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Editor’s Letter: The Sad Story of Machinima, Money and Minecraft

Editor’s Letter is a series of ongoing articles on the state of PSLS, its future and the future of the industry as a whole.

Sometimes I just hate this industry and everything that it represents, with the greed that seems to infect much of the games media business making me sad to call myself a games journalist. I’m ashamed of what that term embodies, and of the depressingly despicable acts that are routinely committed by people going under that moniker, or by games critics, presenters and machinima-makers.

As of last night, Nintendo have begun to demand advertising royalties on videos made by fans that include gameplay of Ninty games. It’s an utterly bizarre, and fatally flawed, move from a company desperate for money, but we’re not a Nintendo site, and I won’t focus on it. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend checking out Mike Bithell’s post on Develop, which is admittedly a little indie-focused, but still a great read.

As the news of Nintendo’s move began to spread, a huge debate over who owns the rights to gameplay videos sprung up, and a horrifying fact was revealed – popular game video site Machinima wanted money from a game creator for the videos they were making.

Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, owner of Mojang and creator Minecraft, explained on Reddit:

Machinima wanted us to pay them money. They said their videos were driving sales for Minecraft, and that they should get a cut.

While that was almost certainly true, and that this is one of the reasons we allow videos (another one is that I personally love watching gameplay videos, especially speedruns), they’re also making money off our work. It’s the perfect example of a win-win situation, and them asking money from us was just offensive.

Also, this.

They have amazing engineers and passionate directors, but their business practices are insane.

Yes, you read that right – Machinima were making money off of ads for their Minecraft videos, but they wanted more money, and from the guys that had made those videos possible with their hard work.

First off, the notion that game developers are in any way expected to pay for people making videos about them is irrefutably stupid. They made the game, that’s their contribution to the video, be grateful they’re letting you make a video on it and not pulling a Nintendo. You’re already making money off of it, Machinima, go crawl under a rock and die.

Secondly, it means that Machinima are saying that their videos are essentially adverts. That means there’s no possibility for constructive negativity towards the game, no option for criticism. People who watch Machinima videos believe they were done by fans of the game, and the videos are seen as critical endorsements by a big games site, not paid ones. Plus, Machinima own a news site that does game reviews – should developers pay for high scores?

But what is most frightening of all is what this could mean for other developers. Persson is well known for being wonderfully outspoken and for not reacting well to stupid demands, but one has to wonder if Machinima has asked for money off of other indies, and if, out of fear or a lack of understanding of how the games media industry works, they have complied.

If you are such a developer: This is not how it works, do not pay. They can’t retroactively insist upon advertising fees for something you didn’t commission.

Also, this.