The majority of fan-created content is part of a gift economy: things created and given from one fan to others. Fans write fanfiction, draw fanart, create machinima, and record let’s plays largely out of passion for the original title and the community, and out of passion for the act of artistic creation itself. Very few people, proportionately, make a living wage from fan-created content. However, this has not stopped corporate entities from seeking to control and profit from it. This is exactly what Atlus is doing with its new streaming and video-creation guidelines for Persona 5.
It would be understandable if Atlus placed a full embargo on streaming and videos for Persona 5. The company wishes to profit off its game, which the developer says it “worked [its] freaking butts off” on, and would lose potential sales from those who would experience Persona 5’s full narrative (much of the game’s worth) through streams and videos instead of a purchase. However, Atlus so far is allowing players to stream and post videos of Persona 5—but with limitations. The limitations signal Atlus’s desire to preserve the narrative for potential buyers. For example:
- “No major story spoilers”
- “Must not focus solely on cutscenes/animated scenes, should prominently feature dungeon crawling”
- “You can post straight gameplay”
- “Please limit video content through 7/7 [a date in the game’s calendar system]”
The post uses language suggesting that Atlus’s intent in preserving the narrative is an altruistic, protective act:
“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.
“Just please keep in mind that as a singular story playthrough, viewers are highly wary of spoilers!”
The suggestion that someone who has waited years for the release of Persona 5 would enter into a video or stream and be spoiled against their own will is preposterous and an insult to the Persona fanbase. Atlus’s guidelines do not serve to protect the player’s experience; they serve to protect Persona 5’s sales. Again, this would be justifiable if there was a complete ban on Persona 5 video, but Atlus’s guidelines seem designed to exploit the free labour of passionate fans as profit in the form of free advertising for its product. The guidelines allow players to post mostly non-narrative content and only up to a certain point in the game. This is enough of Persona 5 to serve as advertisement for a potential purchase, but not enough to dis-incentivize that purchase based on significant exposure to Persona 5’s most valuable trait: its narrative.
Atlus threatens those fans that transcend its guidelines with “a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension.” If you don’t create by its rules, Atlus has the power to prevent you from creating outright. This threat exemplifies the two-faced nature of the post, which cheerily dispenses in-game advice and jokes, and uses a conversational tone throughout, but ends by expressing Atlus’s intent to manipulate and police fan creators in a way that’s most in line with corporate interests. The post may begin by denying allegations that Atlus is engaging in “PR speak” within, but the company is doing nothing but. Atlus is masking exploitation by suggesting that its attempt to govern fan content is in its fans’ best interests. If the rhetoric weren’t so insulting to the fanbase’s intelligence, it would be spin of the highest degree.