At this point, it's impossible to ignore Felix Kjellberg - a.k.a. YouTube celebrity PewDiePie. Not only does the Swedish broadcaster boast over 34 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, but he's a legitimate celebrity in his own right. In a recent survey, PewDiePie was voted the third most influential person among teens aged 13-18. Kjellberg's impact on popular culture had him appear on the latest season South Park multiple times, and his YouTube channel brings in a cool $4 million a year in ad revenue.
Standing at the forefront of a growing market focused on "Let's Play" videos, in which regular people stream their gaming sessions online with commentary. Streamers earn cash through the ads attached to their videos, even though they don't own the copyright to the games they play - the publishers do.
As such, Let's Play videos technically violate copyrights, but with the swell in popularity and attention the games receive, slow-to-react publishers aren't surprising. Streamers like PewDiePie have dedicated, passionate audiences, and publishers have yet to find a balance between protecting their intellectual property without alienating fans (and smaller developers downright encourage streamers to spread the word).
One publisher with a less-than-stellar track record in reading and reacting to online enthusiasm is Nintendo. A year ago, Nintendo and YouTube cracked down on Let's Play videos, banning them from the site. Shortly afterwards, Nintendo allowed footage of its games to appear online, but with ad revenue going to Nintendo and Google, not the content creators themselves.
Now, Nintendo's trying a new approach: a 70/30 split between video makers and Nintendo itself. Notably, this split applies to the streamer's whole channel, not just the videos with Nintendo content (individual videos can be registered for a 60/40 share).
While many see Nintendo's new program as a step in the right direction, PewDiePie disagrees. While Kjellberg respects the copyright issues involved, admitting that "there’d be no 'let’s play' without the game to play," he argues that most Let's Play viewers are drawn to the streamers themselves, not the individual games:
"If I played a Nintendo game on my channel. Most likely most of the views / ad revenue would come from the fact that my viewers are subscribed to me. Not necessarily because they want to watch a Nintendo game in particular.
As such, Kjellberg says that Nintendo should be happy for the exposure they get from streamers, and warns the company against getting too greedy. While PewDiePie's channel is popular enough to feature the occasional Nintendo game ad-free, many streamers - particularly those with a Nintendo-exclusive focus - don't have that luxury. In Kjellberg's eyes, Nintendo is taking money from their most dedicated fans:
"I also think this is a slap in the face to the YouTube channels that does focus on Nintendo game exclusively. The people who have helped and showed passion for Nintendo’s community are the ones left in the dirt the most... when there’s just so many games out there to play. Nintendo games just went to the bottom of that list."
As a result of this decision, Kjellberg argues that Nintendo games are going to get less exposure on the Internet, and that fans are going to get less money. In short, "everyone loses." And while it's unlikely that Nintendo is going to back down from their decision, it's hard to ignore one of the biggest voices in the streaming community.
After all, for PewDiePie, this isn't just a hobby; it's his livelihood. He knows what he's talking about.