It is now (technically) two years since Nintendo began claiming ownership of “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube that featured the company’s content, meaning that any ad revenue that originally went to the YouTuber was diverted into Nintendo’s wallet, something Zach Scott confirmed in May 2013. Since then, Nintendo has been zigzagging back and forth on the issue. Later that year, it was rumored that Nintendo could be backing away from “Let’s Play” money when Reggie Fils-Aime claimed that the decision was made to protect Nintendo’s intellectual property, but it wasn’t until November 2014 that Nintendo finally began to doubt their stance and made their work eligible for Nicovideo’s “Creative Endorsement Program.” It was clear that potential Nintendo Let’s Players were going to jump through a lot of hoops.
At last, those hoops have finally been revealed in the form of the Nintendo Creators Program. Instead of snatching the entire cake from the hands of the small-time YouTubers, the publishing giant has settled for a mere 30% of the cake, unless Nintendo changes its mind of course, as the page is quick to remind us: “This rate may be changed arbitrarily.” The fact of the matter is that many of these people do Let’s Plays for a living. While I don’t have a degree in economics, I can say that it’s going to be difficult luring content creators to your side when the only “benefit” is a 30% pay cut.
On top of this, the list of games Nintendo permits YouTubers to use is sorely lacking, with major titles such as Captain Toad and Super Smash Bros. curiously missing. In fact, out of the 41 Wii U exclusives listed on Wikipedia, only an embarrassing 10 actually make it onto Nintendo’s whitelist. There’s no Bayonetta 2, no ZombiU, and even Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is missing, even though the latter will be released long before this program launches. To add insult to injury, Nintendo has elected to ignore its rich and colorful history with classic titles like Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time failing to make the cut. Not a single Pokémon title is listed for any of Nintendo’s platforms, but on the positive, at least there’s Swapnote.
Nintendo is missing a golden and diamond-encrusted opportunity, preferring to concern itself with fending off hypothetical bogeymen on YouTube to protect its intellectual property. So much-maligned has its marketing been that for years, since the dying days of the Wii, has the spotlight been on its rivals. In YouTubers, Nintendo had the chance at getting that marketing done more effectively than any campaign or commercial, and it would have been free. A single PewDiePie video on Mario Kart 8 would do more than a thousand banner ads that were ultimately adblocked from existence anyway. But it wasn’t enough. Nintendo wouldn’t settle for free marketing. Nintendo wanted to get paid for that marketing.
So while Nintendo struggles and toils with both sales and media attention, independent developers and smaller publishers are rapidly on the rise. Games like
Minecraft, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Papers, Please have all been roaring successes, owing in no small part to the generous coverage from YouTubers. Devolver Digital, publisher of Serious Sam, Hotline Miami, and The Talos Principle, has no qualms about rewarding YouTubers for their work, as shown by this hilariously blunt web page.
Nevertheless, this program is going to have its ardent defenders. They’re going to say that Nintendo’s doing it to protect its intellectual property from plagiarism and other ethereal dangers. But if that’s the case, why aren’t other publishers bothered by it? Why is Blizzard Entertainment not bothering to take down Hearthstone videos, or StarCraft II commentaries? Unlike Nintendo, Blizzard embraced the YouTube scene, and Hearthstone is bigger than imaginable, with an astonishing revenue of $114 million in a single year.
At the end of the day, however, the law is on Nintendo’s side, and the company has made its choice, no matter how naïve it may be. YouTubers have already begun shying away from the Creators Program, and I suspect it’s because the reward is simply not worth their time. YouTubers have long since outstripped conventional media, and it boggles my mind that Nintendo would work so hard to escape their coverage.