Gaming

‘Mortal Kombat 11’ YouTubers Struggle to Keep Bloody Content Monetized

A masked psychopath named Kabal uses twin sickles to disembowel his opponent while he rips their skull in two. D’vorah, a bipedal insectoid, uses her acid breath to impregnate the enemy with a spider, who’s legs and head rip out from their dismembered body. A green ninja named Jade uses her staff to dislocate both of the enemy’s arms, ripping their head from it’s spine and showing off the oozing face to the camera.

These aren’t scenes from a snuff film, they are just a sampling of the Fatalities (end of match finishing moves) available to players in Mortal Kombat 11. Releasing on April 23, developer NetherRealm Studios takes the franchise’s infamous gore and violence and turns it all the way up. With the most polished, detailed models of blood, bones and visceral guts, MK 11 is so realistic it’s delighting fans and, unfortunately, fooling algorithms. It seems YouTube’s algorithm can’t tell the difference between MK and real life gore, to the detriment of the creators who need their content to find viewers.

According to Statistica, over 850 million people watched gaming content online in 2018. YouTube is one of the biggest sources for guides, tips and gameplay videos, and in 2017 had over 20 million gaming videos posted to the platform  In order to police that much content, YouTube employs an automated algorithm that skims through millions of hours of videos every day to make sure it fits the platform’s Terms of Service or code of conduct.  

Content monetization has been a hot topic on the platform, with YouTube changing its guidelines after a mass exodus of advertisers in 2017. Known as the “Adpocalypse,” this event brought about a change in what YouTube allows to make money, limiting the swearing, vulgarity and “adult” content monetizable on the platform.

Mortal Kombat 11 YouTube Twitter color change algorithm Gory fatalities are a crucial part of Mortal Kombat 11 Newsweek/ NetherRealm Studios

Content that is deemed as too violent or graphic can be age-restricted, demonetized or removed from the platform entirely. An age-restricted video can only be accessed by those logged into a Google account and can’t be seen in some other countries.

Most M-rated video games like Call of Duty or God of War, are allowed on YouTube with full ads enabled, rarely seeing the ban hammer for age-restricted content. Mortal Kombat has always been a different beast, with most fighting game content creators struggling to make ad revenue off of videos using the virtually violent footage from the more modern games in the series.

Maximilian Christiansen, who goes by Maximilian Dood on on YouTube, has a fairly large fighting game channel with more than one million subscribers. On April 9, Christiansen strayed from his usual comments on video game news and gameplay videos to share his experiences creating Mortal Kombat content. In the video, he claims that over the past five years, he’s made 500-plus videos from Mortal Kombat 9, X and 11 with “between 85 to 90 percent” demonetized or age-restricted.

“It definitely seems like YouTube has something out for MK,” Christianson said in the video. “YouTube thinks that Mortal Kombat videos are actual violence, like real world violence … It’s not a person, it’s a computer that is identifying this video as to violent for a general viewing audience.”

Christianson believes that the algorithm can’t differentiate between real world blood and the simulated ooze spewed out of the corpses during Mortal Kombat fatalities or fatal blows. This carmine liquid triggers YouTube’s algorithm, which Christianson describes as a “violence detector,” causing it to flag the video as unsafe for ads. To try and get around this, Christianson has tried applying black and white or chroma key filters around gory scenes to try and change the color and trick the algorithm. This method only works some of the time, causing Mortal Kombat content creators to worry about their ability to make a living with their channel.

William Bochat runs the TrueUnderDawgGaming YouTube channel, which has managed to pull in over 150,000 subscribers over the past seven years. “I like the competitive nature of fighting games and the analytical nature of studying their characters and combos,” Bochat told Newsweek. “Mortal Kombat is an American born fighting game, so supporting it almost feels patriotic.” He’s had similar issues with YouTube videos, with “one in three”  getting demonetized or age-restricted and has tried color filtering but says “that gets tedious.”

Tuyas Records (who asked us to withhold his real name for privacy reasons) makes Mortal Kombat videos for his audience of 50,000 subscribers, telling Newsweek that he tries to “censor the blood with color filters, but it doesn’t always work.” Videos he’s made about Injustice 2, a fighting game featuring DC superheroes made by the same developers as Mortal Kombat have also been flagged, but videos about the orc-slashing Middle-Earth: Shadow of War have survived with monetization.

"We have strict policies that prohibit excessively violent or shocking content on YouTube. We quickly remove videos violating our policies when flagged by our users," a YouTube spokesman told Newsweek. Though they make exceptions for dramatized violence of fictional footage when deciding if videos can be monetized, they look at a number of factors and no single issue. An abundance of fake red blood, could cause a video to lose ads. If a color filter happens to make a video less graphic, then it might be appropriate for ads; similar to censoring a curse word which could make the video more policy compliant. The color change might not always be enough since it’s up to YouTube to decide if the video follows the advertiser-friendly content guidelines.

NetherRealm Studios did not respond to Newsweek by publication time.

As Mortal Kombat 11 ’s release date gets closer, content creators have to balance between making content their audience will enjoy and keeping the YouTube algorithm happy.

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