Saturday, March 1, 2014
VaatiVidya's Corporate Partnership
A great deal of controversy concerning the revelation of a partnership between the well-known Dark Souls commentator/youtuber, VaatiVidya, and videogame retailer, Gamestop, has flared up in recent weeks. The partnership was leaked through the appearance of a video, authored by VaatiVidya and "powered" by Gamestop, on the company's website. Suffice it to say, the surfacing of the video surprised a lot of people in the Souls community, including VaatiVidya himself, who apparently did not know that Gamestop was going to release it in this manner. More significantly, the video sparked a substantial backlash within the community, enough that VaatiVidya felt compelled to clarify his position both on the reddit forums and on youtube, assuring followers that he was not paid for it and that he had not "sold out."
Let me be perfectly clear and say that I am not persuaded by VaatiVidya's explanations and re-assurances. His claim that he is not being "paid" is disingenuous and misleading. More importantly, his account overlooks the more glaring problems with his corporate partnership. He seems to think that he can go on making Souls videos in an unbiased manner, despite being joined to entities representing the financial interests of the game. This is just wrong and the signs of it are starting to show.
First, it is important to note that VaatiVidya didn't actually come clean about his relationship with GameStop until he was outed by accident. His explanation was more like damage control than genuine transparency, and if we look backwards, we can see that this was something he was doing before the revelation too. Running up to GameStop-gate, people had noticed VaatiVidya's videos beginning to take on an unusually promotional tone, including links to GameStop pre-orders in the "relevant links" section. Many, understandably, were a bit taken aback by this. It became a topic of discussion in the community. Some even posted comments about it on VaatiVidya's youtube channel.
VaatiVidya's response to these criticisms was simply to delete them from his website.
You might say he was just annoyed and decided he wasn't going to let such comments stand. But the fact is, VaatiVidya gets hundreds of comments everyday, some kind, some not so kind, and this hasn't seemed to bother him in the past. The suggestion that he was being less than 100% genuine apparently touched a nerve. Prior to the GameStop incident, one could interpret VaatiVidya's actions in a number of ways. But after the revelation of his partnership, it becomes extremely difficult not to see what did as a kind of covering up
VaatiVidya's apologia posted to youtube and reddit might be said to be equally dubious. On reddit, he made the following statement:
these videos were allowed to be hosted on GameStop's channel and webpage. I don't think it's completely fair to even say they were made FOR GameStop, because i'm not getting paid for them and these are videos I plan on making anyway. I was the one who pitched the concept for each one.
Saying that he is "not getting paid" for these videos is a misleading equivocation on his part. It may be true that neither Namco-Bandai nor GameStop is paying him money for these videos. But they are paying him with content, which VaatiVidya subsequently monetizes. Through his partnership, VaatiVidya receives footage of Dark Souls II that no one else has access to. This access has value, financial value, and the proof of this is in the sky-high number of views he is getting (two to three times more than his videos usually get).
There's nothing wrong with someone getting paid for his or her creative work. It's a labor like any other. But VaatiVidya's partnering with GameStop and Namco-Bandai constitutes a different case. In legal speak, we have a "conflict of interest."
By partnering with the distributors of the game, VaatiVidya has tied his work to its corporate interests.These interests have the profitability of the game as their and first and foremost concern. All other considerations are secondary. Through his partnership, this set of values becomes his as well. It works like this: Whatever content VaatiVidya creates will inevitably be framed by his own knowledge that his special relationship with Namco-Bandai and GameStop, and the exclusive content it gains him, depends upon his work aligning with the priorities of the corporations. If, for example, he were to decide that he didn't think DSII was as good as the first game, or had serious complaints about major design decisions, and posted a video about it, Namco-Bandai certainly wouldn't provide him with any early access in the future. VaatiVidya knows this and the knowing of it can't help but affect his assessment of the game, even in ways that he might not be conscious of. Saying something that might negatively impact the game's profitability could cost VaatiVidya real financial gain, and there's simply no way that this situation wouldn't have some bearing on his work, even if on an unconscious level. Thus the corporate interests in the game, the interests that place profit above all else, become VaatiVidya's interest, whether he wants them to or not.
As a gamer and fan of the Souls series, I of course have a different set of interests (as am sure you do too). While I certainly wish From and Namco-Bandai well financially, I do not place their bottom line above my own appreciation of the game as an aesthetic object. Accordingly, I feel free to critique the game (positively or negatively) as I see fit, with no ulterior motives about profit influencing those judgments. By partnering with Namco-Bandai and GameStop, however, VaatiVidya has lost that ability by making profit one of the deciding factors for his critical appreciation of the game. Consequently, he will have to judge the game according to a metric that is alien to the pure enjoyment of the game as an aesthetic object. For him, it becomes a commodity to be sold, and when he speaks about it, he does so with this condition in mind.
The upshot is that VaatiVidya has severely compromised his own capacity to evaluate the next and future Souls games in an unbiased manner.
Believing that VaatiVidya could just go on making the videos 'he wants' after partnering with Namco-Bandai and GameStop is just wishful thinking. His own assertions to the contrary are naive at best. The fact of the matter is, he has bound his work to the outlook held by the money-making side of Souls series and as a result, his work will have to incorporate that outlook into his own.
There's a reason why we don't want a judge to decide a case involving members of his family. It's the same reason you don't want a journalist reporting on a company in which he is financially invested. Bias is unavoidable in such situations, and bias unavoidably taints people's perspectives.VaatiVidya has tainted his relation to the Souls series by partnering with forces that value its profit above all else. His opinions will be informed by theirs. And as a result, he can no longer speak to the community simply as a fellow gamer. Instead, he now represents the corporate arm of the Souls series, and all the values that come with it. Take that as you will.