Please, allow 2018 to finally be the year where “finally” is banned from pop culture headlines. Skim through the articles on any site that covers games, films, or TV with a particularly nerdy bent (which, to be honest, is basically everything these days) and the release of new information, images or trailer footage is framed as something that the collective audience has been anticipating for a long time. And not only have they been waiting, but they deserved to have it earlier. There is a strong vein of entitlement within geek culture at the moment. It’s a weird place to have ended up; I remember being a bookish kid dreaming that, one day, there might be such a thing as a live-action Spider-Man film. Nerds have long for their interests, the thing they were passionate about, to be recognised and taken seriously by the mainstream. We subsisted on the crumbs we were palmed off with until now, in the 21st century, the Alpha Geek reigns supreme over popular culture. That patience was rewarded, but it’s ingrained a whole culture — already with a propensity towards white males who feel, whether rightly or wrongly, marginalised — with a sense of entitlement. We need this stuff to be recognised as important!
Developing alongside that narrative was the internet, and social media in particular, and the mobilisation of the above. Without wanting to get too Black Mirror/concerned parent about this, our ways of relating to media and the world around us have been deeply affected by having internet access ready and waiting to go in our pockets, and the methods of communicating through it have too. The MTV generation before us were criticised for wanting everything now, of not being able to wait, characterised as being satiated only with instant gratification. That entitlement has been carried over, but now we actually do have access to a lot of gratification, instantly. Obscure records can be called up on Spotify, every movie or TV show is streaming, every book available in digital format on Amazon. Information that was previously held within dusty tomes or archives is now all on Wikipedia and IMDb, or at least in a discussion forum where somebody already posed the same query as you, and now you too can benefit from their received knowledge. It happens to me: I get frustrated when Google can give me nothing, when a long-out-of-print movie is so niche that there aren’t even working torrents for it.
What we’re seeing, in the past couple of years, is a homogenisation and placing of borders on the web. We still have access to a shit load of stuff, but rather than pirating it instantly and for free, it’s placed behind the paywalls of the copyright holders. Which, you know, is fine. Gripe with capitalism all you want (and boy do I love to gripe, being a lazy radical and all), people gotta pay the bills. All of these factors can sometimes meld into a disconcerting, toxic melange, however. We feel entitled, because geek culture is ours and it’s taken so long to be recognised; because the internet has told us we can have everything, and we can have it with the snap of a finger (or swipe of the thumb); now, that entitlement is being simultaneously encouraged and policed by copyright holders and big business.
The outrage around Persona 5’s streaming restrictions feels of a piece with these intersecting, related developments. Or at least, that’s my knee-jerk reaction. Japanese developers Atlus, who have sunk a considerable amount of time and money into the RPG’s development (and even more into not only localising and translating but rerecording the entirety of the spoken dialogue for the English-language release), have released a statement asking people not to stream footage from the game online, nominally to avoid “spoilers” of the game’s plot making it out into the wild. Well, truthfully, they went a bit further than that. If playing on the PS4, you literally can’t stream the game, nor share any screenshots or recorded videos, using the systems built-in capabilities for such.
Furthermore, they have threatened to send takedown notices to anybody sharing footage from the game — excepting stuff which they have cleared for games journalism outlets like IGN, Kotaku and Giant Bomb — on YouTube, which can result in entire channels being taken down for periods of time, and similar legal action against people livestreaming the game through services like Twitch. It’s an admittedly extreme stance, one which I believe is based more in protecting their investment than saving fans from plot twists, and one which has drawn no small amount of ire from gamers. A lot of people make a living from streaming, on both YouTube and Twitch, from ad revenue, corporate sponsorship and donations. Not being able to stream Persona 5, a hundred hour-long JRPG during a relative dearth of such titles in the release window, is a major hit in their budgeting and scheduling, presumably. There are streamers whose viewership essentially expects them to play every big release (perhaps they feel like they are…entitled to such).
