Microsoft Now Let's-Play Friendly? (No) / by Benjamin Sawyer

EDIT (Jan 20 2015, 5:45 P.M.):

This article was written in response to the originally posted Microsoft Game Content Usage Rules, which were archived by the WayBack machine here. The rules have since been changed to specifically address the objections contained in this article. You can read the new rules here.  -- R. Alex Holton


Let's Players, Gaming Channels, Twitch, and YouTube content creators now have from Microsoft what many developers and publishers have refused to give anyone; monetization rights.

Fair Use, Copyright, and Trademark rules, regulations, and laws are some of the most complicated and convoluted laws on the books, and each Country generally has their own set. Most videogame publishers have kept mum on offering official 'monetization' rights for online content creators, preferring instead to shut down those Let's-Players or Streamers that draw their attention in negative ways. On the other hand, publishers like Valve and Paradox Interactive have decided to embrace online content-creators by issuing blanket “We Allow Everything” statements, choosing to embrace the free advertising generated by popular let's-players rather than the tight control over their intellectual property that a more restrictive policy would allow.

Microsoft has joined the ranks of those embracing this free-advertising, but it comes with a rather large caveat: If you want to create a YouTube video, stream a game on Twitch, or (potentially) write a review of a Microsoft game, you cannot use the name in the title.

You may stream the game on Twitch, create a series of Let's-Play videos and post them on YouTube, or review the game, but you cannot name it, “Let's Play Halo”, or “Halo Review”, or “Halo Walkthrough”, or “Newbie's Guide to Halo”

More than likely this policy will not actually effect creators of reviews, since those are, by and large, covered under Fair Use law meant to protect freedom of the press. However, the line can be very blurred when it comes to online video content. A review that includes gameplay is okay, but a let's-play that includes a review is not? How much game is allowed to be showed before it triggers this policy? A literal interpretation of these rules would disallow monetized reviews, let's-plays, game guides, walkthroughs, and basically anything from using the game's title in the name of the content.

Microsoft is to be commended for issuing a statement that specifically allows online content-creators to make money doing what they do, and honestly it is a position that just makes sense for both Microsoft and the content-creators themselves. Microsoft gets their games in front of a lot more people when people like TotalBiscuit or Jesse Cox or PewDiePie do a review or a Let's-Play of one of their games, and official statements of this kind take away much of the worry of creating this kind of content in the first place. It is a lot of work to record, engineer, edit, and encode a 20-30 minute review and then upload it to YouTube, and streaming for 2-3 hours at a time must be absolutely exhausting. To be in constant worry that your livelihood, getting money from advertisements on your videos, may be in jeopardy due to copyright claims (justified or not) simply adds insult to injury.

Microsoft's newly revised Game Content Usage Rules may be a large step in the right direction, but by following them the content-creator would have their livelihood damaged. Who would watch a review titled “Review of New Shooter from Microsoft”? Who would search for that title on YouTube? The end result of this policy is that Let's-Players will simply not play Microsoft titles, because they will not make money off of the resulting Let's-Play. If the potential viewers cannot find the video because the title of the game isn't in the title of the video, the video will not provide enough money to the Let's-Player to justify additional work, or additional episodes.

Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot here, because the reason for this policy (as stated in the Usage Rules) is “We want to make sure consumers don't get confused”. Microsoft wants to ensure that when a potential consumer searches for “Halo”, they reach Microsoft's official content before they reach a review, or a let's-play. In so doing they are committing to paying for more advertising in order to get the same results as if they simply allowed content-creators to use the title in the name. Microsoft is further alienating their most ardent fans, the ones who create this content, by relegating them to the depths of search engine rankings and refusing to allow them the recognition they need to continue producing content of this kind.

~R. Alex Holton