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When should you pay YouTubers to play your game, and when should they pay you?
When should you pay YouTubers to play your game, and when should they pay you?
July 3, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

"Getting airtime with Twitch streamers and YouTubers is VITAL. And Iím going to ask THEM for money?"
- Developer Ian Stocker questions the notion that people creating video content around games will ever pay publishers or developers for the privilege.

Escape Goat 2 developer Ian Stocker published an excellent editorial on N4G today about the value of visibility in the increasingly crowded game market. The piece seeks to explore when it might be appropriate for developers to expect payment from video content creators and vice versa, as more developers consider paying prominent broadcasters to play their games.

Should you get paid when someone produces videos that prominently feature your game, or is it the other way around? Nintendo seems to think it at least deserves a cut of the ad revenue generated by such videos, given its recent announcement of a planned affiliate program for YouTubers; Squad is doing the opposite by allowing Kerbal Space Program streamers and YouTubers to earn money by placing a referral link to buy the game in any video content they create.

Meanwhile, some developers are paying companies like Polaris Media to produce videos about their games featuring prominent YouTube personalities in an effort to juice sales.

"New artists looking to book gigs eventually have to answer a tough question: should I pay to perform?" wrote Stocker. "Iím the one providing the show for the venue. They even get to sell drinks thanks to me. Am I going to be part of this race to the bottom?"

Comparisons to the music industry feature heavily in Stocker's analysis, which touches on some common concerns about how YouTubers should ethically disclose information about their financial arrangements.

For example, Stocker's piece cites statements made by prominent YouTuber EpicNameBro about his decision to turn down offers to pay him in exchange for promoting specific games in his videos, something he claims to have done with some reluctance.

"I wonder what I would really do if I found myself on the other side of ENB's offer," wrote Stocker. "I mean, when GameGrumps showcased Escape Goat 2 on Steam Train, sales doubled for five straight days. Tell me you wouldnít consider the deal, if you were in my shoes!"

Stocker delves into much greater detail on the topic from a developer's perspective in his editorial, which is worth reading in full over on the N4G blog.

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Bruno Xavier
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People like to overcomplicate this already complicated world.
This thingy some anxious developers are bringing to the table, paying YouTubers for hype, it must stop! And must stop right now.
You have no idea how stupid you are if you do this. We need at least one open and honest way of communication with players; if you throw money on everything in hopes of being seen, no gamer in this planet will trust you after he/she findout what you're doing.

Jean-Claude Cottier
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"...if you throw money on everything in hopes of being seen..."

That's called advertising, what's wrong with it?

B Reg
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Well, some really avarage games dominate the market at this moment thanks to marketing. It's the budget that determines exposure and sales, not the quality of the actual content. That's wrong with it!

Alan Barton
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@"what's wrong with it"

Ok, I'll bite. First of all, do you have a Moral Conscience?, because you should be able to see these on your own?. Anyway here's a quick list to get you started...

(1) When its a review, its *corrupt* to pay for that review.

(2) If paying (as you see it) becomes the norm, then big youtubers can *act like a protection racket*, where they force devs to pay them.

(3) Youtubers expecting payment for reviews risk blackening their own name in the eyes of the players.

There's more we could go into, but you should be seeing its wrong by now? and if you still can't see its wrong, you've got problems that need professional help.

Frankly as a gamer, I don't like the idea of people paying for reviews at all. I look to reviews to be as impartial as possible.

Also as a developer, I think a better, more Moral way, is for developers and reviewers to see their relationship as more symbiotic, where both need the other and so helping each other makes sense. So I'm very happy for youtubers to monetize videos of my games and I'll do all I can to help them.

But trying to corrupt the press with payments to get favourable reviews is deeply wrong. Its wrong for games and its wrong for society. A corrupted press is always wrong in every society and I feel strongly that its something we all must guard against in all societies, because history shows the dangers whenever the impartiality and freedom of the press is corrupted and compromised.

Kyle Redd
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In fairness to Youtubers, it's not like there's a storied history of strong ethics in the gaming media to help guide their behavior.

Can anyone identify even a single high-visibility caster that has firm "no payments" policy clearly posted on their channel page, or even (god forbid) full disclosure when the games they cover are provided by the publishers?

Peter Eisenmann
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@Allen, could you please refrain from insulting other users? This is not the comment section for a Youtube video.

Alan Barton
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@Peter Eisenmann

(1) You're playing a blatant straw man argument and say nothing about my points.

