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Atlus’ threats against Persona 5 streamers hurt the game more than spoilers

Your community isn’t the enemy

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

I have come to accept the societal norm of not revealing spoilers in pop culture grudgingly. Curated works — especially of fiction — something that can be binge-watched or consumed on-demand? Sure. People are entitled to watch Breaking Bad without being told from the outset that (here’s your spoiler warning) Walt blows Gus' face off with a suicide bomb planted in Hector's wheelchair in season four. It would totally suck to be told the series’ most thrilling climax before watching the first episode. I get it.

Watching something more unscripted, like a competition or other skilled performance, it's incumbent on the viewer to sequester themselves if they still want to find out how an event turned out well after it was presented. Whether it’s an esports final or WrestleMania or a UFC pay-per-view bout: If you don’t go on total blackout, that’s on you. Sorry.

A playthrough of Persona 5, which is as much a narrative as a video game, seems to rest somewhere in between. It launched to western fans on Tuesday with a slew of strange restrictions and eye-popping warnings from publisher Atlus. The conditions imposed take a courteous deference to others' enjoyment to an absurd depth.

It seems remarkable that Atlus, which is owned by Sega, would disable the share button on the PlayStation 4, but this has been done by others before. In fact, Sony intended to give developers the prerogative of shutting down sharing, specifically to protect key moments of a game from being spoiled. The share button’s features have since been restored to Persona 5 (excepting screen captures) now that the game has launched worldwide.

But Atlus is still imposing a set of very specific restrictions on what gamers can and can’t show from purchased copies of the game, with some serious threats attached.

“This being a Japanese title with a single-playthrough story means our masters in Japan are very wary about it,” Atlus stated. “ ... If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension.”

Atlus is within its legal rights to do everything described above. Fine. I also understand Atlus has a commercial, not just creative, interest in protecting the story of Persona 5, and in making sure that people who want to discover it do so through the game, rather than watching a compiled stream of the game for free. But this heavy-handed approach feels out of place and regressive in 2017.

Ideally, transgressions against spoilers are best policed by the community. Those who reveal spoilers will often be punished in the form of a more limited audience and slower growth of it. Transgressions against piracy are policed both by law and the terms of use of the streaming service. Persona 5 is trying to use both systems, along with threats of channel strikes. Three strikes and someone’s account, and in some cases that means their business, is shut down completely. Atlus is alienating a lot of people.

Atlus is sending a message that it thinks enough Persona 5 fans are out to ruin or steal its work that these measures are necessary, and the others are not entitled to share the memory of their experiences with other fans. It ends up insulting the entire community.

Twitter has reacted with unsurprising indignation.

Here at Polygon, we get documents all the time asking us, as reviewers, not to spoil details of the game we're evaluating. We accept those conditions for the benefit of receiving code early enough to prepare a review.

I’ve seen plenty of embargo documents that ask reviewers not to mention specific events, chapters, character appearances and other details. That’s fine: We didn’t buy the game, after all. We can always refuse and simply purchase the game ourselves once it’s out. And these requests are almost always reasonable and easy to agree to. We don’t want to spoil the game for our readers, either.

Playing whack-a-mole with YouTubers who don’t abide by these ridiculous rules, letting them share some experiences but not others, reeks of a micromanagement so tightfisted that it inspires miscreants to stream as much of the game as they can, showing the middle finger to Atlus the whole way.

There are already plenty of YouTube videos out there with super-spoilery titles. This can’t be a coincidence, either. When you tell your community you have low expectations of them, don't be surprised when some try to fulfill them out of spite.