At the monetizing video content panel at GameVidExpo in Atlanta, an interesting topic came up: the morality of taking donations on streams and video content.

Morality is the smoking gun of philosophy because there is no true sense of morality that exists without fallacy inviting itself into the room. There is no universal code of conduct for society, it’s all sort of an individual thing that we all each set our own moral compasses to. Society usually has a regional sense of connected morality, but again it’s up to our individuality. What does this have to do with monetizing video content? Well, depending on your morality, you may or may not have different options available to you.

To get more on topic, the major consumer of video related content relating to video games are teenagers and young adults. Usually without much money, they’re the ones who sit and watch the streams. The default monetization strategy of stream and video content is the ads that play during the stream. However, there are alternate sources like for instance the twitch subscription method or asking for direct donations to help support the streamer’s efforts.

Asking for donations and/or even the twitch subscription button can in many cases cause young kids to spend money they don’t have to help keep their favorite stream afloat. Depending on the desperation and the way donations are solicited, you can easily run into a situation where someone may go steal their parent’s credit card to subscribe or to donate money, or may spend money they don’t have in the belief that what they’re doing is necessary for their favorite “show” to continue.

Shut Up and Take My Money

Now, these donations are rarely asked for maliciously, no one says “hey kids go steal mom’s credit card and click on this link to give us money.” However, in the same light, you can beg for or solicit for donations in a way that is unethical and perhaps, morally off compass (for some, anyway).

So what is the proper way to do it? According to the panelist, it’s to keep the mantra of “donations appreciated, but not required.” Don’t beg for donations and when you mention it, always make sure to note that it’s appreciated but isn’t a requirement, and that there isn’t an urgent rush to steal or rob or anything of the sort. The same for the Twitch subscribe button. Some streamers get very zealous over reminding their viewers that the subscribe button is there and for a small price they can get emailed reminders when a stream goes live.

Yet, we have to be careful of the extent that people will go to help and the way in which we explain things. Preaching desperation is a sure fire way to get rich quick, but at what cost? Literally - what cost. If little Timmy steals his parent’s credit card, they’re not going to let the charge through and you’ll see a chargeback. Chargebacks can get costly, from closing PayPal accounts to various administrative fees depending on the service.

This may seem like a petty issue and some may say it’s up to their viewers to police themselves, but drama can be infectious and turn a lot of loyal subscribers away from a channel. It’s important, at least to me and from my perspective, to be honest and legitimate, at least the social standards and the morality set by your audience and the community.

My suggestion is that everyone take this advice: avoid strong donation services and services that block content behind paywalls (especially for video game streaming). Don’t ever beg or heavily solicit for donations and always be clear that they’re greatly appreciated, but are in no means a requirement for the viewer.

Just to make a side note, donation drivers for charity are completely different monsters. While not discussed at the panel, donation drives like the one that Mindcrack had recently done or the many others that streamers and even YouTube stars like PewDiePie have done don’t require disclaimers, since the odds of someone giving up their Ramen money for a good cause are vastly lower than someone doing so to keep their favorite stream afloat.

What do you think? Do you think that it’s morally acceptable for a streamer to all but beg for money, obtaining it in any fashion than necessary or do you think that they should attempt to provide some sort of notice to make sure that younger, more easily “manipulated” viewers don’t do something stupid to throw money at them.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

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Get in the bush with David "Xerin" Piner as he leverages his spectacular insanity to ask the serious questions such as is Master Yi and Illidan the same person? What's for dinner? What are ways to elevate your gaming experience? David's column, Respawn, is updated near daily with some of the coolest things you'll read online, while David tackles ways to improve the game experience across the board with various hype guides to cool games.