Let's Play? Let's Not.
First EA doing something not completely evil, and now Nintendo, which has generally been regarded as the most gamer friendly of the big three, taking a somewhat unexpected stance regarding the relatively new but undoubtedly popular phenomenon of Let's Plays (furthermore referred to in this article as LPs).
For those that might not know about LPs it's rather simple really: a gamer, or gamers, simply play a game and comment on what's going on, what their thoughts on the game are, things like that. It was started in 2006 by the Something Awful forums and has really taken off since then. There are people on Youtube that are making their living doing LPs, and still others that gain large followings. From LPers that specialize in playing horror games, to ones that adopt certain personas, there's a wide variety of people doing them, and despite the fact that there can be money to be made, most of the time it's just generally for fun and entertainment.
That's why many people in the LP community are less than pleased about the recent actions that Nintendo has taken regarding LPs featuring their games. It seems that late last week Nintendo started to target LPs through the content ID match feature of Youtube. This allows the company to either request that the video be taken down entirely, or put ads on the video in order to monetize it for their own revenue.
Nintendo has gone on the record as saying: "We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property," But many LPers are still upset that their videos have been targeted and monetized against their wishes.
This is far from a cut and dry situation; Nintendo does own rights to the games that they've done this to, it's why they were able to make the claims in the first place. The idea that some LPers make money, sometimes good money, off of playing the games that companies provide without actually having to pay the company for use of the material has been somewhat of an elephant in the room for LPs for quite some time.
There are valid arguments on both sides of the fence here: whether people want to admit it or not a lot of LPs for old games come from emulators, which isn't really above the water in a lot of cases, and even when they don't, they're still making money using something that another person made. Of course, there's the counterargument that LPs constitute fair use of games; that if a person owns the game they are LPing then they should be able to do what they want with it within the confines of legality, and in this case an LP is legal, or at the very least hasn't proven to be illegal.
LPs also draw in people and help to promote the games that are being showcased. Many indie game developers often encourage and are grateful for LPs because they help bring attention to their games, the most recent example is Thomas Was Alone gaining fame from Youtube plays, but I can also remember that Binding of Isaac creator Edmund McMillen has even guest starred on an LP from NorthernLion, who is somewhat famous for his LPs of BoI.
LPer Zack Scott also raises an interesting point in his Facebook posting on this matter when he says: "I think filing claims against LPers is backwards. Video games aren't like movies or TV. Each play-through is a unique audiovisual experience. When I see a film that someone else is also watching, I don't need to see it again. When I see a game that someone else is playing, I want to play that game for myself!"
By claiming monetization rights to their games, Nintendo is also ensuring that LPers don't see any sort of money at all, and considering that they are putting their own time and effort into making LPs that does come off as a little unfair. People can (and have) argued over how much time and effort really goes into such things, but it's definitely not zero-sum.
Nintendo does have every right to do what they're currently doing, but it's already clear that it's far from a popular decision with many people online. Whether or not anything can be worked out in the end is something that I can't even make a guess at. Nintendo really seems to hold the advantage here, but at the same time if they become prudent in finding all the LPs that involve their games, then it could be that soon enough they may have trouble finding anyone actually making LPs with their content at all. Whether this is Nintendo's ultimate goal is unknown, but it doesn't really seem like the result they are gunning for.