PS4 game Dreams is an amazing creation tool with an exposure problem

Dreams is a game about creating games. And not just games, but music, animation, and art, all through powerful creation tools provided by developers Media Molecule. Players have created hyperrealistic breakfast food and 90-minute detective games during the seven-month early access period, and a community emerged to teach one another tricks they’d discovered or showcase amazing creations they’d found. There’s just one big hitch: there’s no way to fully release a Dreams game (confusingly called a “dream”) outside of the tool in which it was made.

Media Molecule has said that it wants to give creators commercial rights and the ability to export away from the PlayStation 4 where Dreams is an exclusive title published through Sony Entertainment. But there’s been no elaboration on how or when that might happen. Right now, the only ones directly benefiting financially from these players’ creativity and work are the developer and publisher.

But as with all games, Dreams and its player creations can be experienced elsewhere (albeit in a limited form), thanks to social media, YouTube, and streaming. This is something Cameron Kunzelman notes in his piece on Dreams as a walled garden where anything that’s shared to outside platforms serves as an advertisement to draw more people into the game. That advertisement does little for those who made the creations. They might gain more attention within the Dreams ecosystem, but there’s no tangible reward for that. It’s predominantly Media Molecule and Sony that benefit. But the streamers and YouTubers who curate and broadcast their discoveries outside of Dreams also have ways of monetizing their content.

The fairness (and legality) of broadcasting a game for an audience that isn’t paying the original developers has long been a complicated issue. Dreams complicates it further by showcasing the work of players who are also unpaid creators, and who stand to gain nothing. In this way, Dreams’ closest analog doesn’t come from games at all, but from short-form video. Creators on Vine, TikTok, and now Byte all have their content mined to be uploaded to compilation videos on YouTube, often without so much as a credit. But the YouTubers who upload them may get tens of millions of views and the ad money associated with it.

Throughout Dreams’ early access period, video creators have been doing something similar with players’ creations. But theirs is a more involved process than making a Vine compilation. Curating from Dreams’ massively varied library of creations is itself a skill, and the videos typically include commentary and entertainment, which is all its own kind of work. These YouTubers also tend to be a part of the community (including sometimes being Dreams creators themselves), and they want to give the games’ creators what they can. At the very least, this means clear credit.

Content creator Project Genesis, who preferred to be only referred to by his first name, Franck, was recently accoladed by developer Media Molecule as Dreams’ “best streamer” and “community star” during its Impy awards ceremony. His compilation videos always include lists of the creations in the description, as well as a link to the “indreams” website where players can save the game to play when they get back to their PS4s. “I find it important to credit because I would want to be given credit if the roles were flipped,” he explains.

Lee and Sam, a married couple who also preferred I omit their surname, create videos as Ugly Sofa Gaming on YouTube. They say that crediting was a discussion they had “very early on” in their channel’s history. “We think [it’s] very important,” they told me. “We always take the time to post the level name, creator name…and an [indreams] link to the level so it can be easily found.” When their videos take the form of large compilations, for example “35 Dreams in 6 minutes,” they say they’re careful to timestamp each creation for the ease of the viewer. “Half the reason we make these videos in the first place is to help bring positive attention to Dreams and the creators, so doing anything less than this would be counterproductive,” they explain.

Other YouTubers have different processes. Sakku, who asked to be referred to by his channel name, doesn’t list the creators or their indreams links in the description. But their compilations are always edited to include a shot of the game’s title card “because I want to show the creators name and how everyone can access the dream in the Dreamiverse,” they explain. “I think crediting people is important, I created this series in the first place to show my community other creators and the amazing stuff they make as well as what’s possible with Dreams.”

It’s not quite as convenient as Franck or Lee and Sam’s clickable links, but Sakku isn’t the only one who landed on this solution. Media Molecule streams the creations of players weekly on Twitch. The streams are then uploaded to YouTube, but no extra notes are added to the description. Some viewers have taken to listing timestamps alongside the title of the dream in the comments themselves for others’ ease.

Media Molecule is a very different kind of curator than the other YouTubers in the Dreams community. While every video serves as a kind of advertisement for the game, Media Molecule’s are far more direct, produced by direct employees of the company. While many of the YouTubers I spoke to mentioned wanting to make the gig their job, either full or part time, they are predominantly hobbyists.

“Asparagus Standup” by Redep1994.

As well as benefiting in a greater way than other YouTube curators, Media Molecule doesn’t have to worry about getting credited like its players might. All creations are watermarked with “made in Dreams,” whether played on the PS4 or captured to share elsewhere. That way, it’s impossible to share without attributing to the game, even if the actual creator is obscured.

Media Molecule also curates for reasons other than community streams. The release date trailer states that it’s “filled with wonderful community creations,” but none are credited. The early access EULA has players sign away their user-generated content “for any purpose, including for promoting, advertising, selling, and re-distributing the software.” It also states that “no compensation will be paid to you or any third party with respect to the use of your user material.” (Media Molecule did not respond to a request for comment in time of publication.)

The trailer is reminiscent of the first Dreams compilation I saw, created by a YouTuber who goes by Jiar300. Called “2 seconds from 300 different Dreams Vol. 2,” it showcases so much of the variety of players’ creations that even picking a few to be representative feels reductive. He says that his goal was to “show people a quick look at everything that is possible in Dreams.”

The video has no credits. “I would love to credit everyone but the process of writing down every name and creator would take ages,” he says. Besides, he points out, players can lift others’ creations and use them in their own games, so “it’s hard to tell the author of every detail.” It’s true that even the best videos’ crediting only demonstrates who put the final creation together, not who made its composite parts. Credit-blurring is built into Dreams. The only surefire credit goes to Media Molecule and Sony.

It’s not surprising that those who have been invested enough to create through Dreams’ early access period don’t seem to mind creating for the sake of their own satisfaction. YouTube curations are therefore a happy part of the process. “We have had a unanimous positive response from featuring [creator’s] work,” say Lee and Sam. “Creators have fed back to us that they love seeing people playing and experiencing what they have put together. It provides validation seeing that their dream, that they have spent so much time working on, is actually playable and enjoyable! Seeing the game played by someone else also helps them spot ways to improve their game design as they see the player react in ways they didn’t anticipate.” They also say that creators have reached out to ask them to feature their dreams next.

The YouTubers I spoke with also expressed a sense of responsibility for the success of Dreams. Sakku said that one of their goals was to help “the whole project to grow.” “My general aim is to really show as many people how amazing Dreams is,” Franck told me. “I like to think that Dreams will become the next place for creative expression, just like YouTube is for videos, Instagram for pictures, SoundCloud for music,” says Jiar300.

In the short-form video industry, the battle over who has rights to uploaded content was won by — what else — a company. Digital rights management corporation Collab now often issues copyright strikes on Vine compilations, paying out to creators after taking their cut. This doesn’t seem likely to happen with Dreams for multiple reasons, not least that the question of who has intellectual rights over their creations is unclear. Instead, the uneven relationship between creators and Media Molecule and Sony will continue to play out both in and outside of the game, with YouTubers and streamers caught in the middle.