Microsoft Studios Announces New Let’s Play–Friendly Monetization Rules

by Mike Futter on Jan 09, 2015 at 05:00 AM

Monetization of Let’s Play videos and livestreaming has been a topic of discussion for quite a while, with publishers taking different approaches. The decision to allow monetization is widely diversified, with a number of companies offering different views.

Some, like Nintendo, have opted to claim the ad revenue related to videos of their games. Others, like Devolver Digital, Deep Silver, and Riot Games have explicitly authorized monetization. Some publishers, like Atlus, don’t have a formal policy but are willing to work to clear false claims (a problem that reared its head in a big way in December 2013). Additional publisher policies can be found here.

Today, Microsoft Studios joins the growing roster of publishers that have a formal policy in place, the publisher tells Game Informer. Microsoft's rules lean in favor of YouTube Let’s Players and Twitch streamers, but the company has clear protections in place to protect its intellectual property. There are some steps you’ll need to follow in order to remain in the clear.

Like Ubisoft’s policy, Microsoft’s rules aren’t a blank check to use game assets. You can’t reverse engineer the software to extract files, which means you’re limited to what’s feasible in the game. Additionally, Microsoft is prohibiting a variety of offensive content. The list is as follows:

You can't use Game Content to create an Item (defined as machinima, videos, and other derivative creations) that is pornographic, lewd, obscene, vulgar, discriminatory (on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), illegal, hate speech, promoting violence, drug use or any illegal activity, promoting crimes against humanity, genocide or torture, or is otherwise objectionable. Whether an Item is "objectionable" is up to us, but you can expect us to be concerned if a significant number of people in the game’s community or the public at large report the content as offensive.

Microsoft is also prohibiting the sale of your creations, and this is where things may get tricky for some people. The publisher says that your videos cannot appear as part of a subscription or pay-for-play website. Items may also not appear as part of an app that carries a fee, nor can they even appear on the same page on which other things are sold, even if they are completely unrelated.

If whatever you create ends up as an app in and of itself, it must be offered for free. You cannot include advertising either. Monetization authorization seems to be limited to YouTube and Twitch advertising.

Anything you create with Microsoft Studios content automatically grants the company a “royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license.” This means that Microsoft can use your creations based on their products and your name for promotional purpose without your permission or compensation. 

Further, any ideas you might create (like side-stories or lore) can be used by Microsoft. This is largely to protect the company in case there are unintended similarities between your ideas and something that appears in a future title.

In addition to complying with Microsoft’s rules, those that wish to monetize their creations need to include boilerplate language alongside the videos. There are no specific placement requirements, other than the notice (below) should appear where “anyone who sees your Item will easily find [it].”

[Name of the Microsoft Game] © Microsoft Corporation. [The title of your Item] was created under Microsoft's "Game Content Usage Rules" using assets from [Name of the Microsoft Game], and it is not endorsed by or affiliated with Microsoft.   

Though Microsoft now owns Mojang (and, therefore, Minecraft), these rules do not apply to that game. That title has its own set of guidelines (viewable here). The guidelines for the rest of the publisher's lineup going into effect today can be read in full here.

One thing that both documents have in common is the prohibition against making your creation appear to be official. You cannot use the name of the game in your title. As an example, Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue is just fine. But if it were called Halo: Red Vs. Blue, Microsoft wouldn’t be happy.

You’ll also want to be mindful that some content that Microsoft produces might require other permissions or have slightly adjusted rules. For instance, Forza’s cars are trademarked by their respective manufacturer, as are some of the tracks by their owners.

You also can’t use Microsoft’s trademarked logos as part of your own logo. So if your project’s name is “Bob Plays,” don’t make use the Xbox Logo in place of the “O.”. Microsoft’s complete usage guidelines for trademarks can be found here.


Our Take
Boiled down, these rules give YouTubers and Twitch streamers explicit permission to make money on videos via those platforms’ built-in ad programs. There is a great deal of legal protection in here though, so you’d do well to pay attention to the nuance.

While these rules give you the okay to earn revenue, they also give Microsoft the ability to pull the plug on your work should you violate the terms of the permission. You’ll need to color within the lines, but provided you do, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that Microsoft is okay with your monetization.