YouTube is demonetizing videos that focus on the management simulator Weedcraft Inc. It has you building a business where you grow, breed, and sell marijuana. Developer Vile Monarch and publisher Devolver Digital released it today on Steam for $20.
But Weedcraft is running into an issue on YouTube. Content creators and influencers are seeing Google classify Weedcraft-related videos as not suitable for advertisers. This is also known as “demonetization,” and it means these videos won’t generate ad revenue. When YouTube does this, it disincentivizes creators from covering certain topics or products. And that is likely going to happen to Weedcraft, which could hurt its sales.
I reached out to YouTube to ask about demonetizing Weedcraft videos. A spokesperson explained that this falls under its “drugs and dangerous products or substances” policy. That rule states that videos aren’t advertiser friendly if they feature the sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs. YouTube’s spokesperson confirmed that YouTube will remove ads from any video it finds that violates that policy.
On Twitter, Devolver’s public-relations representative Stephanie Tinsley emphasized that Weedcraft is about the legal marijuana business.
So Weedcraft, a game about building a corporate business around legal marijuana, features no illegal drug use or violence, but has just been banned from Facebook & YT vids are being demonetized.
But you can post ads for whatever shooty shooterman murder simulator w/ no problem. pic.twitter.com/3lfl9fi0Re
— Qai Qai’s J. Jenkins (@AgentTinsley) April 11, 2019
Recreational marijuana is legal in many U.S. states, such as California and Colorado. Medical pot is legal in even more. But under federal law it is still an illegal narcotic. Marijuana’s legal status varies around the world, though. Last year, Canada legalized recreational weed.
“We have never tried to market a game and faced this much resistance,” Devolver executive Mike Wilson said in a note to GamesBeat. “Who knew tycoon games would be such a controversial subject that so many potential marketing partners would not want to be involved? It’s absurd given the actual content of the game.”
YouTube’s drug policy is irrelevant
YouTube’s stance on illegal drugs makes sense from a broad perspective. Advertisers don’t want to spend money to put their products in front of people livestreaming the sale of cocaine cut with rat poison in the back of an old RadioShack. But YouTube has countless videos featuring illegal drugs that no advertiser is going to take issue with. And YouTube does make an exception for that type of content:
“Videos discussing drugs or dangerous substances for educational, documentary, and artistic purposes are generally suitable for advertising, so long as drug use or substance abuse is not graphic or glorified.”
It’s confusing that YouTube’s spokesperson points to this wording as the reason why Weedcraft videos are not advertiser friendly. The game itself is a commentary on the legal weed business. Maybe you call that “educational” or “artistic purposes,” but either way, it seems like YouTube’s rules explicitly allow content like Weedcraft. The game doesn’t even feature that much actual marijuana use.
Most people aren’t uploading raw videos of Weedcraft gameplay, though. Instead, they film themselves playing and commenting on the game. But in that situation, YouTube’s Drugs and Dangerous Substance policy seems like it wouldn’t even apply.
If I were to upload a video talking critically about Weedcraft and its content, then I’m not using drugs. I’m creating criticism about a video game. I asked YouTube if it would demonetize something like that, and it has not provided an answer.
Every drug is an illegal drug if you believe in yourself
YouTube’s demonetization policies are notorious among creators. The company’s spokesperson said they have clear guidelines, but it isn’t obvious how some Weedcraft videos violate its rules.
Clear and consistent content enforcement, however, is not really YouTube’s priority. Its first concern is avoiding a conflict with advertisers. YouTube went through the “adpocalypse” in 2017 when ads appeared in front of videos created by Hezbollah. At that time, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg made a video where he paid poor people to hold a sign that says “Death to all Jews” for $5.
In response, advertisers pulled their marketing campaigns from the platform. That included pharmaceutical corporations like Johnson & Johnson, which is one of the top manufacturers of opioids in America. Companies demanded YouTube guarantee ads would not show up in front of objectionable material.
Ever since, creators have had to adjust their content in response to YouTube’s algorithm. And the algorithm often doesn’t make sense.
From the outside, it seems like Weedcraft gets caught up in YouTube’s advertiser-protection efforts because it mentions “weed” and it isn’t a Lil Pump music video. But it’s YouTube’s justifications that ring the most hollow. It’s clear that YouTube permits plenty of drug-adjacent content to generate ad revenue on its platform. So when YouTube tries to stand behind a policy that doesn’t apply or seems selectively enforced to protect companies that sell opioids, it’s frustrating for developers and publishers.
Or, as Tinsley explained, “Damn the man.”