Why Vimeo’s “No Game” Policy Is a Mistake

Vimeo got itself into serious hot water with some of its users this week. Citing concerns over copyright infringement, file size, and the fact that the service was intended as “a place to share video with friends and family,” company Community Director Blake Whitman announced that the video-sharing site would soon stop hosting “videos that simply depict individuals playing a video game.” (Only machinima, narrative movies using edited footage captured from a video game or virtual world, like this great Second Life machinima on Vimeo, is excepted from this ban.)

Unsurprisingly, furor over this ill-conceived announcement quickly followed. At last check, Whitman’s post had garnered nearly 900 comments, most of them negative, with the anger now overflowing across sites like Kotaku and Slashdot Games. Given the response, and the fact that the policy left a lot questions unanswered, I contacted Whitman last night to get his perspective.

What, I asked, exactly qualified as “machinima”? The classic World of Warcraft video “Leeroy Jenkins“, for example, is often classified as such because it’s widely viewed as a scripted comedy sketch, though the game footage itself was shot “live” and unedited. “We would consider our definition of machinima to be the same as Wikipedia’s,” Whitman told me in email. “Although the Leeroy Jenkins video is hilarious, that video would not be allowed on Vimeo.”

Whitman wouldn’t comment on the backlash over the announcement. When I asked if the company had actually received copyright complaints from game publishers, he didn’t answer directly, instead citing Vimeo’s general DMCA policy.

In any case, the new policy seems short-sighted on several fronts. Most game companies have an informal “look the other way” response to fan-uploaded video game footage, knowing it only helps promote their product. Microsoft and World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Studios explicitly encourage it for non-commercial use. But Vimeo’s bigger mistake is assuming video games are not something friends and family share. As the saying goes, “World of Warcraft is the new golf,” and online games are an important social space not just for basement-dwelling geeks, but Silicon Valley execs and British digerati. In missing this powerful cultural shift, Vimeo will likely lose a substantial part of its audience to game video-centric sites like WeGame and, of course, YouTube, which is already partnering with game publishers with gangbuster results.

Image credit: www.vimeo.com.