Google Stadia [Employee*] Has a License to Stupid and He's Not Afraid to Use It

Illustration for article titled Google Stadia [Employee*] Has a License to Stupid and Hes Not Afraid to Use It
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

Here it is, folks, the worst take on video game livestreaming that the internet has to offer.

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By day, Alex Hutchinson is a senior creative director at Google’s fledgling cloud gaming service, Stadia. Also by day, he tweets, like many of us do. But unfortunately for Hutchinson, he’s quickly becoming Twitter’s character of the day after he waded into the subject of the copyright purge that shook up Twitch streamers earlier this week.

Here are the tweets that got him in trouble:

Illustration for article titled Google Stadia [Employee*] Has a License to Stupid and Hes Not Afraid to Use It
Screenshot: Gizmodo
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On Tuesday, news broke that Twitch has pulled down thousands of videos from streamers who didn’t have the proper license for music that can be heard in their clips. It was a move that many people knew might come someday, but the coldness of Twitch’s actions was unexpected. Rather than giving creators the opportunity to remove videos themselves or dispute a DMCA claim from a rightsholder (as is common on platforms like YouTube), Twitch just killed the videos. Hutchinson is saying that Twitch didn’t go far enough and any video game content on the streams is violating creators’ rights.

When someone comes out with a forceful declaration that one of Amazon’s services is operating illegitimately, it pains me to disagree. But in this case, the argument is so ridiculous that I must defend Amazon’s honor.

At the legal level, people who like to stream video games on Twitch are theoretically covered by fair use protections under U.S. law. Individual cases may vary, but the concept of playing a game while other people watch it, making decisions about how the gameplay will proceed, and providing commentary along the way should all combine into a nice example of transformative creation.

But video games are a relatively young medium, and livestreaming hasn’t been around for very long either. Hutchinson is suggesting that if video game developers decided to test the law, they could create a new stream of royalties from influencers or they could kill platforms like Twitch. The law isn’t cut-and-dry, but I can say definitively that Hutchinson is being an asshole and self-owning in entirely unnecessary ways.

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As the angry comments rolled in, Hutchinson got defensive, tweeting, “Amazing to me that people are upset at someone saying that the creators of content should be allowed to make some of the money from other people using their content for profit.” In the case of video game streamers, they do pay money to developers by buying the dang game. If the streamer pirated the game, there are laws for that.

This leads us to the stupidest part of the argument. Streamers make money for game studios through promotion, and it’s not a great idea to piss them off. Hutchinson comes from the game development world and has led the way on popular titles like Assassins Creed III and FarCry 4. Google bought his company, Typhoon Studios, before he got his fancy new title and expense account. I don’t believe that Hutchinson was thinking while wearing his Google hat this afternoon.

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Stadia is barely out of the gate, it faces competition from Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles next month, and it has to fend off others who are trying to elbow into the cloud gaming space. The service needs streamers to adopt the platform and spread the word. Amazon owns Twitch, and it couldn’t even get streamers to adopt its first big video game, Crucible. After five months, the online multiplayer game was shut down. As it builds hype for its next game, The New World, Amazon has focused on courting streamers and is seeing positive results well before that game’s official release date. And that’s just an example from the AAA game world. Countless little indie games have found their audience because of Twitch, with Among Us being the most recent notable example.

And if Hutchinson wants to make the argument that putting up video content that features gameplay is a copyright violation, there are probably just as many examples to be found on Google’s YouTube platform.

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Why, oh why, would Hutchinson want to poke this hornet’s nest and rile up the gamers he needs in order to make that money that he just can’t get enough of? Based on his timeline tap out, he’s realized that he doesn’t want to do that at all:

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*Update 8:51PM: A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that Hutchinson isn’t an executive, rendering our previous headline “Google Stadia Exex Has a License to Stupid and He’s Not Afraid to Use It” inaccurate. “The recent tweets by Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director at the Montreal Studio of Stadia Games and Entertainment, do not reflect opinions of Stadia, YouTube or Google,” the spokesperson said. The error is regrettable, for someone.

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DISCUSSION

Streaming is odd when it comes to copyright law. On the face it would probably be against the law.

But then comes along “fair use” and really confuses things. It MIGHT be fair use, but it might not be. As fair as I know there hasn’t been any higher court rulings on game streaming.

  • PRO: It is transformative
  • PRO: It is often educational, or review or commentary
  • PRO/CON: It sometimes uspurps the market. Sometimes people don’t need to buy a game / feature because of streaming
  • CON: Most of the time it is for profit, many streamers and youtubers make significant money from doing so
  • PRO/CON: Amount used. Some streamers show 100% of a game.... Buuuut playing a game is different than watching a game... sometimes?
  • PRO/CON: Some companies like streaming, some don’t.

I think if push came to shove streamers would lose under current law and Alex was right.  But I could see it going going the other way under the right situations.

If you bought a book off of Amazon and started a TV show where you act out the book with funny costumes and skits, and so forth. But you do the whole book and make a good profit. That situation matches streaming and that would be struck down pretty hard.