YouTube has strangely been the center of controversy over the past few months, with the whole PewDiePie/Wall Street Journal debacle, Colin Moriarty’s stance against the hit-hungry gaming media, and most recently JonTron’s Twitch meltdown. However, the most baffling of all recent developments seems to be the most nonsensical; a tale between Nintendo, YouTuber/gaming critic Jim Sterling and an over-protective Nintendo fanbase.
In 2015, Nintendo took to YouTube to implement the Nintendo Creators Program – a way for YouTubers to utilize the extent of Nintendo games’ video content without facing copyright strikes, and receive a percentage back of the advertising and hit revenue. This would be justifiable if video creators wanted to use raw footage of Nintendo’s games, but as the Program quickly gained steam, it just didn’t seem to be the case at all. Nintendo began a warpath of copyright strikes on videos daring to use any and all of their properties. To make matters worse, these copyright strikes were in direct conflict with YouTube’s own Fair Use Policy, meaning that licensed properties were usable by video creators granted it was in a transformative manner (e.g. video reviews and let’s plays). However, Nintendo intentionally broke these policies to lay strikes like it were a kind of personal vendetta (a proven fact today as Angry Joe generously pointed out) and eventually, many furious YouTubers spoke out against it – one in particular being Jim Sterling.
I believe this is where it all really started, as Nintendo began paying attention to the way YouTube has really influenced a large majority of direct games and console sales. Almost every developer in the industry abided by YouTube’s Fair Use Policy because they clearly understood this one fact. Ultimately, YouTube was a platform that offered the much needed exposure for their products – free publicity, if you will. This was a win-win formula; developers got their games more noticed and in return, the video creators responsible for that exposure could generally earn their own revenue. The Nintendo Creators Program slithered its way somewhere down the middle for Nintendo’s own benefit.
Of course, this was 2015 and things moved on since then, but not before Jim Sterling got in a final jab at Nintendo’s Creators Program. Sterling is no stranger to being very outspoken against ludicrous events in the gaming world, perhaps the most outspoken gaming YouTuber there really is (this has gotten him into a ton of trouble in the past, i.e. the Digital Homicide fiasco). As mentioned before with Nintendo’s personal vendetta, fast-forward to 2017 where the Nintendo Switch is the talk of the town. On YouTube, Nintendo implemented a “whitelist” of people who were allowed to freely discuss the new console and games, maybe because they didn’t curse or spoke well about Nintendo products before.
Among these names excluded from the list were Jim Sterling, Angry Joe, Boogie2988 and a handful of other YouTubers who were more than upset to find out they couldn’t review the Switch or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In fact, Sterling created an entire video in protest against Nintendo, suggesting that it was okay to now pirate all Nintendo games – an admittedly bold and forward challenge to the company.
So amidst the heap of angry voices on YouTube, Breath of the Wild debuts with the Switch and the game suddenly rakes in stellar reviews on the level of “greatest games of all time” praise. Landing an astonishing 98% on Metacritic, Breath of the Wild received the highest accolades a game has seen in years, if not decades. But not all fairy tales have a happy ending. Sterling’s name was brought back into the line of fire when his written review of the game went up on his website, The Jimquisition. Sterling awarded the game a 7/10, stating it was a good but flawed experience. The fan backlash that followed was, for lack of better words, utterly appalling, and further cemented why gaming hype culture can do more harm than good for everyone involved.
In retrospect of the entire debacle, yes, the Nintendo Creators Program wasn’t a very smart move for Nintendo. It felt more like a dictatorial purge of a company so out of touch with how the modern world works, that its only point of action would be to silence the very consumers that seem to offer constructive criticism, even if a few curse words were thrown in for added spice. It was simply the case of Nintendo taking advantage of a system on YouTube that increasingly proved successful for its competitors’ expansive marketing. It’s like Nintendo intentionally shot itself in the foot trying to figure out if they were immortal gods or not.
Sterling’s and a good majority of other YouTubers’ concerns about the program were certainly heard, but if only for Nintendo to back off a little while to allow the hype behind the Switch to settle in. By then, it was a little too late, and the damage had been done by Nintendo and their exclusivity list, as if trying to control what is said about their new console is acceptable. It’s simply not how the world works anymore. If a bigger target couldn’t be painted on their head, it would surely be painted on the head of Jim Sterling shortly after his Breath of the Wild review hit the internet.
For a mere 7/10 review, the backlash Sterling received could be comparative to 2016’s blunder of irrationality and blind dreams, No Man’s Sky. Passionate (to a very large fault) fans of Nintendo and Breath of the Wild attacked Sterling, even going as far as DDoS’ing his website. However, his review was never painted in any particularly negative or purposefully spiteful light. Sterling’s criticisms were perfectly valid, especially on the games’ poor weapon durability which surely speaks for the same gripes many people have about certain RPG’s, including myself. The fact that Sterling gave the game a lower score than the consensus of reviewers could mean he did it out of spite for Nintendo or not, but it doesn’t matter when berated by a legion of delusional, obsessive fans who think a drop in a Metacritic score by 1% actually means something.
There’s plenty of lessons to be learned here and sadly a lot of concerns about gaming hype culture reaffirmed too. From my personal point of view, Sterling had every right to say what he said, but the real problems here lie with the companies who try to maintain perfect images of themselves and the eruption of dividing opinions and threats within their community that emerge from that. It’s a dangerous gambling game that Nintendo needs to be accountable for, if not to quill the already outrageous and irrational fanbase who will offer no less than to threaten the livelihood of an individual if it means upholding “perfect”.