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Hi! My name is Bartosz Brzostek, I'm one of the founders of 11 bit studios, the team behind Anomaly series, and recently announced This War Of Mine. A few days ago I had a chance to read The Blood Pact of Visibility by Ian Stocker (http://n4g.com/user/blogpost/indiemonth/528134). In his post Ian presented his thoughts on the topic of YouTubers and devs mutual relations, if there should be a flow of money included, and who should pay whom. I decided to also share my thoughts, as I believe some time ago we at 11 bit studios came with a neat idea aimed at addressing the problem.
Instead of beginning with the dev/YouTuber case, let me start with the player. In the end he is the one putting his money on the table. So let's think for a moment, why do people pay for games? They pay because the games provide them with a real value - entertainment value - and they consider this value to be worth the price. Of course there's a great disturbance related to F2P model, however after some time of its existence it's clear that not all games fit it well. Some experiences can't be monetized this way (at least not yet) and there are players willing to pay for them up front. They pay for being entertained.
Now think about Let's Play videos. What are they if not entertainment as well? People watch them because they enjoy them. They watch mostly not to get informed about the games, they watch to be entertained. The entertainment value is flowing from the maker of the video to the player. For this to be sustainable, somehow the money has to flow the opposite way. The creators have to make money for entertaining their audience! Either by the way of ads, or maybe pay per view, or maybe something else. I personally don't believe that ads are the best way of compensating the creators. If it was, the premium TV wouldn't work. Some game developers find quietly passing money to youtubers for coverage rather controversial. I think we need a more direct way, and I believe the introduction of tip jar by YT (Mashable has a nice video on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgB24_IU3Uk) is a recognition of that need. I personally think that paying the creator directly just for watching will not become very common. Payments for something that used to be free won't be easily accepted. We need more finesse here.
With this in mind, in the early 2013, we at 11 bit studios started to think about a solution that brings all parties together - players, game developers, and video creators. The idea came from an unexpected place. I spend quite some time reading car tuning forums. People spend so much effort and energy to modify their cars, either to race or just for the sake of modding. And I've noticed that there are some forum members who run professional tuning shops. They share their knowledge and give a lot of advice to the tinkers. And the latter, grateful for the advice, when buying tuning parts, order them from the shops of people who helped them in a show of support. I wondered - why couldn't it work with games? If people are going to buy a game anyway, why buy it from some random store, and not from the one who they like? This led us to Games Republic.
Games Republic is a platform that allows the buyer to support YouTubers, bloggers, or even other players by getting the game from their store, widget or affiliation link. Anyone can link to any game available on the platform, and say - "if you by any chance decide to buy this game you can support me by getting it here". Player pays the same price as elsewhere, and the creator gets half of the platforms' share from the transaction. Win-Win-Win!
At first we were designing Games Republic as a storefront-free solution. We thought of it as a catalogue of opportunities for bloggers and vloggers – hey, guys, here’s a bunch of games that you can benefit from if you create materials about those specific titles. After several iterations we decided however to introduce custom storefronts for everyone who wants them (but they are not obligatory). Thanks to this solution users can focus on one specific type of games (say: hardcore strategy games) by creating their own space within Games Republic. And be very specific about it: this is my store and if you buy something here, you are directly supporting me.
The multiple storefronts functionality answers one of the most serious problems digital distribution is facing today: the problem with visibility and discoverability. Dominant position of Steam and its limited space on its storefront makes more and more games disappear without a trace. We think of our dispersed storefronts as a potential solution to that problem.
From the very beginning however we were thinking of our platform as a „context is king” solution. Therefore we decided to NOT go with the classic affiliation model which is a little bit of a pyramid scheme – in this model anyone who registers with your affiliation link contributes with her or his purchases towards your financial score. The more registrations you get, the more money you earn, which creates an obvious trend of spamming your affiliation link wherever and whenever you can. We purposedly scrapped this model in favor of creating a strong context between the blogger, his material, his audience and their needs. The blogger speaks honestly about a game and then - hype already created – benefits from game purchases that follow. We like to think about our solution as a „Buy this game and support me” button – two functions within the same action.
This of course sparks the discussion of blogger’s honesty. Wouldn’t that solution make him get excited about crappy games just to generate sales? Well, there are feeble minds everywhere but when a creator wants to be real and credible, he will never turn to such lowly tricks. Besides, as most of us know, content creators are NOT reviewers. They can create any content about a game and it can still be generating hype and sales as well. They can laugh about game’s complexity and create hillarious ragequit videos that shoot a title straight to top ten on Steam charts. Do those materials undermine their credibility? Hell no. Are they beneficial to game developers? Hell yes. But we believe that bloggers/creators should also benefit from those materials!
In spite of the fact that we launched only recently (last week of April), we already have proof that our model works. During Spintires launch (we managed to add the game to our catalogue before its release) we had a case of a YouTuber who created a pre-release let’s-play video about this game, honestly presenting it to his audience. Many people followed his link to Games Republic to buy the game and he made some good money thanks to it. I'm no expert in video ads, however I believe simple ads would not bring him such income. He generated context and earned his money on it.
The news about Kerbal affiliation program seem to confirm this is where the future is headed: content creators not getting bogged in stupid discussions „were you paid to create this material?!” but content creators openly saying – „No. Nobody paid me to create this material. But each and every one of you can - by buying the game I am talking about”. We believe this is a slightly more elegant solution than slapping a „sponsored material” text within video description. Could it be more profitable? Well, here we get to the fundamental discussion of business models - flat sponsorship rates versus effectivity earnings. But in our case those two models do not exclude themselves.
For top vloggers our solution would mean more transparency towards their users but also an opportunity to benefit from any video they create (and not only those videos that are sponsored). With millions of views thousands of people become hyped but the vlogger is not benefitting from the hype he created. What’s more, that approach does not exclude sponsorships. Hello, I created this material as a part of a sponsorship deal but if you wish to buy this game, you can do so through the link in my video description. If you do so, you will also support me. Everybody’s happy.
For smaller content creators our tools may become an opportunity to get their piece of the pie – they may not be featured in publisher networks but they obviously have a group of loyal followers who will gladly buy games and support them at the same time. Is Games Republic a solution for long-tail monetization then? Could be. We hope it will be. We believe that transparency is the most important factor in a healthy relationship between „businesses” and their „fans”. And we are working on the transparency concept.
We will gladly discuss any feedback you may have.