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The Blood Pact of Visibility

IndieMonth | 510d ago
User blog

By Ian Stocker
written for N4G
July 2, 2014

I was so proud of my tweet. Every now and then I craft a pretty good one, and it racks up a few RTs and faves. This one was well timed and succinctly expressed my opinion on the topic: should streamers and YouTubers have to pay royalties to devs? The argument is that some of the streamers make lots of money, so therefore some sort of mechanical payment is due to the original authors.

Right after I tweeted this, a couple people politely pointed out that radio stations in fact pay royalties to the copyright holders. Dammit, I should have known that.

Determined to not embarrass myself further, I did a bit of research. What I discovered was actually far more fascinating: even though there are rules requiring that mechanical payments from radio stations to artists, it’s not so cut and dried. And as I started to look at other entertainment crafts--acting, music performing, writing--I saw a trend, perhaps a sign of things to come our way.

Regardless of how you feel philosophically and ethically about streamers paying devs, the answer to this question is simple: It’s never going to happen. Get the legislature on board; see if that does any good. The market forces against this scheme are simply too great. I’ll explain why.

What it comes down to is visibility--the currency of the entertainment world. If you have lots of listeners, readers, fans, viewers, players… then you get sales and ad revenue. No visibility? Starvation. We can straight up pay for it (through ads) or we can do exchanges. Take a look through the self-help section of any bookstore and see how everyone gets a quote from one another for the book cover or jacket. Makes this book AND the source seem more legit. (Yeah, I know, self-help. But we’re troubled souls, we indies. Haven’t you seen the documentaries?)

Most of the time, these sorts of exchanges are out in the open. But doesn’t it put a damper on the mystique to have it say “Paid For By Budweiser” before the opening credits of a film? Hence product placement. But beware… the legislature has stepped in to set up some ground rules for this sort of thing, in the USA at least. Some types of cash-for-visibility exchanges need to be fully disclosed. Radio is a juicy subject for this phenomenon, so let’s get back to that for a minute.

If you’re the Rolling Stones, your visibility vastly exceeds any single radio station--so to have the privilege of playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, KROQ needs to pony up some cash (usually around 7 cents per spin, but mega hits cost more). BUT if you’re a new indie band and you want to get airplay, well--the radio station has to have a reason for giving you time instead of the hit song the audience wants to hear for the one millionth time. Make sense. Obviously, the solution is to build a case for your artistic merits by enclosing a brick of cash with your song submission.

The problem is, that’s illegal. It’s called payola--any form of playback that is paid for by the record label, without disclosure. Once in a while, everyone plays by the rules (Limp Bizkit wrote a check to get airtime when they were just starting out, and the song was preceded with a “paid for by Interscope Records” type of message). This is rare, though. It’s way more common for the station and the record company to collude and find a loophole in the law--money goes through a third party, takes the form of gifts instead of dollars… or if Congress is too on top of things this year, resorting to a briefcase full of cash passed under the table at Chili’s.

Why go through all this when you could just have the disclosure? You already know the answer. What’s most important is the illusion--listeners are going to ascribe airtime to a social demand, and thus, quality. The visible sponsorship takes a bite out of that. “Why do these guys have to pay to get airtime?” Not to mention the station’s own image: “These guys are taking money from labels who want to pimp out their songs? Sellouts.”

One other thing about music before we get back to games. Bear with me.

New artists looking to book gigs eventually have to answer a tough question: should I pay to perform? I’m the one providing the show for the venue. They even get to sell drinks thanks to me. Am I going to be part of this race to the bottom?

And it’s not just new bands are faced with this decision: Bruno Mars, for example, was paid zero dollars to perform in the Superbowl half time show. You can look at it one of two ways: a) he gave the NFL free content, or b) he got free advertising time valued at $8M per minute. Somewhat established newcomers performing on the X-Factor provide the show with all of their content, and are enthusiastic about footing their own bill for it (typically $100K). Nothing is sacred: actors pay to audition, usually through a service thinly disguised as a “casting workshop.” Kindle authors gladly pay for fake reviews--one enterprising chap made quite a sum offering this service, until Jeff Bezos cracked down on him. The list goes on--show me one corner of the entertainment world where there isn’t a similar exchange of cash for visbility landing somewhere on the shadiness spectrum.

