As if YouTube wasn't wrapped in enough controversy for their overzealous, almost robotic systematic copyright fiasco in December 2013, the video service is now a source of more attention from the video game industry thanks to how it's being used as a platform for shady advertising.
Whether by monetizing 'Let's Play' videos, sponsoring YouTube celebs or flat out buying ads the old fashion way, YouTube is a home to many eyes and hence a goldmine for ad revenue. The big partner networks like Machinima see the opportunities as much as the publishers who pay to spread the word on their latest products and services. The problem is that it's not always done with transparency.
The controversy came to light when someone unearthed a contract between YouTube network Machinima and Microsoft for Xbox One advertising. For video makers to profit from the deal ($3 bonus per thousand views) they had to meet certain conditions involving talking only positively about the Xbox One and including footage in the beginning of their videos. The issue is that the YouTubers were seemingly not allowed to mention it's a promotion which raised questions of whether or not they were violating FTC guidelines. By not disclosing the videos as ads, Machima and Microsoft were essentially purchasing biased commentary and reviews.
Once the media caught hold of the contract, the bad buzz spread like wildfire and Machinima offered the following statement to Eurogamer in defense of the allegations that they are deceiving viewers with shady, secretive, biased marketing:
"This partnership between Machinima and Microsoft was a typical marketing partnership to promote Xbox One in December. The Xbox team does not review any specific content or provide feedback on content. Any confidentiality provisions, terms or other guidelines are standard documents provided by Machinima. For clarity, confidentiality relates to the agreements themselves, not the existence of the promotion."
Blah blah, legal jargon, blah. Microsoft followed up by doing the right thing (after the fact) and ended the campaign and requested Machinima mark all of the participating videos as paid-for-adverts. Again, after the fact.
"Microsoft was not aware of individual contracts Machinima had with their content providers as part of this promotion and we didn't provide feedback on any of the videos. We have asked Machinima to not post any additional Xbox One content as part of this media buy and we have asked them to add disclaimers to the videos that were part of this program indicating they were part of paid advertising."
It's foolish to think this isn't happening everywhere and we just heard last night EA does similar for their flagship titles. Perhaps YouTube needs to refine their rules so that every video sponsored must be marked up front accordingly. That's the only way to get all of the YouTube networks to keep its content creators honest.
The downside to everyone being able to make YouTube videos is that not everyone will be professional, ethical and fully transparent when it comes to revenue sources. Why should they when there's seemingly no penalty and they're earning more cash? The best we can do is hope the latest YouTube advertising news educates gamers enough to think hard on and pay attention to how some of these videos that pass judgement on games are being handled. It's also good to know which YouTube personalities to trust, like Boogie up top who's made a name for himself delivering honest, entertaining, informative and well-rounded thoughts in his video series.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.