On Thursday, former Assassin’s Creed developer and current Google Stadia Creative Director Alex Hutchinson said that streamers should pay developers for the privilege of streaming games. Yeah, really.
The Tweet has received 17.1K comments and 17.3K retweets to a lesser 4.9K likes at the time of writing, meaning Hutchinson has been thoroughly “ratioed.” That is to say, more people generally disagreed with Hutchinson’s comments than were on board with the idea. But the fact remains that some people, including those in c-level executive positions around Hutchinson, actually genuinely believe that this is how things ought to be. Clearly that’s delusional, though. If streamers had to pay developers in order to stream games, it would not only negatively impact the streamers but everyone across the hobby—including the developers themselves.
The idea that streamers and content creators shouldn’t be allowed to stream or otherwise produce videos showing off gameplay isn’t new. Nintendo regularly made headlines prior to 2018 (and to a lesser extent, still does) for having a convoluted policy on which parts of their games were allowed in video content. They have since changed their policies somewhat to make their content easier to share because, as it would turn out, having oodles of free advertising littered across every corner of the internet is actually a net positive for developers.
At this point, I know I’ve probably lost a few executives who are reeling at the thought of giving game content away for free. After all, watching a videogame stream you didn’t pay for is the same as listening to illegally streamed music, right? The idea here is that people are tuning in exclusively for the content itself, not the streamer, and Hutchinson himself tweeted along these lines in a thread. But this completely ignores why people actually watch streams: to literally watch someone else play a game they may be interested in.
When you listen to a streamed song, you are getting the same exact experience as the next person to listen to it (regardless of what the audiophiles may have you believe). When you watch a streamer play a game, you are watching them make a series of compounding decisions that will lead them down a much wilder path than you yourself would have taken. No two players are ever going to make the exact same decision, walk in the same direction, or react in the same fashion. People watch streamers for the same reason others might watch a baseball game: the outcome will be different every time.
Sure, someone may watch a streamer beat an entire game and then never pick it up themselves. But that doesn’t mean that person would’ve ever bought the game in the first place. At this point most games that I end up buying, I do so because one of my friends recommended it and had me watch them play for a bit. This works both ways, and it calls into question whether Hutchinson himself has ever watched a friend play a game and then decided to get it afterwards.
Probably the weirdest thing about Hutchinson’s comment is its timing: during the meteoric rise of Among Us. The two year-old game has skyrocketed in popularity not despite being streamed, but nearly entirely because it was being streamed. A game doesn’t go from having 200 daily players to averaging over 190,000 overnight without some series backing. Streamers are largely responsible for this eruption in popularity and continue to reinforce it the point where congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first Twitch stream was of Among Us.
If streaming actually hurt a game’s sales numbers, Among Us wouldn’t have become the hit it is today. This clearly wasn’t the case. Videogames have the distinct property of handing over how they are directed and interpreted straight to the person playing them. Watching someone else play a game is like watching the director of an orchestra rather than listening to the orchestra itself: you’re there because you want to see their interpretation of the music that is then expressed through the orchestra.
But the fact that Hutchinson (who is once again a Creative Director at Google Stadia) thinks that videogame streaming is synonymous with music streaming is greatly concerning. Stadia’s whole model works on the idea that you are licensing not only the games you play, but the hardware you play it on. Videogame prices are going up next generation to $70 a pop, consoles are starting to have payment plans, and the general vibe is that this is going to be the last generation where working class people can (at least pretend to) afford games and consoles without such payment plans.
We are in the middle of a transition, where services like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna may be the way the majority of players get their videogames delivered to them. With people like Hutchinson at the helm of these operations, off-hand tweets about streaming licenses may turn into actual policies across the board. We already know that Nintendo is more than willing to implement a similar policy, the only thing stopping them is public backlash. But with a captive audience, one relying solely on Stadia or Luna or the next for their always-revocable-never-owned game licenses, public backlash won’t matter.
Hutchinson’s last tweet yesterday read, “Anyway, gonna hop online and stream some Fall Guys. Who’s up for it?” Attached was a gif of Jonah Hill’s character in the The Wolf of Wall Street looked tired and annoyed. It’s pretty fitting that Hutchinson would choose a gif from a movie about Wall Street brokers defrauding investors and making a fortune while doing so. At the end of the day, Hutchinson is going to be fine. He’s survived in the industry while being openly racist and sexist. Considering he’s in a higher up position at Google, he’s going to be more than fine actually. From up there, he’s going to be able to make decisions that impact how everyone interacts with videogames and constrain the ways we enjoy them. Then after, he’s going to sit back, relax and play whatever game he wants, because his decisions won’t have any consequences for him, just everyone else.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez__.