Dead Realm has certainly made a large splash since its early access Steam debut in the beginning of August. The horror game has accumulated an estimated 70,000 purchases and has a ‘Very Positive’ Steam rating after over 1,500 reviews. A large portion of its sudden success came from its popularity with YouTube Let’s Play-ers, who recognized that the game was literally built with audiences in mind – Dead Realm is self-described to be ‘fun to watch’, and jump-scares have always been a good way to generate YouTube hits.
However, some of the Youtubers who have been at the forefront of early-bird footage and hype-building for the game have neglected to mention that they have financial ties to the game itself, thanks to their work with 3BlackDot, who is producing the game. This is important information to disclose, not only because it paints the picture that they’re not biased in their views of the game, but also because they’re breaking clearly defined FTC rules about YouTubers disclosing paid endorsements.
The two YouTubers at the forefront of all this are Tom “Syndicate” Cassell and Adam “SeaNanners” Montoya, who split a cool 14 million subscribers between them. The two gamers helped 3BlackDot set up their studio, which would go on to produce Dead Realm. They would later go on to feature the game in their numerous Let’s Play videos without properly disclosing their ties to the studio who produced it, and their financial ties to how well the game performs.
According to Gamasutra, this isn’t the first time 3BlackDot has actually ran into problems with disclosing ties behind YouTube features. Syndicate and SeaNanners did some paid-for features for Disney Infinity, and whilst 3BlackDot co-founder Luke Stepleton said that the two YouTubers “made it clear Disney asked them to do the video”, that certainly wasn’t the case. Gamasutra investigated, watched those particular videos, and found that there was no mention that the YouTubers had been paid to produce the brand integration videos for their respective audiences.
These failures to comply with FTC regulations could ultimately lead 3BlackDot to a full-fledged investigation by the FTC, which in turn could lead to a lawsuit from the agency. The US-based agency somewhat recently did this to Sony after a series of Vita advertisements were deemed to mislead consumers into thinking the Vita was capable of playing data-rich games like Killzone 3 from the PS3, and Sony had to fork out plenty of cash after the proceedings.
3BlackDot broke these same regulations by not making it clear that Syndicate and SeaNanners were involved with the game’s studio, and according to the FTC guidelines, that’s a big no:
“The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.”
Oddly enough, it only takes a simple line of text in each relevant YouTube video description to let consumers know that these video endorsements were coming from people with close ties to the game. A text line in the description would do nothing to alter the enjoyment of the video itself, so it’s something that should have been included from the get-go. YouTube personalities have become a huge aspect of gaming culture, so it’s important that FTC regulations are followed so consumers know when they’re watching an unbiased review and when they’re watching a hype video. Hopefully, 3BlackDot will make amends to anyone who was misled by their brand integration.
With so many Let’s Players out there, it’s easy for consumers to assume that most are doing it because ‘its what they do’, but it’s also important to note when someone is being paid to bring recognition to a product, or when they have ties to its production. We can only hope 3BlackDot omitted this information by accident, and not that they were purposely misleading as they hype for its early access release. In any event, the game is under a large spotlight now and at $15 a pop, the indie studio will have likely breached the million dollar marker before the game has been fully released.
What do you think about the YouTube Dead Realm fiasco, Ranters? Do you think it’s important for YouTubers to let fans know when they’re being paid by the companies to give games feature time, or let consumers know when they were part of the game’s development?