Last week, Twitch announced a new feature that’s already proven divisive: subscriber-only streams. True to their name, they’re like regular streams, but only people who’ve subscribed (with real money) to a particular streamer are able to watch them. It’s an option that many streamers say they won’t be using, for fear of dividing their audiences. However, they may have another reason to steer clear: Some companies might not allow them.
Eagle-eyed and contradictorily-named Redditor Justalazygamer noticed that subscriber-only streams stand to violate the terms of service of multiple major video game companies. Blizzard, Valve, Riot, and CD Projekt Red’s terms all contain variations on a similar statement—basically, if you want to make a video out of their games, you can’t require people to give you money for it.
“Neither you nor the operator of any website where your Production(s) may be viewed can force a viewer to pay a ‘fee’ to be able to view your Production(s),” reads Blizzard’s video policy.
“Use of our content in videos must be non-commercial,” reads Valve’s. “By that we mean you can’t charge users to view or access your videos. You also can’t sell or license your videos to others for a payment of any kind.”
Riot’s and CD Projekt’s terms of service are similar. In theory, a subscriber-only stream constitutes a violation, since to see the full stream as it’s happening, you have no choice but to open up your wallet and let a few dollars fly free. Kotaku reached out to Blizzard, Valve, Riot, CD Projekt Red, and Twitch for more information, but as of writing, had yet to receive a reply.
However, each of these video policies contains exceptions that might mean Twitch streamers are in the clear. Most of these center around partner programs. In Valve and CD Projekt’s cases, you’re good as long as you’re doing it as part of a “partner program.” Valve refers to YouTube specifically, but leaves wiggle room for others: “You are free to monetize your videos via the YouTube partner program and similar programs on other video sharing sites,” says the company. CD Projekt, meanwhile, specifically mentions YouTube and Twitch’s partner programs. Admittedly, these rules were written with previous means of monetization in mind, and not subscriber-only streams. It remains to be seen if Valve and CD Projekt will object to the new feature.
Riot and Blizzard, on the other hand, require free methods of viewing monetized content, and that’s where things get a little thornier.
“We understand that many third party websites have a ‘free’ method to see their video content, as well as a ‘premium’ membership service that allows for speedier viewing,” says Blizzard. “For clarity, please note that as long as the website that hosts your Production provides a free method to allow viewers to see the Production, Blizzard Entertainment will not object to your Production being hosted on that site, regardless of the site’s ‘for pay’ premium service plans.”
As far as Twitch goes, videos on demand could qualify. Streamers can also opt to make those subscriber-only, though, so it’s not an ironclad defense.
Riot’s stance is more hardline: “We permit individual players to solicit personal donations or offer subscription-based content while live-streaming games, so long as non-subscribers can still watch the games concurrently.”
That might put some streamers in a tight spot. While subscriber-only streams do offer a five-minute preview to prospective subscribers, there’s no free means of watching the full show concurrently.
It’s tough to say what, if anything, will come of this. All of these companies might turn around and update their policies in the coming days or weeks, or maybe this is where some will draw the line on allowing people to make money by streaming their video games. Even if the companies involved never make a peep about any of this, time will most certainly tell.