Run a YouTube Gaming Channel? Head into 2020 With Necessary Knowledge
- Recent moves by the FTC have content creators nervous.
- Stances on gaming content were incredibly vague and hard to read.
- Recent clarifications try to clear the air and ease the worry, but do they?
If you’re a gamer who also has a presence on YouTube, large or small, you may have heard about upcoming changes and regulation enforcement that will go into full effect at the beginning of the new year. After being fined over $170 million dollars by the Federal Trade Commission, Google is making some changes to YouTube to fall into compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (or COPPA) and it’s up to individual content creators to maintain and conduct their channels in a way that doesn’t have advertisers targeting children. Beyond that, failure to distinguish what audience your channel is meant for could result in a fine up to $42,530 per video that’s in violation according to the FTC guidelines. The trouble is, at first these guidelines were incredibly unclear and neither the FTC or YouTube were able to give a clear and precise answer.
For gamers especially, it set off a bunch of red flags as due to the original wording; the implication could easily read that videogames in any form would count as content aimed at children. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat, the wording was vague enough that people were reasonably scared. Within days several channels have already wiped their videos from YouTube, while others were announcing a departure entirely. By the time a reasonable amount of answers came out, a lot of damage was already done to the content creator community, especially on the gaming side of things, but I suppose the answers are better late than never.
Both the FTC and YouTube have issued clarifying statements in an effort to stem the tide of people fleeing the platform and while there are still things that could be addressed, at least now there are some more concrete answers. If you’re a gamer interested in posting your game footage, here is some need-to-know information for you below. You’ll find additional commentary from both the FTC and YouTube below, as well as a few suggestions from me to you if you’re currently a gamer on YouTube or plan on trying to venture into it.
HOW CHANNEL OWNERS CAN DETERMINE IF THEIR CONTENT IS DIRECTED TO CHILDREN
Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.
The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:
- the subject matter,
- visual content,
- the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
- the kind of music or other audio content,
- the age of models,
- the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
- language or other characteristics of the site,
- whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
- competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.
The determination of whether content is child-directed will be clearer in some contexts than in others, but we can share some general rules of thumb. First, unless you’re affirmatively targeting kids, there are many subject matter categories where you don’t have to worry about COPPA. For example, if your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids. The same would be true for videos aimed at high school or college students. On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.
Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.
Third, the complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Want to see the FTC’s analysis in context? Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.
Finally, if you’ve applied the factors listed in the COPPA Rule and still wonder if your content is “directed to children,” it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?
Heads up for all Gaming Creators:
We know there’s a difference between real-world violence and scripted or simulated violence – such as what you see in movies, TV shows, or video games – so we want to make sure we’re enforcing our violent or graphic content policies consistently.
Starting on 12/2, scripted or simulated violent content found in video games will be treated the same as other types of scripted content.
What does this mean for Gaming Creators?
- Future gaming uploads that include scripted or simulated violence may be approved instead of being age-restricted.
- There will be fewer restrictions for violence in gaming, but this policy will still maintain our high bar to protect audiences from real-world violence.
- We may still age-restrict content if violent or gory imagery is the sole focus of the video. For instance, if the video focuses entirely on the most graphically violent part of a video game.
This Community Guidelines policy enforcement update does not change advertiser-friendly guidelines (which are separate guidelines). You can learn more about how advertisers choose where their ads appear with this Creator Academy course.
That’s the long and short of the recent comments from the FTC and YouTube to try to ease tension, but there are some aspects of it that could still use some answers. In an effort to stay proactive and on the right-side of everything, here are some more steps you can take when you upload your game footage to YouTube.
- Place a disclaimer directly in your video. In a window of 2 to 15 seconds, place a disclaimer that explains who your target audience is to make sure there is no confusion that your content is not made for children. The longer it’s on-screen, the more you have that safety buffer but as long as it’s on for two seconds then you have given them sufficient time to pause and read if they choose to. Make your wording clear and precise.
- Properly label the game you are playing in the video description. YouTube has a large database of media integrated into it, and content creators can use that to their advantage not only to assist in getting more views, but showing up more accurately in search results. If you’re playing an M Rated game, and you’re surrounded by other content creators playing that same game, there’s zero confusion that the game isn’t meant for kids.
- Remember to mark your channel as not meant for children on YouTube’s dashboard, and make sure your videos reflect that in the way you produce them with the aforementioned tips.