A lot of talk within the inner circles of gaming news this week has been focused on creators of video content that relies on footage from games. There has been an unexpected deluge of requests from people claiming copyright infringement to have these videos taken down and their revenue diverted. It’s been a whirlwind twenty-four hours or so in the YouTuber community, with a lot of knee-jerk finger-pointing in both directions, made all the worse because it appears that in many cases it isn’t even the rights holder — i.e., the oft-villainized publishers — who are actually filing many of the requests.
The flurry of events and any associated or threatened consequences doesn’t so much reveal yet again that YouTube’s system for identifying, handling and acting on these issues is flawed. Rather, it reminds us in general that copyright law in the digital age is categorically broken.
The conversation that has followed the infringement claims — a conversation around what represents fair use and whether these videos represent distinct creations or are so dependent on the source material as to be infringing on that material — is not a conversation I care to engage in on the large. The reason I don’t want to is because I feel like there are some inevitabilities around that discussion that make it a heartbreaking cul-de-sac of platitudes, oversimplifications and general ignorance. It goes like this:
- I comment on complicated and largely inaccurate assumptions about copyright law and its application to a specific case about which I have only about 10% of the facts.
- Spiraling argument
Instead, I want to look at the actual work these YouTube content makers are doing, and think about what the future is for the medium. As streaming and hosting gain greater momentum and legitimacy, it may be worth noting that being both successful and good at the work is a true skill. It’s also pretty rare.
Making videos about games for YouTube is super easy. Just put on a game and then be incredibly entertaining, funny, and insightful for the eight hours while you play it. Also, have a good radio voice, the ability to talk coherently while playing, strong video-editing skills ,and be pretty damn good at video games to boot. Just mix those things, and then put up content day-in and day-out, week after week, without getting burned out or running out of ideas.
We’ve dabbled in Let’s Plays here at GWJ. Drawing on the experience of nearly 400 episodes of the podcast and about a decade of writing about video games, it was still challenging to translate that background into building a coherence between the visual activity of the game and the audio content of things you’re talking about. Having personally spent time semi-casually making videos, I’m all the more impressed at people who deliver day after day.
I look at a personality like Total Biscuit, and though I don’t necessarily subscribe to his opinions (or his channel for that matter), I stand in absolute awe of his ability to deliver so consistently. The guy has gotten the attention and success he has through unending hussle, savvy and skill. He’s earned his hundreds of thousands and even millions of views. From the outside looking in, it’s very “Money for Nothing and Chicks for Free,” but the guy, like many of the most successful YouTubers, got there through an almost inhuman work ethic.
The thing I know we learned very early on about creating content of any kind online is a simple one: be consistent. There’s a reason there’s a GWJ Conference Call every single week, even if there are no new games around or it’s pretty close to a holiday or we have two or three regulars who are just out. It’s because the number one thing in growing and keeping an audience is consistency. If it’s Wednesday, and you’re on your way to work and there’s no GWJCC, there are thousands of other podcasts you can listen to. Every missed cycle is just an invitation for people to stop watching.
On YouTube or Twitch, the game is even more aggressive. The biggest success stories of the medium are the guys who are there with something new everyday. In many cases it’s not just one video, but maybe two or three as part of long-running and consistent series. I write this article every (read: most) Thursdays, and just coming up with one topic a week feels like a stressful, almost impossible task. The idea of coming up with something to say every day is disgustingly impressive to me.
And, somewhat ironically, I think that’s also the problem with YouTube.
When the game is to get out the most content in the least amount of time, what you end up with isn’t necessarily the best. While the guys are incredibly consistent on a time schedule, the consistency from a quality perspective is a different game entirely. The problem is that the mechanics of developing viewership on YouTube isn’t generally such that you have the luxury of spending more time developing a smaller number of higher quality videos.
The internet is a machine designed to churn out items en masse, to literally overwhelm viewers into having to make specific, dedicated choices. And, once you’ve become a viewer’s choice, that same problem applies where missing a day means that subscriber is literally a button click away from having millions of other choices.
When you’re working in that space, and you know you have something that’s ok enough to put up or that you could spend a couple of days with and get something really impressive, what would you choose?
In the end, it’s the skill of delivering consistent content that positions someone to succeed in one of the most competitive creative environments on the planet. While I genuinely appreciate the skill involved in just showing up day after day, to me it’s those who can do some and still have something clever to say in the process that are not only the people to whom I will subscribe but of whom I am in constant awe. I just find myself wishing they had even more time, because I would like to see what these creators could generate if the great push to upload as fast as possible weren’t there.