(2) I was responding to a smug sarcastic comment i.e. "That's called advertising" which you clearly overlook.

(3) The morality of some business people is appalling. Their attitudes must be stood up to and we cannot allow them. So its interesting you take offence at speaking out at that idea. But then I guess my words would be inconvenient for amoral people, so its understandable why they wouldn't like it. Some people clearly do want to pay the press off and I will call out that amoral behaviour as wrong, even if they don't like it.

(4) You got my name wrong.

(5) For you to take offence, I guess I got too near the truth.

You see its not just what you say, its also the gaps in what you don't say that also highlights your true attitude. You fail to react and talk about any point I said. None of that occurs to you.

Nice try, but careful your bias is showing.

Randall Stevens
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He was just asking you to please be polite. He never even called your argument into question. I agree with your points, but I also think you should be respectful towards other users. The two things have nothing to do with each other.

Alan Barton
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Its hard to be polite when telling someone they are fundamentally wrong because they will take offence at that no matter how you try to break it to them and the context of my original post was replying to a smug sarcastic comment i.e. "That's called advertising". Some people are narcissistically amoral in their attitude to society and these people as I said in my original post should be able to (but show they can't see) what is wrong about paying off the press. But they won't like it if you point that out to them. Corrupting the press is a very serious issue effecting not just games but the whole of society and if we don't stand up to this corruption of society, we will continue to head into an ever more corrupted world. Just look at the mess the world is in and then look at how weakened the press is already at standing up to the mess. Corrupting the press weakens the press even more and the more weakened the press becomes, the more weakened and worse the feedback loop in society becomes, and that feedback loop is vital to preventing harm to people, resulting in an ever worsening situation for all in society.

So the press in all forms, provides an absolutely vitally important feedback loop role in society, so we have to defend that at all costs, even if a few narcissistic people feel offended at not being allowed their own way with how they want to corrupt society for their own gain.

He played the politeness card, because while he didn't like it that I showed up paying off the press, yet he couldn't however question my core points, so his only angle was to play offended as a straw man misdirected recourse. So in the context of the conversation, they are related.

sean lindskog
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I'll have to head over and read the linked article. But the fundamental question to me is this: Are YouTube/Twitch streamers advertisers or critics?

On one hand, there's no denying the advertising value of their work.

On the other, for any semblance of validity as a critic, you cannot accept money from the games you review. Maybe there's some leeway between REVIEWING a game and simply PLAYING a game, but that's a slippery slope.

As an indie, here's my thoughts. I'm very comfortable for a youtuber monetizing video of my game. That's a mutual benefit, and there's no shaky ethical ground. I'm not paying anyone, and the reviewer is 100% obligation-free to praise or critique my work. As it should be.

I'm very uncomfortable with the thought of paying a youtuber *directly* to play my game, although maybe I'd do it if there was no other way to survive. But it feels evil to me. It destroys the natural gamedev / critic relationship in which a neutral, free, and unpaid exchange of ideas should occur.

It's a pretty new thing, so maybe my thoughts on this will evolve over time.

sean lindskog
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I suppose my hope would be that the youtube/twitch audience will naturally gravitate towards those that do not accept payment from game devs. But maybe that's overly optimistic.

If pay-to-stream got bad enough, I could imagine indies revolting against those youtubers. Both on ethical grounds, and because most of us simply don't have the money to compete with bigger studios with fat advertising budgets.

SD Marlow
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From this article, I'm not sure if I want to visit the other post or not. Was this some kind of rebuttal?

I agree with lindskog above that people that play and/or critique your game should not be getting direct financial compensation, and a great system is already in place since YouTuber's income is based on long-term popularity rather than a single game mention.

What hasn't been mentioned is this idea of being able to tip your favorite channels. I don't think they will earn enough to drop the use of ads completely, but at the same time, there are two potential downsides. First, tips could lead too a kind of under-the-table way to directly pay for a review, and second, it has the dirty feel of Steams Early Access where Google now has a financial incentive to put the biggest earners front and center. Guess we could call it a "money-opoly."

... as for this post: increased sales from a lets play IS a payment to the dev's from a YouTuber.

"Meanwhile, some developers are paying companies like Polaris Media to produce videos about their games featuring prominent YouTube personalities in an effort to juice sales."

It's late at night, but even with a clear head I don't think I could break this down without using several obscenities. It's just unfounded bitterness that invalidates your entire post.