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Fight For Your Right to Stream!

/ Apr 25th, 2017 No Comments

Streaming Rights

I originally set out to write this article when I witnessed the PlayStation 4’s UI blocked streaming the Japanese version of Persona 5, but I figured it might be different with the North American and European versions. Turns out I was wrong. Across all versions, Persona 5 blocks natively streaming through the PS4’s UI.

This raises a few questions about streaming rights. Who owns the rights to streaming a game? Is it the developer, the publisher or customer? If the capacity to stream is built into modern consoles as a major selling point, should developers and publishers be allowed to opt out and block the UI? Does it depend on the type of game? Is a story-driven game like Persona 5 a special case where you can argue the experience is ruined by watching a livestream?

When all these questions pop up, it’s obvious that it is a complicated matter.

Mutombo’d!

Persona 5 isn’t the first game to block native streaming. Another Japanese-developed game, World of Final Fantasy, blocked the UI from capturing certain moments, specifically the game’s anime cutscenes.

Whether it was to prevent spoilers or to prevent people from simply watching the cutscenes is up for debate. The rest of the game was open for capturing and streaming, which is a fair compromise.
 

World of Final Fantasy Review

World of Final Fantasy is the smartest compromise between developer and fan for streaming.

In Final Fantasy XV’s case, a small portion was blocked from capture and streaming, but it made sense because it was largely the game’s ending. You don’t want to have people posting the ending of your game all over YouTube.

While it usually ends up being all or nothing in terms of blocking streaming, Square Enix found good compromises. By allowing the majority of their games to be streamed while signaling specific portions that they would rather not share on a wide basis, Square Enix keeps their fan base happy and protects their IP.

Spoilers…

When it comes to Persona 5, the concern for Atlus is people streaming the game would spoil the story for people. This is potentially a big deal for a story-driven game with essentially a singular playthrough. Watching a complete stream of the game could turn people off from buying it because they’ve already seen the entire game play out from beginning to end. But, if this is an argument, we need to hammer down on what is a spoiler and how we evaluate them.

Preventing spoilers is important, but such extreme measures to prevent them feels like going overboard. Truthfully, the core Persona fan base is going to pick up the game on day one and start playing with fervor. People who stream Persona 5 appeal to those who are on the fence about buying the game and those who are not inclined to pick it up but may be interested to learn more about the franchise.

Completely blocking the ability to stream a game means you sacrifice the showing and not telling that comes from streaming. It goes further than your buddy telling you to pick up a niche JRPG with a talking cat and turn-based combat. However, no matter how strong the word of mouth from streaming is, people lack control and will stream the entire game. Too much can sometimes be too much.
 

Persona 5

This screenshot wasn’t captured using a PS4.

What Atlus should have done was take a note from Square Enix. They should have allowed the first three months to be streamed with specific spoiler points blocked to give people a good sense of what the game has to offer. A solid compromise would be to have the UI block streaming after April, May and June or the first there palaces.

Selectively blocking streaming and capturing isn’t a perfect solution, but it leaves more people begrudgingly satisfied.

Control

Streaming has proliferated and become an integral part of gaming with the advent of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While streaming was possible before, it has never been as easy and intuitive to broadcast your games to the world. Both the PS4 and Xbox One natively allow players to stream gameplay sessions through the console with ease.

Since streaming is more populous now than it has ever been, both developers and gamers are going to have to figure out where streaming rights reside eventually.
 

Persona 5

Nor was this screenshot.

Is it with the developer and/or publisher? Simply by virtue of having created the work, do they retain the right to decide how sharing is handled?

A developer or publisher already has the ability to decide how the content they created is presented to customers prior to shipping it. Generally, that came to fall under the purview of downloadable content. Whether the presentation extends to streaming is less defined as streaming’s ease and proliferation is new.

It can be argued that developers and publishers, regardless of how they initially intended to present a creative work, still retain the copyrights to the content. As a result, they can choose whether or not to control how their content is shared.
 

Persona 5

This wasn’t captured using a PS4 as well.

In Atlus’ case, they aren’t blocking all streaming. HDCP isn’t enabled when playing Persona 5, which means external capture devices can be used to stream the game. The problem is that most people don’t own additional capture equipment. Effectively, this limits who can stream the game.

Usually, those who own capture devices are media and YouTubers/streamers. Those people generally have good reason to abide by limitations or embargoes. They want to maintain a good working relationship with publishers and developers so they can receive more games.

Atlus released its streaming guidelines to the public (they are the same ones media receive) upon Persona 5’s release, making it obvious the pseudo-streaming elitism that results from blocking native streaming. Anyone who will use their capture devices to stream has plenty of incentive to follow the rules to avoid Nintendo-esque retaliation.
 

Persona 5

Oh, this definitely wasn’t taken using a PS4.

If there is a good claim by publishers and developers to streaming rights, where does that leave gamers? Honestly, any argument for gamers having a right to stream the content they bought is flimsy. A lot of it is emotionally fueled and a bit of it is a sense of entitlement that’s grown over the last few years.

It seems like you should have the right to stream any game you buy for a PS4 and Xbox One because it is a built-in feature on these consoles. Plus, you paid $59.99 for a game, so who is the developer or publisher to tell you what you can or cannot stream?

Unfortunately, you aren’t entitled to stream a game. It is a feature that most developers and publishers take advantage of, but it is nothing more than a goodwill gesture. For most games, it doesn’t make sense to block streaming. A game like Titanfall 2 or a fighting game or a game from Telltale are made to stream, whereas something like The Last Guardian or Persona 5, which has a heavy emphasis on story and only one way to pass the game, might not be suited for streaming.
 

Persona 5

Best believe we didn’t get this screenshot from a PS4.

But it’s free advertising, right? You’re just showing people why they should buy the game! That is a hard argument to quantify. Are you getting receipts sent to you after a stream of people buying the game based on your stream? Or is it more likely people are content to watch someone else play through the game and never buy it?

Despite all the guise of spoilers, it feels like that is Atlus’ fear. People won’t buy the game if they watch a stream of it. That seems more true for a game like Persona 5, but it is just as hard to quantify as the argument that people buy the game after a watching a livestream.

Huh?

Where does that leave us? Who retains the streaming rights?

Right now, it is in the hands of the developers and publishers as they can leverage their IP rights to control how content is shared. Whether it is blocking the UI outright or issuing YouTube, Twitch, etc. retaliation, they have a lot of power.

One thing players can do is voice their opinions loudly to developers and publishers. Assert why streaming is important and how blocking it can influence a purchasing decision. One thing that gets people’s attention is when consumers speak with their dollars.

It shouldn’t be all or nothing, though. The happy compromise is selectively blocking content in a game. Whether it is an important story moment or cutscene, we can live with some content being un-capturable or un-streamable. It allows players to stream and get the social benefits of streaming, while keeping game makers happy.

It might seem bleak, but hopefully everyone can find a middle ground between streaming anything and streaming nothing. If developers want fan interaction and strong word of mouth, it will behoove them to explore the happy medium.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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