This was originally going to be yet another article on the Indie Bubble, but I decided that this particular dead horse has taken enough of a beating, and you’ve been spared. (Somewhat. You were still forced to read about disclosure laws in radio.) But it all ties together, and with the onslaught of new releases increasing every day, getting airtime with Twitch streamers and YouTubers is VITAL. And I’m going to ask THEM for money? Do you think Activision will, either? (Okay, Nintendo might. They probably already have. I’m done researching though, so let’s get through this.)

But back to the shadiness spectrum. Where you fall on that depends on how transparent the sponsorship is. I think in nearly all cases right now, streamers are not paid to do let’s plays or video reviews. But is that going to change? Think of what’s at stake. One of my favorite YouTubers, EpicNameBro, said this in a video some months ago:

"I did have a couple of offers recently from people who were wanting me to promote their game on the channel. I said no, and it was harder than I thought it would be ... When somebody offers me a chunk of money to promote a game... it's tough, man. Part of me is proud of my integrity for saying no, but another part of me is kinda disappointed, because I feel like there was a price--there was an amount of money they could have offered me that would have bought me…"

Streamers don’t have to ask for money--the devs are OFFERING them cash. Kerbal recently started a referral system for just this purpose, completely out in the open. But is this going to become the norm? Will viewers skip past sponsored videos, afraid that the channel won’t take the gloves off for the games that deserve a thrashing? It’s hard to say.

I brought this up with a friend, who works for a major games website, hoping for a whistleblower-style expose on some sort of payola scandal at the top levels--an unholy cabal between AAA and the media. This will disappoint you, but it turns out they are incredibly cautious about what they can accept from the companies whose games they review. They even err on the side of upsetting the big name publishers, doling out scathing, low digit scores when they are truly deserved, which hurt their chances of securing exclusives next time around. Integrity is protected at all costs.

I wonder what I would really do if I found myself on the other side of ENB’s offer. I mean, when GameGrumps showcased Escape Goat 2 on Steam Train, sales doubled for five straight days. Tell me you wouldn’t consider the deal, if you were in my shoes! As Epic said, It’s Tough.

For now, I’ll stick to writing blog posts on prominent gaming sites, where no money has to change hands, and I can get a guest spot through old fashioned blackmail. Readers, thank you for indulging me, and N4G, I will destroy all copies of the pictures as agreed.


Radio Royalties: http://theunderstatement.co...
Payola Law: http://www.law.cornell.edu/...
Limp Bizkit: http://www.mtv.com/news/150...
Legal Sponsorship: http://www.nytimes.com/2005...
Bruno Mars: http://www.businessinsider....
X-Factor: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/...
Actors: http://www.clydefitchreport...
Kindle Authors: http://www.nytimes.com/2012...
EpicNameBro: http://youtu.be/a8OxKh1xRqs...
Kerbal: http://forum.kerbalspacepro...

Editor's Note
Blog image: Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro in Telling Lies in America

Day 3 | MagicalTimeBean

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Derekvinyard13  +   510d ago
There's no such thing as bad publicity!! Good read
randomass171  +   510d ago
Most forms of publicity is good, but I think Aliens Colonial Marines suffered from a lot of bad publicity. And just from being a bad game in general.
F4sterTh4nFTL   510d ago | Spam
IamRhino  +   510d ago
Great stuff goats
Caffo01   510d ago | Spam
beepbopadoobop  +   510d ago
I hope some day I can be a goat.
dictionary  +   510d ago
Keep up the good work.
FogLight  +   510d ago | Well said
That is indeed a sensitive topic for YTers and streamers in gaming for some time and this article was a damn fantastic read about it!

Please, continue your hard work in your future games. You got fans waiting now :)
thoffman7411  +   510d ago | Interesting
great article. As a streamer i do not think we should ever have to pay royalties. Look at it this way. Someone is watching me play your game. That's free advertising. If someone is wanting to get the game but wants to see what it is all about, it gives them the chance get a look. And now for a free advertisement for me, you can find my channel at twitch.tv/ihazgamezz. We are also on YouTube/Facebook/Twitter. come check us out.
randomass171  +   510d ago
But what if the Let's Player is tearing the game apart? Game Grumps have done that on occasion and I think it would entice people to avoid the game as oppose to buying it. That's not to say that only positive LPs should exist, but it's worth noting that not all LPs are necessarily free advertising.
thoffman7411  +   498d ago
I do agree with you that everyone should take what we say with a grain of salt. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Also i am going to give my followers an honest opinion of what i think of the game i am playing.
SpeedDemon  +   510d ago
Great read, very insightful.
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Valenka  +   510d ago
Really good read, this. It was a great insight into the financial struggles of the indie universe.
MightyNoX  +   510d ago
I think it shows strength of character that you'd be willing to concede there are other points of view besides your own. Good read.
Nineball2112  +   510d ago
Really good read and it raised some really good points! I can certainly see where the temptation would be there to both take money for reviews and to pay them to get exposure to your games.

