A month ago, Nintendo played the unfeeling corporate villain in an online spat about popular Let's Play videos and the gamers who make them. A month later, there is evidence of a possible resolution.
The most positive sign is that Zack Scott, the popular YouTuber who first raised the alarm about Nintendo cracking down on fan-captured videos of new Nintendo games, is back to posting videos about Nintendo games on his ZackScottGames channel.
In the past couple of weeks, he's posted Let's Play videos of Animal Crossing New Leaf and New Super Luigi U. This is after Scott vowed a little over a month ago to cease posting videos of Nintendo games until Nintendo resolved the dispute.
"I took the leap of faith," Scott told Kotaku over e-mail last night, explaining his resumption of making Nintendo videos. His leap came from surprisingly firm ground. He's seen evidence that Nintendo may be backing off its mid-May policy.
A copyright claim that Nintendo fired off on one of Scott's captured videos of Super Mario 3D Land in mid-May appeared to be adjusted, in his favor, by later in the month, with Nintendo's restrictions on his ability to run money-generating ads on the clip returning after nine days. "On 5/14, the ad earnings ceased, but they resumed on 5/23." Scott had blown the whistle on Nintendo's crackdown on May 15.
Scott: "I saw the revenue return and I had no further claims made on any of my other videos since the news broke, so I took the leap of faith."
Let's Play videos have been popular on YouTube for several years. They consist of gamers capturing and uploading footage of new games, sometimes with added commentary, sometimes just showing the game raw. Let's Play creators often run YouTube ads on these videos, generating a few dollars per thousands of views. Many game creators permit these videos or look the other way, wagering that the YouTube exposure may help raise awareness of their games. Some celebrate them. But Nintendo took a different approach, registering its intellectual property (IP) rights with YouTube in February and then beginning to push copyright claims against Let's Play creators. The claims didn't block the videos but, rather, removed Let's Play creators' ability to run ads on them.
In mid-May, after Scott raised alarm by posting on Reddit and contacting news organizations like ours, Nintendo released a statement that said, in part: "For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property."
At E3, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime defended the company's move and said it wasn't meant to target any one fan, company or approach to making Nintendo-related videos. "We love our fans," he told Kotaku. "We appreciate everything that our fans do. We had to take this formal step to be very clear about our IP."
Pressed to explain what fans should make of Nintendo's approach to protecting its copyrights, especially if the fan thought that he or she might even be helping Nintendo by making Let's Play videos, Fils-Aime said, "the fans need to understand that we see the issue, we understand the issue, but, right now, all we've done is take the first step to protect our IP."
Fils-Aime: "The fans need to understand that we see the issue, we understand the issue, but, right now, all we've done is take the first step to protect our IP."
Following the Fils-Aime interview at E3, which was in early June, we left thinking that Nintendo might indeed announce a next step that would soften things for Let's Play video makers and maybe let them run ads again.
Turns out that that that next step may have already been happening if Scott's experience is anything to go by.
It's not like Nintendo reached out to Scott nor made any formal policy change. In Scott's experience, his Nintendo videos got hit with Nintendo copyright claims and lost their ads and then that just... reversed itself. "At some point during the claim, my revenue for specific Nintendo-claimed videos disappeared," he said. "The revenue then recently reappeared."
We've reached out to Nintendo to see if there has been an official policy change. 'Tis the season for big gaming companies to pull 180-degree turns, after all. We'd also like to hear from any YouTubers out there who were hit by Nintendo copyright claims. Have you regained the right to run ads, too?
"Overall, I'm playing by ear," Scott said as the Oklahoma native keeps his videos going and forges ahead with more Nintendo Let's Plays. "I hope that Nintendo allows players, reviewers, and other professionals to utilize their content on YouTube without Nintendo making claims to the advertising revenue. A lot of big and small developers see the value of coverage by the YouTube community. Faced with the potential for ad revenue loss, a lot of reviewers would rather devote their time to other games and properties."