They feel like they should be allowed to stream the game, regardless of what the people who make the game say. It’s a throwback to the mindset of the open internet, when people could widely disseminate mash-up albums and goofy redubs of footage from movies of TV shows. The sort of thing that automated bots will trawl through websites and flag for removal these days. It’s also that geek entitlement, that not only does the culture belong to “us”, but it belongs to “us” at the exclusion of the people who made the thing. Sometimes that shows itself in a cool, Barthes-approved manner, like fanfic writers or fan filmmakers who address issues they personally saw in texts they love, or simply delve into elements not present in the original. Other times, it’s a somewhat dubious, solipsistic approach to engaging with culture.
Atlus’s statement, on their English website, read
Ok, now let’s talk Persona 5 streaming and videos. Simply put, we don’t want the experience to be spoiled for people who haven’t played the game. Our fans have waited years for the game to come out and we really want to make sure they can experience it fully as a totally new adventure. Please read our video/streaming guidelines below.
Please, PLEASE do not post any specific plot points or story spoilers, and only talk about the game in broad strokes. (Good example: “The game deals with dark themes right off the bat, with a lecherous teacher and other corrupted individuals.” Bad example: “Players immediately run into trouble with the pervy teacher *spoiler*, whose actions go so far as to cause *spoiler*.”)
This being a Japanese title with a single-playthrough story means our masters in Japan are very wary about it. Sharing is currently blocked through the native PS4 UI. However, if you do plan on streaming, video guidelines above apply except length. If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension.
It seems fairly reasonable, honestly. Games development is an expensive business. The act of translating a game, which has a relatively small audience compared to the triple-A titles it goes up against on consoles and PC, is a huge investment of money and resources. Persona 5 has a neat combat system and a surprisingly dense life sim component to its gameplay, but it’s primarily a narrative-lead title. You’re playing this game for the story, whether you’ve been on board with the Megami Tensei meta-franchise from the jump, or this is your first time trying anything Atlus have developed. If people stream that story, the full hundred hours, and you can watch it on YouTube…well, why would you bother buying the game? It can be argued that Atlus are simply protecting their investment. It could also be argued that plenty other narrative-driven games are streamed. Heck, there’s a whole sub-genre of Let’s Play videos which are simply cut scenes edited into “movies” which you can find easily online. It’s possible that this is also simply another example of a Japanese business which is wholly unprepared and unwilling to go along with new developments in how their audience experiences their work, same as the anime companies which still seem wary about streaming and releasing DVDs that don’t cost $75 for three episodes, or Nintendo and their continuing inability to fully grok online gaming.
At the same time, streaming can often be a financial boon to developers, as Ron Gilbert noted in a recent interview with Gamasutra, which itself was streamed, to plug his recently-released, crowd-funded adventure game Thimbleweed Park
What you have when you’re doing streams is you want the streamer to do something in the game and then the people watching the stream going ‘oh no I think he should have done this’…If you’re [making] a linear narrative game, and it has enough depth to it, streaming becomes an advertisement for the game.
This has been a somewhat polemical post, thus far, about one of the things that majorly squicks me out about fan culture (besides the huge amount of alt-right sentiment within it, the inability to reconcile the fact that you can think critically about something and still enjoy it, and Funko Pops), using the overwhelming outcry over the Persona 5 streaming restrictions as a case study. I don’t mean to be so prescriptive, and nor do I condemn nerds for being like this. I’m like this a lot of the time, after all. It’s an easy mindset to slip into. It’s easy because the games industry, whether by natural evolution or design, gears us to think this way (as too do comic books, the geekified blockbuster film industry, television etc).
The games industry, to put it mildly, is fucked. Rampant capitalism isn’t good for anyone, but it’s especially not good for developers. Release dates are set according to projected quarterly revenue, with shareholders demanding that an “investment” they made in the development of a game “pay off” within a certain deadline. This leads to a great deal of drama when a game’s release is pushed back. More often than not, developers don’t get the luxury of more time, and instead have to ship games which are completely broken, requiring enormous day one patches when consumers boot the discs up for the first time to even make them playable. Nobody flourishes in these circumstances except for the money men. The people playing games are ticked off that they’ve dropped a decent chunk of change on unfinished products, the people making those products are compelled into working an unconscionable and quite possibly illegal number of hours, and for what? For them to lose their jobs if the game, which they produced in high-pressure situations conducive to get something out on time, not making something good, if the Metacritic score is bad.
