Games

Nintendo Takes Down YouTube Video of Fan Showing Animal Crossing Glitches

YouTube creator Shesez argues he's creating educational videos about Nintendo's creative process. Nintendo, on the other hand, won't say anything.
July 1, 2020, 1:00pm
A screen shot from the Nintendo Switch video game Animal Crossing.
Screen shot courtesy of Nintendo

Most videos published by Shesez are cheery and fun, as the gleeful YouTube creator glides a free-floating camera in, around, and under the pixels and polygons of gaming’s most beloved spaces, unpacking the ways developers stitch together their fragile worlds in a popular series called Boundary Break. In his latest video, Shesez barely held back tears.

“If I didn't own a Nintendo console back in the early 90s” said Shesez in the video, “I probably wouldn't be providing videos on game development today, and so to have the company view me as a threat is upsetting.”

Earlier this week, Nintendo issued a copyright claim for one of his Animal Crossing: New Horizons videos. It wasn’t a copyright strike, which after multiple infractions can lead YouTube to banning the channel. Many copyright claims on YouTube end with the video staying up but with ad revenue from that video being funneled from the channel owner to the copyright holder. But in this case Nintendo wanted the video to disappear, so YouTube blocked the video.

Nintendo did not respond to a request for comment from VICE Games, while a YouTube spokesperson declined to elaborate and pointed me towards the blocked video.

Shesez’s response video to Nintendo's copyright claim, which he hopes could result in his video appearing back on YouTube again, was aimed at a single person: Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser.

“I think anytime Nintendo is talked to or pleaded with by creators or fans we tend to just try to speak to Nintendo as if the entity was a person,” he said. “Which doesn't put a face to the situation. [...] He seems like a reasonable person who would at least hear me out.”

If history is any measure, Shesez’s plea is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The video, like many of Shesez’s videos, involved different ways of tricking the in-game camera of Animal Crossing: New Horizons to reveal hidden elements or pull off impossible acts. That could mean finding geometry for parts of the game Nintendo abandoned, or finding a way to walk across the sky—something Nintendo never intended.

Weirdly, the video Nintendo had removed from YouTube is a follow-up to another Animal Crossing: New Horizons video published by Shesez in early April, one with nearly 900,000 views. That video is still online, and as of this writing, Nintendo has not asked for its removal.

The problem for Shesez may be that Nintendo doesn’t care about the fine line he’s trying to walk. Back in March, Nintendo issued similar takedown notices for people publishing videos showing players how to recreate a duplication glitch, an exploit that would allow them to wreck Nintendo’s carefully balanced in-game economy.

"I understand completely why they did it of course," said A+ Start, who runs the popular YouTube channel Son of a Glitch, and had a duplication video taken down within 24 hours of it going online. "They don’t want people exploiting the game and ruining the fun, or damaging the brand due to one aspect of neglected programming."

A+ Start did not appeal Nintendo blocking the video and respected Nintendo's decision.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons might not be a competitive game, but it does have multiplayer, and people often game it. But Shesez draws a distinction in his work compared to A+ Start and others, specifically because he often does not show players how to accomplish what he's doing.

“The intended goal is to allow players to simply see what they normally can't see in the games,” Shesez told me over email. “The show itself has developed a reputation of being very educational though, which highlights what and WHY developers do certain things outside of the players view.”

In fact, Shesez's original Animal Crossing: New Horizons video comes with this introduction:

"Hey, here's a quick disclaimer. This is a brand new game from Nintendo with online components attached to it, so there's gonna be no tutorials on how to do what you're gonna see in this video, and this is all so that we can try to maintain some level of integrity for the online component for Animal Crossing. Which is out now, by the way! Go pick it up if you haven't already, it's a great version of Animal Crossing."

This type of critical examination is especially relevant for Nintendo, the company most closely associated with the ambiguous term “polish.” You expect a Nintendo game to feel clean, crisp, and be bug free. When a Nintendo game breaks, it’s genuinely unexpected because it rarely happens. Nintendo has historically prided itself on these experiences, which makes Shesez’s work all the more important, because it helps curious players better understand—and by extension, respect—the enormous work Nintendo puts into its games.

It’s not shocking Nintendo, the closest thing to Disney in video games, wants to keep this illusion alive. But categorizing Shesev’s work as exploitative is also highly misleading.

More than 30 of Shesez’s detailed breakdowns have been viewed more than a million times each, and dozens more coming awfully close. It should come as no great shock that many of those videos, as is often the case on gaming YouTube, involve Nintendo. YouTube loves Nintendo, but it’s not always the case that Nintendo loves YouTube. It’s often a fraught relationship.

Whereas Shesez goes out of his way to avoid exploits and glitches—both to avoid potentially thorny legal issues and, as Shesez put it to me, a way to respect the creators—YouTube creator Aurum does the exact opposite. Their most popular videos are centered on highlighting glitches. Unsurprisingly, in 2019 alone, Nintendo asked YouTube to take down five of Aurum’s videos that involved glitches in Wii U and 3DS games, the creator told me.

“I know now that it could probably be against their content guidelines,” said Aurum, “but the takedowns never give any reason, nor do challenging them actually get the claim released.”

One video involved screwing around with Super Mario 3D World. For example, making Mario’s hands extremely and humorously large! The original version of the video included glimpses of how Aurum was hacking the game—and Nintendo had it taken down. Aurum then uploaded a version that removed those elements, and Nintendo has left alone. For now.

Like Shesez, this problem hasn’t come up with any company other than Nintendo, and the company’s haphazard approach only makes things more confusing. Because videos seem to be carefully targeted, rather than caught up in an algorithm sweeping the whole platform for infractions, it suggests Nintendo has a criteria for takedowns that it’s not telling anyone.

“I feel like it is a problem beyond Nintendo,” said Aurum. “I feel like a company shouldn't own the footage that people capture themselves, it's just that Nintendo's the only one I know showing its hand.”

Unfortunately for creators, “showing its hand” is merely that Nintendo is upset, not why.

None of this is new, however. A Google search for “Nintendo takedown notice” reveals hundreds of articles about different instances where Nintendo has exerted legal muscle. And while Nintendo isn’t alone in this, it’s widely seen as more aggressive than most. When combined with the continued popularity of its characters and franchises, it’s a toxic stew.

Because Nintendo-related videos are often guaranteed to do higher numbers, though, creators are likely to continue to be attracted to making them, even if they aren’t “safe.”

“There's no views like Nintendo views, so it comes with the territory,” said Aurum.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).