This week saw a pair of scenarios that could indicate an existential crisis to videogame streaming. Streaming has become a very big business, whether it be individuals streaming on Twitch and Facebook Gaming or competitions streaming the professional matches. In some cases, game developers and publishers are officially involved. For example, Ninja was reportedly paid $1 million to play and promote the launch of Apex Legends. However, for the most part, the developers and publishers are not involved. Twitch is filled with hundreds of everyday people playing games for others to watch.
Typhoon Studios (a Google Stadia studio) Creative Director Alex Hutchinson tweeted this week that he believed that anyone streaming a videogame should be forced to obtain a license from the game studio or publisher for that privilege. Obviously, the tweet was met with concern and mockery from the gaming community. He later tried to clarify his position, saying,
Amazing to me that people are upset at someone saying that the creators of content should be allowed to make some of the money from other people using their content for profit.
The argument is an interesting one, which is worth exploring. From a legal perspective, he has a point. Gamers, without written permission, have no right to stream the games that they are playing. All aspects of the game, from the story and art to the voice acting and music, are protected by the same copyright laws that protect television and movies. Some have long argued that it falls under Fair Use, though there is no aspect of Fair Use that would cover game streaming past 30 seconds.
However, there has always been an unwritten agreement between the studios and gamers that streaming is beneficial to both sides, so it is okay. A great recent example of this is Among Us, a game that has lived the past 2 years in obscurity until a group of Twitch streamers began playing it on the site. Today, Among Us is such a popular game that, while writing this paragraph, Facebook played a parody video of the game. In some cases, publishers recognize the value and have begun providing written, free licenses for streamers.
To add insult to injury, many Twitch streamers received a vague email, as pointed out on Twitter, claiming copyright infringement. The email contains no information about what the infringement is. It gives no way to counter the claim. In fact, it lets the creators know that their content has been deleted (not suspended). Likely, what has happened here is that RIAA has begun to index Twitch's content looking for copywritten music used without permission. Streamers have long ignored copyright law, possibly because of the unofficial treatment by the studios, and possibly because there have never been any repercussions. A day of reconning was inevitable, but Twitch's decision to flat out delete content without an appeals process should still be alarming.
It appears that, as game streaming gains in popularity, more interest will be placed on the industry. This is obvious from the comments and actions of the week, but is likely just the beginning. We've seen similar behavior in the podcasting space over the past few years, with podcasters having to answer for their behaviors with copywritten content.