New Microsoft rules forbid profiting from video game footage

Halo 3 Master Chief

If you were to visit YouTube right now to search for videos of Microsoft’s Halo games, the site would return about 1.85 million results. That should be a feather in Microsoft’s cap as, if nothing else, it indicates that the franchise has spawned a massively dedicated fanbase which enjoys not just playing the game, but also sharing its in-game exploits with other members of the community. Some of these videos are so popular that their creators are actively earning money from the massive number of eyeballs they attract.

That’s not terribly surprising, as almost every video hosting/sharing service these days offers some form of monetization agreement for its most popular users. What is surprising however, is that Microsoft has just altered the “Game Content Usage Rules” for all games it publishes to prevent people from earning money in this way.

The newly updated Game Content Usage Rules initially seem as if they exist to promote this kind of community growth while protecting Microsoft’s intellectual property rights, but a close examination of the GCUR shows that it effectively outlaws a number of activities that are currently quite common. While the GCUR is a lengthy document (and most of the information contained therein doesn’t apply to the vast majority of people), the document’s opening sentence sums the thing up pretty succinctly:

Here are the magic words from our lawyers: on the condition that you follow the rules below (“Rules”), Microsoft grants you a personal, non-exclusive, non-transferable license to use and display Game Content and to create derivative works based upon Game Content, strictly for your noncommercial and personal use.

That last bit, the part that says “strictly for your noncommercial and personal use,” is the crux of this situation. While Microsoft is not outlawing YouTube videos, it does specifically forbid users from making any cash off of their vignettes. Likewise, Microsoft encourages players to distribute and promote user-made objects in games that support them — new levels created in Halo 3’s Forge mode would be one example — but states that these objects may not be sold or otherwise used to gain profit of any kind.

“Well then I just won’t sign whatever document Microsoft sends me to cement this agreement!” you exclaim, secure in your ability to outsmart a giant multinational corporation. Unfortunately, Microsoft has already got you there. Like those EULA screens that no one actually reads, you effectively agree to the terms of the new Game Content Usage Rules simply by playing any of Microsoft’s games. Fire up Halo to record a new deathmatch for your YouTube channel and you’ve already signed on the proverbial dotted line.

Those of you who manipulate Xbox 360 titles and consider yourselves “content creators” should read through the new Game Content Usage Rules in full. There’s a lot of information in there that you’ll likely need to keep in mind for the future. One interesting bit that seems to be missing however, is how/if these new rules will affect websites like this one. If we create an in-game video of a Microsoft title to demonstrate its features to you readers, that’s inherently a for-profit venture. The new Game Content Usage Rules make no mention of this kind of thing, and though we’ve sent off an email to Microsoft’s representatives asking how this might affect us (and the games journalism industry as a whole), we’ve yet to hear anything back one way or the other.

Updates to follow as soon as we have more info.

Update: Microsoft representatives have responded to our inquiries, and assure us that these new rules will not have any affect on the games media. Additionally, they pointed me toward an official post in the Halo forums that clarifies a few points raised by the new Game Content Usage Rules. It’s a good read, especially if the above text has made you wary of the company’s new guidelines.