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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Column: The 'Let's Play' FFXIV Impasse

By Victor Barreiro Jr. on August 30, 2013

Some of you may have noticed that The Devil’s Advocate was kind of missing last week. I developed an upper respiratory infection and needed to spend a few days to recover, but I’m mostly on the mend now, and just in time too. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FFXIV: ARR) is available for play!

While I haven’t been able to get too into it, I was able to do some light reading during my downtime, which led to my finding out about Square Enix’s Materials Usage License (M.U.L.) for FFXIV: ARR. The license I mentioned above is basically a discussion of what people can and cannot do with the assets from the game , including video, audio, and other copyrighted and trademarked materials.

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While a number of people, most especially those who make a living out of putting up Let’s Play videos, are a bit miffed about it (Reddit has a round up of some of the video blogs from these Youtube channel creators), I think It would be overly simple to call it a foolish move on Square Enix’s part.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of disallowing people to record and publish their game videos online for work. Then again, I’m also the type who realizes that for a reboot as well-made as this one, whatever option Square Enix’s legal department chose in relation to this would have likely resulted in just as much negative sentiment of a varying kinds. Let’s go through these bits and pieces as best we can.

Videos and the M.U.L.

With regard to videos, the following are the listed requirements:

  • The video must not require a paid membership for viewing;
  • You may not monetize your video via the YouTube partner program or any similar programs on other video sharing sites.
  • You may not split our videos (vocal, music, visual, etc.) and distribute components as separate assets;
  • You may not combine or synchronize the Materials with third party content (e.g., a mash-up), but you may include the Materials alongside third party content (e.g., before or after in the same video) as long as you also have permission from the original copyright owner);
  • The video must not contain racist, sexist, homophobic or generally offensive content of any kind. This includes graphic violence or sexually explicit content.

There are a couple of bits to contend with, I suppose, but aside from free expression restrictions as it relates to FFXIV: ARR content, the thing that likely gets some people annoyed is that Let’s Play videos cannot be monetized.

For Gamers and Let’s Players

What makes this bad for gamers and Let’s Play creators? There are a number of things, really, but for gamers, the basics would likely be not being able to learn more about FFXIV: ARR from an established gamer and thus not having a better grasp of how different some of the game’s aspects are to others.

This is easily remedied by actually playing the game or by reading through Ryahl’s Eorzea Reborn columns, but it can be a tough sell to a newcomer who knows Final Fantasy from the single-player games to be thrust into a multiplayer gaming universe.

For the more cynical, the M.U.L acts as a sort of anti-critiquing mechanism, since it also allows for the takedowns of anything that Square Enix feels doesn’t comply with its rules. As it states under the general guidelines, “You must immediately comply with any request by Square Enix to remove any Materials, in Square Enix's sole discretion.”

This could be done regardless of how valid or warranted a particular report is, so for instance if someone were to broadcast a video proving someone was botting in-game, Square Enix could potentially sweep such under the rug so long as it deemed it necessary by the wording of its license.

For Let’s Play makers, there are two annoying things about this. The first is that they can’t get any revenue for discussing a game they may legitimately like and want to promote as part of a job they may enjoy doing, which is a darned shame.

The second thing is that by not having content of this sort, and without people knowing anything about the situation, some may think they just passed it over. The videos I linked above from Reddit would be the proactive way of saying, “We want to cover this game, but Square Enix is not playing nice with our means of paying for food and clothing and other necessities.”

Thinking About Square Enix

Thinking about it from the side of Square Enix was difficult, but I forced myself to do it, if only to realize what things might be important to see from their viewpoint. One thing I realized was that, in its current state, FFXIV: ARR relies a bit on some semblance of mystery to afford it a long-term existence.

If the M.U.L. is seen as a tactic to dissuade others from making spoiler videos, then Square Enix has likely done some of its homework as to what sort of videos go up online and wants to mitigate the loss of mystery for the game among new players. Why would someone want to play A Realm Reborn, mind you, if someone was simply going to offer up the important bits of story to you on a YouTube channel, right?

At the same time, this actually doesn’t dissuade dungeon romping teams from completing their content or making a free video to teach people strategy (which requires little editing, seeing as you need the audiovisual cues to be in-place to learn anyway, but the incentive to be the first to spoil content for the sake of monetization is lost.

The other thing that a high-profile franchise wants to do is avoid controversy by lessening the chances for people to make stuff up about the game. To that end, the M.U.L. serves the purpose well, though a bit too strictly.

By allowing people to make voiceovers for the videos, while forcing them not to use “racist, sexist, homophobic or generally offensive content,” I’m guessing they’re focused on making sure the game isn’t misrepresented or used as a form of critique against real-world connections.

What do I mean by this? Well, take for example the three city-states thing. The three have different cultures, and their own sets of problems, but politically are very different (and all of whom have female leaders, considering everything). Were you to throw any political or sexist or unduly unkind statement regarding a real-world parallel to the game, Square Enix could get in trouble without meaning to.

Not a Fantastic Situation

Right now, Square Enix is in an unenviable position in relation to this. between allowing some more creative freedoms and the ability for professional game casters to make a living, or protecting a long-term investment that has already cost them dearly, it seems they are playing it safe this round. I do not begrudge them that.

I would, however, like to see a relaxation of these rules over time. As the situation and storyline develops further and we learn more about the game world and get into housing and whatnot, being able to recall the history of the game seems to be something worthwhile. At the very least, having important bits of story on speed dial aside from “The Unending Journey” book in the inn rooms seems to be ideal.

Of course, that’s just me talking. I’m interested in knowing what solutions you might have that would allow Square Enix to protect its intellectual property while allowing gamers and Let’s Play makers more leeway to actually make stuff. Chime in below!

ADDENDUM: 

A day after writing this, it seems Square Enix actually went out and made some changes to their Materials Usage License that'll be of great news to Let's Play fans.

Part of their revised M.U.L. reads, "You may not use the Materials for any sales or commercial use, meaning you cannot receive license fees or advertising revenue, except as part of the partner programs operated by YouTube.com, Twitch.tv, Ustream.tv, or similar programs. If the operator of a partner program seeks to confirm our policy, please point them to this page as we do not have the resources to respond to all requests."

While this somewhat contradicts a later statement (that I noted in the above article), I imagine the amendment takes precedence over the older one, and the appropriate departments will fix the copy ASAP. Carry on! 

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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