Google wants its upcoming game-streaming service, Stadia, to up the ante for live-streamed games on YouTube, but Google didn’t address the many ways its system could lead to harassment, demonetization, and other problems for creators
One of Stadia’s most exciting developments for YouTube creators is “Crowd Play,” a feature that allows creators to play games like NBA 2K19 with their viewers. It seems like a good idea on the surface, but Google’s presentation didn’t mention any potential harms that could come from Crowd Play. For just over an hour, multiple members of Google’s Stadia team and YouTube’s head of gaming, Ryan Wyatt, spoke about the benefits Stadia had for players and creators. Gaming is more seamless, Google Stadia chief Phil Harrison claimed; Wyatt told YouTubers it would open a whole new world of interaction and engagement with fans.
Neither Harrison nor Wyatt touched upon one of the most important questions: how easily can bad actors take advantage of Crowd Play?
Imagine a popular YouTube creator with a sizable audience. They have an army of dedicated fans that follow them everywhere, and are ready to line up for a chance to play a game with their favorite YouTuber. Stadia is a perfect way of integrating that community of loyal supporters into a more collaborative space; live-streaming with fans is the digital equivalent of signing autographs after a show.
Crowd Play does present this opportunity, but neither Google nor YouTube explained how the queuing system worked. A popular YouTuber known for gaming streams, like DanTDM or Jacksepticeye, may attract trolls who purposely line up just for an opportunity to yell offensive or hateful words on stream. When that happens, it’s often the creators hosting the stream who have to deal with the consequences. So if a creator is using Stadia, which Google and YouTube want them to do, what protects them from flagrant abuse?
These problems aren’t just possibilities in the realm of live-streaming — they happen regularly. YouTube is home to countless compilations of trolls using voice chat or text-to-speak technology in an effort to disrupt live streams.
It’s unclear if Stadia will allow YouTube creators to choose who they play with or if the lobby just measures how many people are in line. YouTube or Google may have already planned for bad actors abusing the system, but no one addressed it during the keynote. YouTube and Google are both aware of how people can abuse their systems, but choosing to not acknowledge a crucial part of live-streaming culture when asking creators to do more of it is concerning.
Creators could jeopardize their YouTube accounts by allowing strangers to enter a match. They may receive a 90-day ban from live-streaming on the platform and a strike against their channel if someone comes on and starts yelling hateful terms. If someone were to jump onto a stream and do this, the punishment automatically falls on the creator, according to YouTube’s current rules. How can YouTube and Google convince creators to readily jump into Stadia when they haven’t addressed these apparent concerns?
There are other vulnerabilities for creators that exist outside of bad actors, too. Both Wyatt and Harrison touted Stadia as a tool that could help further monetize creators’ channels. Monetization is a constant subject of conversation within the creator community as fluctuating policies from YouTube often leave creators concerned their channels will lose monetization privileges. One constant source of ire for creators is copyright claims. Although YouTube can’t ignore copyright law, creators have become frustrated.
Again, neither of Google’s executives touched upon this. For example, if a Drake song were to play in NBA 2K19, Warner Music could claim copyright infringement, meaning that creator couldn’t monetize their live stream. It’s an issue that’s led YouTube creators to sing a capella versions of copyrighted songs in an effort to bypass said rules. It’ll be difficult for YouTube to court creators to use Stadia until or unless the company addresses whether copyrighted songs during live streams will affect monetization practices. YouTube and Google may have answers for this, but withholding them from a press conference geared toward developers and content creators is frustrating and a little fearful.
YouTube declined to provide additional details about how Crowd Play operates when asked by The Verge. Maybe Google will share a clearer strategy for YouTube later; the keynote was a way to introduce an exciting product, and the company may not have wanted to bring up topics like demonetization and copyright strikes while it was trying to get developers jazzed about the idea of cloud gaming. A YouTube representative told The Verge that the company “shared a vision of our integration,” during the initial presentation, adding that further details are expected before the service’s launch later this year.
As Verge editor Vlad Savov wrote earlier this week, “Stadia is about the future of YouTube, not gaming.” Google wants Stadia to leverage YouTube. Last year, more than 50 billion hours of gaming content were watched by people visiting the site. Giving YouTube creators more tools to work with in an effort to further separate it from competitors like Twitch is important, but there are a number of potential glaring issues that YouTube needs to address first.