Trickle-down economics has been proven time and again to be absolute horseshit, but trickle-down entitlement? That I can get behind. The majority shareholders, the suits, the people have money and want more money, are top of the game development pyramid. They feel entitled to a return on their investment (again, not unreasonably, that’s how capitalism works and is encouraged to keep the economy “health”). They forego any sense of understanding about what goes into making a game, or the day-to-day slog that developers go through, or the experience of the people playing the game. So long as they get their money, which they expect, and people come back to play later games from the same studio and subsequently get them more money, they’re happy.
We follow it down the chain. For all the artistic intent and creative vision, the people making the game have to ensure they hit certain deadlines and make something which will be accepted by as wide a market as possible, to ensure the greatest amount of money made. As a result, they will kick off if the game is poorly received, because it means they won’t be guaranteed their livelihood, or else the next title they develop will be “punished” with a smaller budget or further restrictions. Then the people playing the game feel they, too, have “invested” because of the price tags game budgets necessitate. The amount of marketing deemed necessary to ensure the game’s success means that you’ve been told for months that this game is brilliant, and that you must play it.
Games journalism is tied into this hype machine, and like livestreamers and vloggers, the people involved have livelihoods which are predicated on access to games so they keep getting an audience. Except if they review something poorly, they could find themselves blacklisted by certain developers, not receive review copies, and lose revenue; between that and the very real Metacritic thing, there is something of an onus on them to not trash titles which are worthy of being trashed. Gamers simultaneously revile reviewers who they see as not being honest in their assessments (actually, it’s about ethics in…) and people who slag off the very same games they’ve played a part in getting the audience excited for. It’s a nasty cycle where nobody wins. Except for the people making serious bank.
It’s within this context that you have to understand not only Atlus’s decision to seriously restrict streaming of Persona 5, and the response to that decision. They don’t want to lose out on revenue because people have simply watched the game being played, rather than buying it and playing it themselves (there is another, valid argument to be made that people who opt to watch a hundred hours of Persona gameplay were probably never going to buy it anyway, that any “lost sales” never existed in the first place). Streamers equally don’t want to lose their audience and revenue.
Gamers are used to having access to everything. Everything else is streaming, what makes this different? I can go watch an episode of Sharky and George on YouTube, but not all the cut scenes from Persona 5? What’s up with that? Money, that’s what. Again, the decision for the gamer to buy or not buy the title is an economic one. Games are expensive. You, too, are making an investment. Sometimes you hold off until you’ve watched some actual gameplay footage. Sometimes you don’t buy it at all, because you can’t afford, or because the piracy-rampant internet has trained you to believe you deserve free things. Perhaps the entitlement encouraged by geek culture and the media surrounding it means you feel you should be allowed to experience Persona 5, for free, without caring a jot for the people who worked on it and how your reluctance to purchase their game might affect them in the future, on creative and immediately tangible levels.
What does all this boil down to? That the entitlement of geek culture is strong, but it’s not the culture’s fault, nor the people within it. The issue, as with most evils in the world, is with rampant and unchecked capitalism. That’s the only reason games, comic book movies and the like get the level of investment and attention they do: because they make money. And along with it, all aspects of culture are informed by it to the point that we treat games reviews like consumer reports, that movies are made by committee and cinemas are overwhelmingly populated with remakes/reboots/sequels/adaptations because they are seen as “safe” investments, that television is full of 2 Broke Girls. It’s all part of the same thing. People are both groomed to be entitled, and then inevitably disappointed, for the same reasons. Nobody is necessarily right or wrong in the Persona debate, but everyone comes off kind of poorly. Except the people reaping the financial rewards.