The Streaming Situation of Video Games

Streaming games has become a major part of the industry in recent years. For consumers, it’s given them another avenue to experience games. Streamers have become big names and have even turned it into a job. Through streaming, developers have another way to advertise their games and get them noticed by the public.

But just like the rest of the industry, this movement has spread rapidly in every which way and raises an important debate: Are gamers entitled to stream?

streaming video games

The Situation:

When it comes to YouTube and Twitch, there is a lot of video content about video games available. From how- to’s, to full walk-throughs to literally no-commentary plays of games. If there is a video game out there, then chances are that someone, somewhere, has video content of it up. For older games, this is a major part of remembering them.

And for the newer games, this is a huge part of revenue for developers and streamers/youtubers. Having people talking about and streaming your game is free advertisement which is vital for smaller games. For the content creators, showing the latest games gets them subscribers and ad revenue on their respective channels.

I’ve spoken to several Indie developers who talked about how the praise from high-profile Youtubers helped raise awareness for their titles.

As we’ve talked about before, a big part of being a streamer/YouTuber is Fair Use. Fair Use protects people who use existing property in a transformative way to make it their own. However, there is a major debate as to just how much streaming helps, or hurts, a game’s success.

What’s Stream-able?

There are two parts of this debate. To start with, we have to talk about the types of games out there. There is no such thing as an established game length for a video game. There are games that are only a few hours long, to 80+ hour grand tales.

For smaller, or “art” games, they are designed as a singular experience. Titles like the Last of Us, the Walking Dead and That Dragon Cancer can only be experienced for real one time. These games were designed around a linear playthrough regardless of the player’s experience or knowledge of the game.

streaming video games

There are many games that offer different plays depending on the person playing

When you have games like this, watching any footage of cutscenes or solutions changes how someone would play that game. For many story-driven games, the big question is: How many people would still buy them if they watched the ending elsewhere?

How Much to Stream?

The other point has to do with how much of a game’s content is up for streaming. For many action-based titles, there is still fixed content that can pop up in a game. The Metal Gear Solid series is infamously known for its massive cut-scenes that stop all action. Even if someone is providing unique commentary, does there come a point when they’re hurting a game’s marketability?  If someone goes from beginning to end of a video game, does that rob the developer of potential sales?

Unfortunately, streaming is still too young of a market to have hard data on that statistic. There is a big difference between showing a battle in a RPG vs. showing every cutscene in the game.

With those two points said, we have to talk about things from the supporter’s point of view.

The Transformative Factor:

Supporters and content creators will argue that they are protected by fair use and the transformative factor. Even though everyone is showing the same content, the creator’s own personality and expertise are adding something new to the experience.

streaming video games

Just as there are games that are locked to one path through regardless of the player

While I agree with that, there’s a point where I don’t think that’s true. For people who stream or record narrative-focused or overly linear games, the experience is going to be the same for everyone.

In this case, there’s not much a creator can add to make watching them play a linear game different from others.

For games that are built either on replayability or player customization, that’s a different story. In these games, the person playing provides their own unique spin on the gameplay and everyone will have a different time playing it.

Fan Entitlement:

This is a tricky one. The game industry has a tendency to move really fast in terms of new concepts and practices, without anyone stopping to talk about it. It seems like all of a sudden streaming and let’s plays became a major part of gamer culture. Without a collective “no,” it has exploded into a major part of advertising and playing games.

As developers have pulled away from having demos, let’s plays have become a major way to learn about a game before taking the plunge. The big question however is this: Are consumers entitled to this content? It has become a case where it’s always assumed to be a given, and developers see push-back when they fight against the trend. Once a developer has taken a stand, they have to adhere to what they said.

But there is one other point we have to bring up: Should there be a statute of limitations when it comes to blocking content? Is it within a developer’s rights to deny any and all content from their game to be shown online forever?

A License to Stream?

We are still early in the grand scheme of streaming, and developers need to start setting some rules. I don’t think every game should be stream-able, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the developer to decide.

Just as YouTube and Twitch have given voices to people, it’s also given them the power to use video games for their own purpose. Just as there are so many people trying to be game journalists, should there be a standard for streamers/let’s players? Could a developer or platform limit who is allowed to show footage of a game online?

Again, these are all big questions that have remained unanswered by the industry. Until there is a definitive agreement, it’s only going to get even more confusing from here.