A prominent World of Tanks YouTuber who is a member of a promotional program for the game had to remove a critical video after developer Wargaming threatened a copyright strike against it.
On May 18, SirFoch uploaded a video where he criticised the Chrysler K Grand Finals premium tank (a fully-loaded version of which is priced at $US80 ($107)), which he argued lacked realistic weak points in order to force players to spend more money, despite being part of a program that gives influential World of Tanks players early access to content in exchange for publicity.
In the video, which was re-posted on another YouTube channel, SirFoch said things like, "Fuck Wargaming, fuck their terrible way of making these premium tanks lately, and fuck this premium tank in particular." Specifically, he criticised the tank's lack of weak points behind the machine gun ports by showing viewers its collision model which he argued made the Chrysler K overpowered.
"[B]ut in the collision model, what do we have? No machine gun ports. Why? I don't know 'because how are we gonna make money if we don't force everybody to spend premium ammo and buy premium tanks and buy a fuck'n premium account,'" SirFoch said. "We are greedy fucks at Wargaming, yay!"
"GG Wargaming and fuck you."
On its website, Wargaming describes community contributors as players who "go the extra mile in order to help other players," and who give helpful advice on forums, create video guides and delivery interactive livestreams.
While contributors are allowed to be critical of World of Tanks, Wargaming said in a statement to Kotaku in return for having early access to content, "we require a reasonable level of decorum from those contributors when publicly discussing Wargaming and our products."
In the wake of the video attacking Wargaming for its perceived use of pay-to-win mechanics, a community manager at the company who goes by Zoltan "Ph3lan" Sipos contacted SirFoch over Discord. Ph3lan explained, according to screenshots of the conversation provided by SirFoch, that the YouTuber would be dropped from the program giving him early access to content and would need to take down his video or else Wargaming would be forced to have YouTube remove it for copyright infringement.
This led SirFoch to remove the first video and upload a second one explaining in more detail what he sees as the game's shift toward pay-to-win with expensive new overpowered vehicles and what he perceived as Wargaming's attempt to silence him for his negative remarks.
In response to backlash from some World of Tanks players angry that Wargaming would try to censor criticism of the game through copyright strikes, Ph3lan explained on the game's forums that it was the manner and tone of SirFoch's criticism and not the criticism itself that had led them to both end his involvement in the partner program and seek the removal of the video. While "SirFoch" was known for being "salty," as Ph3lan put it, the YouTuber who runs a channel called TheFochYou ran afoul of the game company once his insults and profanity-laden rants entered into "defamation territory."
"Our contributors are not working for us and they are not being paid by us, however they are representing us to a certain extent towards our players," wrote Ph3lan. He continued,
"While we know that SirFoch is not exactly the best role model at times, but we valued his contribution enough to still include him in the program. This might have been a mistake, since he used his status, influence, and the exclusive preview content he was given to defame Wargaming and World of Tanks. I am sure that his intentions were good, however the end results were clearly not. We have several channels where our contributors can reach us and we are always trying to listen to their feedback and concerns. SirFoch didn't contact us about his clearly strong feeling about the Chrysler producing the video in question instead.
To put it bluntly, we asked him to remove the video because he abused his status as a contributor and the content he received from us to create a video that defamed our company image with the tone and language he used."
YouTube has strict rules about using copyrighted footage, including gameplay capture, that allow developers and publishers to try an manage how their products are treated on the platform. While some companies are happy to see anyone uploading videos about their games, good or bad, others, like Nintendo, are notorious for flagging any YouTube videos that don't have permission to use its footage. But when companies start cherry picking which content to file claims against, it begins to look like targeted censorship.
In the statement Wargaming provided to Kotaku, the company elaborated on its position,
"We are more than willing to give members of our community second chances, but there is a level of toxicity and/or offensive language that is unacceptable. We regret having to go to such extreme measures in SirFoch's case, but we also don't consider those measures to be censorship because we weren't trying to silence SirFoch's opinion, we were simply seeking to curb the extremely profane language of a member of our contributor program. SirFoch's latest claim that we're somehow prohibiting him from making future videos involving our games is completely false -- he's more than welcome to make more Wargaming-related videos. If those videos continue to include hate speech and homophobic slurs, we'll take the necessary and appropriate action."
SirCircon, another personality in the World of Tanks community, was also extremely critical of Wargaming this week, calling Highway, one of the game's maps, awful and poorly designed during a Twitch stream. He likened the maps development process to one of the designer's children drawing on a napkin with crayons, having their nose wiped with it, and then the result being presented to the rest of the company to create. Wargaming likewise requested its removal and SirCiron complied.
According to the company, after he "acknowledged that his comments about staff members' families were out of line," he was reinstated into the partner program. SirCiron has not yet responded to a request for comment.
SirFoch has not been reinstated, however, and when reached for comment by Kotaku, referred the site to a recent post of his on Reddit. "Was my Video over the line? Sure it was," he wrote.
"Do I regret making it? Hell no. Did I lose CC status? You betcha. Do I care? Not really. Did WG threaten to Copyright claim the video and future videos of Any WG product? Yes. screenshots."
Wargaming, however, denies that this is the case regarding copyright claims against future World of Tanks videos on SirFoch's channel.
"SirFoch's latest claim that we're somehow prohibiting him from making future videos involving our games is completely false -- he's more than welcome to make more Wargaming-related videos. If those videos continue to include hate speech and homophobic slurs, we'll take the necessary and appropriate action," the company said in its statement to Kotaku.
In his Reddit post, SirFoch said he predicted something like this might happen given his vitriolic brand. "I did not have to Sign anything and they did not pay me anything, and I told them right at the start that I wont change my style because of this and that they should not put their jobs on the line if people upstairs get upset," he wrote regarding his original inclusion in Wargaming's community contributor program.
"I have like minded community behind me and they are the ones I represent on my channel...I get payed by my community with the help of Twitch and YouTube, and World of Tanks is just a tool for me to do that."
Additional reporting by Cecilia D'Anastasio.