Those who create “Let’s Play” videos or otherwise do video podcasting and video reviews of video games on YouTube are currently being criticized for taking money from video game publishers to do their work. In a survey in which YouTube producers were polled, over 25% of YouTube gaming personalities admitted to taking money. But hold the phone, aren’t these website which are reporting on this news also taking money from publishers in the form of ads that often come with specific censorship-like stipulations? Yep.
So let’s REALLY talk about this…
When is it okay and when is it not okay for publisher to pay video game publications or YouTube channels to talk about their game? I think the answer is pretty universal and obvious. Those who charge for Review content are definitely crossing a line which should never be crossed. Paying for a positive opinion that is being advertised as genuine and unbiased is wrong on the part of the publisher, who should have never offered such a deal to these medium or small websites / YouTube channels of various sizes, who are essentially starving artists to begin with. Larger websites, well… we all know they are pretty much corrupt as all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So we’ll just leave them out of this for now.
However, accepting money from publishers for things like advertising, doing Let’s Play gameplay videos with non-evaluative commentary meant to inform the masses shouldn’t really be criticized without first taking a look at the individual content. Additionally, there are sometimes terms given to what would otherwise be perfectly normal payment campaigns and instead turn into more of a gray area situation. One recent example of this was the Xbox ONE campaign in which YouTube channels were paid handsomely to provide footage of the games on Xbox ONE and videos about the console overall – yet no negative statements about the brand were allowed on videos that expected to receive this bonus incentive payment. Some major networks that were involved in this included Machinima (a massive network of YouTubers which openly admitted they took part in this, to a controversial response from the community).
But think about it for a minute. If you were offering to pay for videos to spread awareness of your product, would you pay for videos that bashed it too? I think not. And to those who claim that they shouldn’t be able to pay for videos at all, well that just seems rather stupid. This industry is a business that is practically ignored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and therefore has virtually no regulations enforced from it. That’s why you’ll see websites like RealGamerNewz tell you at the bottom of each review just how many copies of a game we received to do the Review (as required by FTC regulations) but huge sites like IGN get away with not telling you anything about what they received for a review (which often includes money, tons of physical and digital copies, and swag such as branded clothing, keychains, USB keys, headsets, you name it. This is largely due to the fact that the video games industry is an emerging technology business and therefore a lot of legal stuff is hard to rationalize. In many cases the FTC regulations are outdated for a business so rapidly evolving thanks to technology.
This is only part of the story of course, but I figured rather than re-hashing the simple way of telling this story that other sites are doing – I decided to shed a little more light on this issue. It’s not so black and white as people would have you believe. In fact, there’s much more to this than just YouTubers, much more to this than just YouTube videos, and there are many unanswered questions this industry must face – like how long until the FTC actually enforces its regulations, and how many of its regulations need to be updated to actually make sense for the video games world? For now, take a minute to think about these things on a deeper level and if you’ve got a spare moment let us know what you think.