Roughly a year ago, Nintendo began a bold plan of declaring war on well-known YouTubers who created "let's play" videos using Nintendo IP. Well, perhaps war isn't the right word. Suddenly and swiftly, it claimed these YouTube videos through the site's system that then allowed it to push ads into the videos, the revenue for which it shared between YouTube and itself, leaving the videomakers out in the cold. It was misguided in several ways, the most obvious being that these kinds of videos and their creators are essentially free advertising for Nintendo, getting the word out to potential customers about games they may then pick up. It strains the mind to think of any large numbers of people who might substitute a "let's play" video for actually playing the game themselves, but Nintendo is Nintendo, so the company opted for control over goodwill.
Perhaps only coincidentally (or maybe not...), the last year has been rough for the gaming company. Console sales are down across the board, and Nintendo appears to be pinning its hopes on a couple of triple-A games coming out to save its skin -- which makes it all the more interesting that Nintendo is also announcing a new plan to share ad revenue with YouTubers who sign up for its affiliate program.
Nintendo's statement came from a series of messages on its Japanese Twitter account that mentioned "several affiliate programs" for YouTube users that would allow them to "receive a portion of the advertising revenue" coming from videos featuring gameplay footage. I reached out to the company for additional information, and here's what a representative from Nintendo of America had to say:
"Nintendo has been permitting the use of Nintendo copyrighted material in videos on YouTube under appropriate circumstances. Advertisements may accompany those videos, and in keeping with previous policy that revenue is shared between YouTube and Nintendo. In addition, for those who wish to use the material more proactively, we are preparing an affiliate program in which a portion of the advertising profit is given to the creator. Details about this affiliate program will be announced in the future."
On the surface, this seems like a huge step in the right direction. The once monolithic stance on collecting all the revenue possible from these videos is finally giving way to a program that will allow some of the fan-gathering YouTube personalities to have some skin in the game. You'd think there would be praise across the board for this. You'd be wrong. Between the ill-feelings still lingering from the actions of last year and the wariness of working under the umbrella of a Nintendo affiliate program, some of the bigger names seem suspicious in this phase where details are still lacking on the program.
Zack Scott, another popular YouTuber and the one who first brought the issue to light last year after he noticed that some of the Nintendo-focused videos on his popular ZackScottGames channel were being tagged with the network's Content ID system, told Kotaku at the end of last June that he had resumed posting such work once Nintendo appeared to back away from its crackdown. I followed up with him today to see if anything had changed since his tentative return to posting Nintendo-centric "Let's Play" videos last year. He said that while he's been impacted "very, very minimally" by any changes in Nintendo and YouTube's policies so far, he could "definitely see a future" where this has a bigger influence.
"I feel the relationship between video creator and content publisher is mutually beneficial," Scott wrote in an email. "Numerous companies already understand this balance. I'd hate for the model to become where a popular creator can request revenue of a publisher in exchange for coverage. I'd equally hate for a publisher to request revenue of a creator in exchange for access."
Left unsaid is the converse: will Nintendo use its affiliate program to attempt to exert control over YouTubers' video content. Keep in mind that the Nintendo IP on display isn't really the draw in these videos. After all, there are a million such videos for a million games. The popular ones are popular because of the personality of the YouTuber
. They share the stage with the game and they got their audience on a ledger of trust from the viewers. If Nintendo attempts to leverage that trust by exerting control through its affiliate program, such as by only allowing access to content in exchange for positive or non-negative editorial speech within the video, it will be a massive problem, one that will ultimately backfire in Nintendo's face, while torpedoing a bunch of YouTube personalities along with it.
Either way, the devil is most definitely in the details with this kind of program. If Nintendo makes it extremely
clear that editorial content is hands-off and that the affiliate program will be free from YouTuber corruption, this might, possibly
work. Given the company's history, however, I have my doubts.