Back in November, I wrote an FTN piece about the fight of students such as Frédéric Jollien, against the mandatory media royalties in Switzerland. They campaigned for the abolishing of a yearly tax of 450 CHF (€385/$453), used to finance public TV and radio stations. One of the most vile criticisms howled at them was that such a move would get rid of these public broadcasters and their cultural enrichment. But how accurate is such a statement, realistically?
The gaming industry is in a constant move of revolutionising itself. After the standard act of just gaming, came online multiplayer modes, which made games more interactive, and extended the time during which they stayed relevant. Today, games such as “Grand Theft Auto 5” can be held alive for years, due to constant patches and upgrades to the game. Then came the so-called “Let’s Play!” online videos, during which gamers played the game and commented on them for the entertainment of a particular audience. This was a particular success in the case of YouTuber “PewDiePie”, a Swedish gamer who is now racking up a stunning 64 million subscribers on the Google platform.
Streaming on the other hand has turned the concept of online entertainment upside down. Online video streamers live-stream their content for an audience that voluntarily gives donations for the content they receive. Now, there are streamers making up to $4 million a year, through t-shirt sales, gambling and company sponsorships, but the average streamer can also make a living from their work. According to a CNBC source, the average streamer on the popular website Twitch makes between $3,000 and $5,000 through if he/she plays 40 hours a week. This wouldn’t include ad revenue, currently at $250 per 100 subscribers. One thing is for certain, the system works.
I keep getting the same impression when I observe crowdfunding websites such as GoFundMe or Ulele: people voluntarily contribute to a product they enjoy, having no issue to invest money nobody required them to spend. The question therefore is: what would Swiss media users, or any media user for that matter, spend their 450 CHF on, if it wasn’t for the government’s redistribution?
But ok, we know that entertainment can easily produced by the free market, so how exactly can we be certain that we’d end up with a cultural products at the end of the process, if we were to rely on advertising revenue, or patron donations? The answer is: we don’t know.
The greatest art works of our time weren’t created through government programmes, but because individuals enjoyed the art, and upheld it over other things they could have spent their money on. I’d argue that by reasonable standards, video games are art. This of course continuously sparks a controversial debates, that has classic artists up in arms at the mere idea that they could be rivalled. But a more interesting question is, why is it so important to some people that games are NOT art? Your average streaming consumer won’t spend his or her time in an art gallery if the stream were to disappear, neither would it be fair to claim that he or she is any more or less cultured because of that.
Here is the trailer for the new Valley of Gods video game, from the creators of Firewatch, Campo Santo:
Maybe there is a claim to be made that this is not art, but quite frankly, it isn’t as evident to make as it was during the time of Tetris and Pong (which are now probably retro art).
This also doesn’t divert from the fact that conventional art can benefit from technological advancements if it chooses to appropriate it. Why not livestream an art gallery, and cash in donations and advertising money? Why be dependent on subsidies, when technology and the good-will of customers gives us the ability to be independent creators?
We might not have all the answers to the critics of the Swiss referendum campaign, but we’re damn sure that we have so pretty good leads.