, hopefully, money and helping the publisher/developer in the process.

For now, it looks like this is the bulk of the situation regarding what Alex Hutchinson had to say about the matter, kickstarting the conversation, and what Google itself has to say about it. That said, I would like to go even deeper into this post and dive into the heart of the matter.

Should Streamers Pay Game Developers?

I want to grasp the whole situation and answer the question: should streamers pay game developers? It is a complicated issue that could have varying answers depending on who you ask, especially since there is an established idea of how it works.

At this point, content creation has gone on for several years and only continues to grow and become a normal part of the video game community and even outside of it. People will stream just about anything these days like movies, TV shows, and so through their reactions.

A status quo created over the last several years and what Hutchinson is proposing would certainly demolish that in favor of a new way of handling things. This wouldn’t be unheard of to happen, but the question remains if it should happen.

The general idea is that streamers should pay game developers a license of some sort; a legally binding agreement states that the creator can use the game for streaming or video purposes. It would likely go into all the specifics of this is what you can do. This is what you can’t do.

For developers and publishers, this means more money goes into their pockets, potentially through this venture. The content creators will be out of some cash but will have the legal support of the companies who made the streaming games.

Before I answer should streamers pay game developers, I would like to go into the pros and cons of this idea. I want to explore why Hutchinson might want to see this happen and look at the negatives surrounding it before I give my conclusion.

Why Hutchinson Might Think That

For starters, what about this notion of streamers paying game developers for the ability to stream their games is a positive thing that would make Hutchinson want this to happen? Well, there are some positives to it, all mainly centered around the publishers and developers.

If content creators everywhere had to go to a website, sign a document, and pay a fee to companies before being legally allowed to stream a game, that would mean instant cash flowing into a game company that wasn’t going to be there otherwise.

That would certainly entice a creator like Alex Hutchinson since that means more revenue that is essentially just sitting there not received at this time. From a pure business perspective, that could make sense and is understandable to want, especially for story-driven games where thousands of people will watch someone else play it and not buy the game, potentially missing out on copies sold in the process.

This could also mean more money for developers to make more games like the one the creator is streaming, but this part is a little bit muddier. Publishers and developers have complicated relationships. The new scenario could result in only the publisher benefiting from this scenario. Hopefully, they both would.

But there is an essential factor beyond just cash that could make this idea more appealing to some companies: IP protection. Hutchinson brought this up because of copyrighted music, which has been a difficult part of content creation for some time.

Creators have to be very careful not to use music they don’t have the license to use, or else their video may just be removed, which is happening on Twitch currently. Even more, music isn’t the only one as streamers are unable to show movies or TV shows on their streams or videos.

So, what many streamers have to do to watch movies with their community is to show their facial reactions only while you watch the movie on another window or device simultaneously. This is for legal reasons, with games being one of the only exceptions to this rule where you can show pretty much the whole game without repercussions.

Negatives Against Licensing Games for Streaming

That said, there are some issues with this whole matter that needed to be accounted for. For one, it disrupts the relationship that has already been formed and established across several years. There are thousands and thousands of content creators out there who would be affected by this.

There are some whose livelihoods might even be negatively affected to the point where they would have to change their entire business model or quit the job entirely. This could potentially hurt the careers that some have made out of streaming and prevent new content creators from pursuing their dreams.

It all comes down to how much publishers would ask for streamers to pay for the rights to stream their game. If it is a modest sum of something like how much the game costs at retail, that is simple, but that wouldn’t likely be sufficient for such a substantial thing.

More than likely, it would be a variable factor based on how long the game is and how long the streamer streams it. A quick five-hour indie title would likely cost much less than a AAA open-world game. And then, what about those online multiplayer games that have endless hours?

Streamers would probably have to pay per hour streaming or give a percentage cut of every video/stream they make money off. This would make content creation not nearly as free or open as it is currently. This is a problem when the industry is built around that freedom.

Right now, I can boot up my PS4, boot up Call of Duty Warzone’s Haunting of Verdansk event or any other random game, and with no extra hardware or accessories, start live-streaming it in basically no time. And you can, too. Changing things this drastically would potentially mean that you and I are now subject to fees if we do that.

My Personal Opinion on the Matter

Before I get into my personal opinion on the matter, there is one final area that I would like to address about this issue, and that is the legal nature of everything. One thing that is a problem that needs addressing, I think, is the legal nature of streaming games.

This is still somewhat in a gray area, allowing everyone to have their interpretation of the matter. I think that the government should step in and work together with content creators and publishers to establish guidelines to protect everyone.

The best way of doing this is by possibly extending the fair use law that is already available to the press to content creators. With fair use, someone can report on a company and even use copyrighted materials, including videos, within reason to report on it.

This is something that content creation could fall into as streamers and YouTubers are the next iteration of press in this modern age. When you watch a stream, yes, you are being entertained first and foremost, but you are also informed about the title in question.

I think that this is something that needs clearing up legally, though, before a video game publisher out there announces you need a license to start streaming their games. I’m not saying it will happen, but I wouldn’t put it past some businesses simultaneously.

Overall, my opinion is that, no, there shouldn’t be licenses or fees for content creators to stream video games. I think they are part of the media and deserve to be able to use games to inform the community about them fairly, be it how good or bad they are.

While you can’t stream movies or TV shows, I do think that games are different. It is an interactive medium where seeing it in action and being played is necessary for its conversation. Here’s hoping that content creation remains that way: free for anyone to try out.


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