Thanks for the blog!
jpepsi24  +   510d ago
This is ridiculous
who wouldnt want people who potentially wouldnt see the game get interested
Disagree  +   510d ago
most streamers make shit. and the successful ones probably make the real money from merchandise sales and generous donations
xHeavYx  +   510d ago
Great article
HammadTheBeast  +   510d ago
Good tweet.
mydyingparadiselost  +   510d ago
What a compelling read. Thank you.
gobluesamg  +   510d ago
Interesting article. Well done.
sanosukegtr123  +   510d ago
Very interested. Love a good read.
Juliussmith12  +   510d ago
Thanks for game man.
ExCest  +   510d ago
ichizon  +   510d ago
I think the issue is with publishers and story-based, well advertised games. I don't think any good indie games have been taken down for copyrights. Some people would rather watch a playthrough of an RPG rather than play it themselves. The question is though, whether these people would've bought the game in the first place.

Let's playing on YouTube, in addition to being entertainment, has become sort of like an extensive demo. People will check out a game this way, and if it looks fun enough to play, they might buy it. For an unadvertised game to get any publicity is pretty much guaranteed to boost sales. Bad publicity can do a lot of harm to a game when the game is not playable, but there are so few examples of that happening.

I have so much to say on this subject, but I feel the comment field is the wrong place to discuss it in length. ;;
MagicalTimeBean  +   510d ago
If we devs saw let's plays harming sales, we would probably be on board with a movement to curb it. But since it has such a positive impact on revenue, we're not going to start invoking copyright law... well, I can only speak for myself. Some indies might prefer to keep the game experience within the game itself.
randomass171  +   510d ago
It definitely seems to be a huge help to indies. I saw A Hat in Time gain a lot of traction because of an Alpha Let's Play that Jaltoid did, as well as other LPers. Do you feel that this will translate to AAA development later on or is this just for indies?
pyrocloud7  +   510d ago
Ian Stocker you are exactly the kind of Indie Developer the world needs, we have enough nonsense insanity with Phil Fish. It is refreshing to see a developer that understands and encourages game streaming, besides the fact that there is no reason not to, it's free advertising for your game!
MrxDeath  +   510d ago
Really Good read
amazing game and really good read
PrimeGrime  +   510d ago
I can understand where you are coming from but then there are people who do make money from streaming material they really aren't doing much in, it may be free advertising but some of these youtubers are probably making more a year than the poor developers do off the games their streaming as crazy as it sounds.

So it is kind of a messed up situation but I agree on the points made, overall it is a good thing for it to be free and unrestricted, just saying at the same time there is a bad side to it which is why people are making a fuss about it.

Speaking of rich youtubers, I ran into PewDiePie last night on Mario Kart 8. Lol.
#25 (Edited 510d ago ) | Agree(0) | Disagree(0) | Report | Reply
MagicalTimeBean  +   510d ago
I would guess that the YTers who make a killing are doing it by adding a lot to the experience with personality and commentary. If you just sit back and play the game, you're not going to get the kind of traffic it takes for Google to write you a check.
PrimeGrime  +   509d ago
For sure, not denying that.
randomass171  +   510d ago
I do like the idea of publisher funded LPers to be honest. Even if they take a cut, they can provide the LPers free games and sometimes even alpha/beta builds. Hopefully there is a solution that will satisfy everyone.
PSNintyGamer  +   510d ago
The More Games like these, the better
Virtua_Awesome  +   510d ago
Good read. And man, payed Let's plays are really something to think about. I definitely think that people on Youtube should disclose if they were payed or not.
RexDD  +   510d ago
Wow great read, didn't expect something so deep.
Robochobo  +   510d ago
Guy sounds sincere and nice to his fanbase and the consumers. Wish there were more people like in him in this industry.
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