It’s a bad day to be the producer of game videos on YouTube. Dozens of YouTubers are reporting that they’ve received copyright claims against tens or sometimes hundreds of their videos.
The copyright claims seem to be coming not from game publishers, but as a result of tightening of restrictions to how you’re allowed to monetize videos. In fact, numerous game publishers – including Ubisoft, Blizzard, Deep Silver and Capcom – have reached out to offer help against the claims.
This gets complicated quickly and is the tip of the iceberg as far as the potential problems of distributing game videos on YouTube goes. If you play games, there’s a good chance you spend a portion of your time watching other people play games, as a source of advice, criticism, journalism and entertainment. It’s probably worth being aware of some of the issues surrounding the scene, then.
This story technically started last week, when YouTube announced a change in the way videos belonging to Affiliates of Multi-Channel Networks would be reviewed before monetization. The new system would potentially leave your videos in limbo for days while they were checked. That’s a significant change to the process, especially if making YouTube videos is your business.
There’s a larger problem: videogame channels are almost entirely dependent on third-party materials. If a videogame publisher hasn’t explicitly granted you permission to record their game, there’s no guarantee that you can monetize the content within the video without YouTube putting a mark against your name. Worse, if that game has music, and that music is released on a soundtrack album, then you might find that YouTube’s Content ID process automatically matches that audio against a record company’s catalogue.
This is essentially what has started happening, as reported by CVG. TetraNinja (480,000 subscribers) has had 350+ previously uploaded videos blocked thus far under the tighter restrictions. TheRadBrad (1.9 million subscribers) is experiencing the same. The list of affected YouTubers keeps growing.
For their part, the games industry at large seems to be doing what they can to help. As noted above, Ubisoft, Blizzard and more have all made public statements via Twitter, their own sites or elsewhere, offering to clear the automated copyright claims as fast as they can and offering instructions for how affected producers can get in touch. Here’s Bossa Studios, the developers of Surgeon Simulator 2013, giving their permission to monetize footage of their games.
All of this serves to highlight both the ways the games industry has changed just over the last three years, and the enormous risks and problems that exist within the system that’s built up within YouTube.
Whatever you think of the rise of the YouTube star – and some people sure don’t like it – the rise is undeniable. Producers of YouTube videos are making big money (how many people do Yogscast employ now?) from enormous audiences.
Those huge audiences have been around for a while now, and now the industry has caught up. Nintendo aside (maybe), games publishers and developers recognise the power of popular people playing their games. There are reasons to be worried about that increasingly cosy relationship, but in theory it’s a good thing for all involved, including viewers.
But if you’re a creator of YouTube videos, surely you need to be concerned about the stability of your business.
I’ve worked at a website where erroneous copyright claims were made against our videos. If you’re dependent on YouTube for making money from video content, that’s disastrous, as even a single strike against your YouTube account can limit the account’s functionality within the site and impact anything from the length of videos you’re able to upload to your ability to monetise those videos with advertising.
Theoretically there’s a process in place for you to get those copyright claims removed, but it’s flimsy. Often claims are made against your account by automated systems, not people. Often claims are made against your account by people who are hard to contact, or who don’t speak the same language. Often speaking to Google themselves, whether or not you have an existing business relationship with them, is like screaming into a well and hoping something echoes back.
The system is also open to abuse from those who want to use copyright claims maliciously, as demonstrated within the game community just last month when Videogamer.com‘s Matt Lees made a video criticising Microsoft for hiring contentious YouTuber KSI. A copyright claim was filed against the video for using clips from content produced by KSI.
Those clips were used in service of criticism, for which copyright law makes allowances. That didn’t stop the video from being instantly removed and a strike being placed against the Videogamer.com channel. Even though the video was quickly re-uploaded without the supposedly infringing examples from KSI’s videos, YouTube’s rickety system for resolving or verifying claims meant that it only took a few clicks for someone to remove criticism, bury something, and essentially punish those who dared to be critical.
The copyright claims happening now are the result of an algorithm and an automated process, and so we can’t necessarily blame individuals or companies. But as a source of business, and as a medium for criticism, YouTube is fragile. It’ll continue to be that way for as long as people continue to upload 100 hours of video to the service every minute, and for as long as a portion of that vast content is copyright infringing and legitimately needs removing.
I’m not sure I’d call the current system a bubble. YouTube is where the viewers are. It’s still much better than any rival video service. Other video players which games websites might build into their own site tend to offer a horrible user experience. But I guess for the first time in a long time, I’m relieved that I only write about games, even if scratchy, unpleasant ASCII is never going to make me as famous among a brood of idiot children as screeching incomprehensibly into a microphone while pretending to be scared by some fucking horror game.
I’m relieved because any time there’s a business structure that’s dependent on the flighty whims of another company or industry – even one as tangential to gaming as Google – it introduces stresses and pressures that serve to warp creative content. I’m concerned because as a viewer, that’s important for everyone to know about, especially if you’re reliant on that creative content as a source of, as above, advice, criticism, journalism and entertainment.
 Multi-Channel Networks are conglomerates of different YouTube channels, and include popular sources for game content like Machinima.com, RoosterTeeth and Polaris. MCNs offer popular YouTubers an easier route to making money from their videos, by helping to manage monetization, promotion and other business-related services.
 There are two types MCN channels, “Affiliate” or “Managed”, and in each case the MCN performs different duties. The changes announced last week were for Affiliate channels, and introduced a kind of random copyright check, in which certain videos would be pre-screened by YouTube for copyright approval before being uploaded. The more your uploaded videos passed the check, the less often your videos would have to go through the pre-approval process.
 Alright, so I slipped that in there at the end, but actually this kind of YouTube-related snobbery is already old, boring, and no longer reflective of the breadth and quality of videos being produced on a daily basis. Whether you want to watch Let’s Plays, gaming news or opinion, there’s a lot of great stuff out there. Check out Matt’s other videos for starters. Also, I regularly lose entire evenings flicking through Twitch livestreams “in the background” of whatever I’m meant to be doing, whether its Salty Bet, miscellaneous esports tournaments or whatever else. So before you go slamming the entire field, maybe consider that you just haven’t found the material among the hundreds of millions of videos that’s right for you.
 Are you a popular videogame YouTuber, streamer, or do you work for an MCN? Get in touch! Either to correct me on the mistakes or misguided nonsense I’ve written above, or if you’d like to be interviewed for an inside perspective on how this all works.