Rage Against the Machinima

As the stakes get higher on YouTube, video stars are finding safety—and power—in numbers

“From the standpoint of people who grew up with the Internet, many of these young artists—and I call them artists because I do think they are doing what they are doing out of a creative impulse—for them, it’s like, ‘Why do I need a middleman?’”

YouTube, after all, was founded on the idea of cutting out the middleman, of making it possible for a filmmaker to post a film that anyone with an Internet connection could access instantly. Video makers, Lisi says, can easily reach out to each other, unlike actors or recording artists of the past. “Because these are creatures of the Internet, not only do they broadcast to their audience, they consume each other’s content, they are fans of each other, and they communicate,” he says. “What you have are the benefits of a union without the burdens of a union—all of the talent sharing information almost instantaneously.” And, he adds, “like a union, they can threaten group action.”

“It’s a very interesting power dynamic, and I think that the industry is still trying to work out how to deal with this genie that is newly out of the bottle. [YouTube] provides a lot for a lot of people, but it is a genie, and you don’t want to piss it off.” Machinima is in the process of changing its terms of use, its partners say, walking its existing talent from open-ended contracts to contracts with three-year terms. All 6,000-plus partners were asked to agree by January 1, 2013, to updated terms.

Maker Studios, co-founded by LisaNova in 2009, hosts more than 1,000 YouTube channels with over 1 billion views.
Maker Studios, co-founded by LisaNova in 2009, hosts more than 1,000 YouTube channels with over 1 billion views.
Braindeadly, aka Ben Vacas, had 40,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel when he quit making videos.
Braindeadly, aka Ben Vacas, had 40,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel when he quit making videos.

No one from the company would confirm whether the change was due to the onslaught of bad publicity—or how many partners signed the new contracts.

As for Vacas, he finally settled his dispute with the company in October and parted ways with Machinima. Today, he’s represented by a new organization called Union for Gamers. Union for Gamers is the brainchild of Donovan Duncan, who’s also the vice president for marketing at Curse Gaming, a company that has specialized in video game add-ons and industry news.

“There’s a lot of ridiculous contracts out there,” Duncan says. “Gaming is something we should support, not hinder by locking people into these really bad contracts, so I came up with the idea of, well, let’s build a union for gamers, by gamers.”

Everyone in Union for Gamers, Duncan says, would be entitled to the same pay rate, which would be raised every year. Gamers no longer would be forced into restrictive contracts—union members would have the right to leave whenever they saw fit.

He promises “resources to help people create better videos,” adding, “we’ll do the labor, the administration, and ad-serving side, allowing them to monetize their content.”

But labor, administration, and ad service are essentially what networks like Machinima do. When asked, Duncan admits that this new “union” is really more like a new network—with high-minded intentions—and that it will compete with Machinima. Perhaps not coincidentally, Union for Gamers counts several former Machinima creators as partners. Its public face, in fact, is none other than Bachir Boumaaza, better known as Athene.

The roots of that partnership go back even before Boumaaza's video denouncing Machinima—suggesting a bit of PR savvy that wasn't readily apparent at the time. Boumaaza actually made a video about Union for Gamers two months before his very public break with Machinima.

In another video, posted four months after that, Boumaaza formally announced his new role with the Union.

“I can talk, make videos about how the landscape on YouTube should be,” he says, sitting in the same spot, shot with the same black-and-white filter used in his video supporting Vacas. “But unless I come with a real alternative, why would other networks listen to what I say?”

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They should put the game content in their ownchannel and take the credit for it. I always watch good quality game content n Youtube, but these users got greedy and wanted money, it was like a job for them


For-profit management will always screw over labor if it can. The only answer is for labor to organize, be it manufacturing and construction labor, professional labor, or creative labor. Is there an organization to provide creatives with push-back against corporate squeezes like this?

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