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The 'Persona 5' Ban Shows Video Game Streamers Have Volatile Jobs

YouTubers and Twitch streamers make a living playing games online. What happens when a developer tells them they can't show the whole game?

by Heidi Kemps
Apr 7 2017, 1:00pm

Image: Atlus

Tuesday marked the much-anticipated release of Persona 5, the newest installment in Atlus' critically acclaimed RPG series. It was an exciting day for fans of the series, but not long after they started playing, Persona's publisher Atlus posted an official notice with a list of rules on how to stream or show videos of it. Among the unusual provisions for streamers and YouTube Let's Players: YouTube videos are capped at a maximum of 90 minutes, certain in-game scenes are off-limits, and you can't show anything past around the halfway mark.

Oh, and not following these rules carries the risk of Atlus filing a Content ID claim against the streamer's channel. In other words: if you don't play by Atlus' suggested guidelines, it will go straight to the nuclear option. For pro streamers who rely on Twitch and YouTube for income, that is potentially job-destroying. Twitch has gone on record saying that it will enforce the policy, and has declined my request for further comments.

While these guidelines were initially given to folks in the games press (they're basically word-for-word what came with my review code), Atlus extending these rules to cover everyone who owns the game is an extreme measure that disrupts the vast and complex ecosystem of people who make a living playing and promoting video games.

"I do think Atlus has the right to ask people not to stream/record their games in general or past a certain point," said Michael Sawyer, a popular Let's Player better known online as slowbeef. "As a professional courtesy, people should respect the dev's wishes."

However, just because Atlus can put these streaming restrictions in place doesn't mean that it should. "I think it's a bad marketing decision… striking people's accounts is a giant overreaction," Sawyer said.

Image: Atlus

"What it really does to streamers, is highlight how volatile this job can be," said Jonathan Wheeler, a longtime streamer and video producer under the moniker of ProtonJon. He pointed out that Atlus' random tweet with guidelines was also a poor way to get the message out. "I can guarantee there are tons of people streaming Persona 5 who wouldn't have known about the restrictions if everyone hadn't raised their voices about it. [If they wouldn't have heard,] channels would've just started disappearing. The fact that these companies can just make channels disappear for showing their love for the games they make is crazy. It's unfortunately in their legal right to do that though."

Another professional streamer, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that streaming helped push Persona to people in the West who may have never heard of it before. "The online presence of Persona 4 is what made [the series] so large in the USA, so it's pretty embarrassing and insulting to the folks who helped it jump so far forward… it's shitty, it's bad for business, and it's an asshole move to fans."

As others have suggested on social media, he added that Atlus should worry about streamers boycotting Persona 5 and future games.

Wheeler agrees. "Whether or not [a boycott] will [impact] a significant amount of sales remain to be seen, but no matter what, their word of mouth and good grace with the general Internet public is damaged."

Sawyer, however, argues that a boycott isn't the best response to the situation. "A better reaction is a positive one—that streamers/Let's Players should really focus on Let's Play-friendly companies like Devolver and promote the shit out of them to show other devs that the whole system works. I think that's easier to organize and has a better overall effect than trying to loosely punish Atlus/Twitch/YouTube."

Wheeler, meanwhile, thinks that Atlus is likely to loosen up eventually. "If I had to guess, after three to four months, Atlus will ease off and online content should be fine again. However, most games are at their peak popularity during launch/first two to three weeks, so this will hurt the game's growth."

Everyone agreed that the restrictions more likely to hurt than help the game in the long term, though to what extent remains to be seen. But this nugget of wisdom from our anonymous streamer crystallizes what many are thinking: "Anyone who sits down and watches a full 100 hour 100 percent playthrough of your game was, in fact, not going to buy it anyways."