The popularity of Let's Play videos is undeniable, and they have quickly woven themselves into the fabric of of video games. That doesn't mean everyone is comfortable with them, and that got the developers of That Dragon, Cancer into hot water with some players.
Until recently, players could upload any video on YouTube related to That Dragon, Cancer and make money off it. I'd even made a short video on my personal YouTube channel. Not too long ago, I got this email in my inbox:
A Content ID claim is different than a copyright strike. The former means you're (likely) giving up the rights to make money on the video, the latter means the video can be taken down, your channel can get deleted, and other nasty stuff.
I saw this and moved on with my life, but I don't publish videos on YouTube to get rich; it's a hobby. That's not the case for other people, who are trying to make a career on the video service, and those creators sent the developers of That Dragon, Cancer some sharp questions about the change.
"I've been sitting here this morning paralysed at what to say in response to this," said the start of a blog post by That Dragon, Cancer designer Ryan Green.
Describing the reception to his game as "incredible", Green couldn't be happier about how people have responded to his family's tragic story. But it comes with a serious caveat: they haven't made any money on the game.
"Our studio has not yet seen a single dollar from sales," he said.
The developers "underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game," and became frustrated by the millions of people watching the game on YouTube translating into zero revenue for their years of work.
So when Green saw tweets asking about deprived revenue, it struck a nerve.
"And so yes, Let's Play person, I agree with you," he said, "it does suck to have someone else making revenue off your work."
That Dragon, Cancer's score was composed by Jon Hillman, and Green decided he had the right to make money off videos using his music "without permission."
"If there is revenue being drawn from that use, we believe he should be compensated," said Green.
But when people started getting upset, the developers reconsidered. The flags have now been removed from people's videos.
"We did not intend to make copyright claims or to force anyone to take down their videos," he said "we simply intended for Jon to be able to draw some income from the original soundtrack to our game that he poured his heart into."
Despite the reversal, Green is adamant there's still a problem, pointing to the difference between Let's Play videos for a game like That Dragon, Cancer and, say, ARK: Survival Evolved. One is a linear, narrative experience most people will only play once, the other is a dynamic and ever-changing multiplayer game.
"If you compare the millions of views of the entirety of our game on YouTube to our sales as estimated on SteamSpy, you can hopefully see the disparity," said Green. "We have seen many people post our entire game on YouTube with little to no commentary. We've seen people decompile our game and post our soundtrack on YouTube. We've also seen many, many Let's Players post entire playthroughs of our game, posting links to all of their own social channels and all of their own merchandising and leaving out a link to our site."
Green made an appeal for people to use That Dragon, Cancer videos as a chance to share their personal stories. But more to the point, he hopes they will encourage their viewers to support the developers, so that they can make more games.
"This small act will allow us to continue to work," he said.