And the ads for free.

So, apparently Microsoft and EA have been paying YouTube celebrities a bonus amount in their CPM. In the first instance, Microsoft agreed with Machinima to offer an additional $3 per thousand views to exclude negative feedback in any Xbox One discussion. Adhere to these rules and that extra $3 was yours. It got murkier when it was revealed that the agreement with Machinima was void if the details of the contract were disclosed. Microsoft claimed that they didn’t know about the non-disclosure clause in the Machinima contract. This basically meant that anyone who put a disclaimer tag on the video wouldn’t get paid – essentially stealth advertising. Second was EA, who had no such non-disclosure clause – which is basically traditional paid-for advertising.

While neither were about paying for positive coverage, they were about paying to eliminate NEGATIVE coverage. Either way, it’s money for advertising.

The current problem is twofold. The fact that stealth advertising exists – either through accidental omission or carelessness, or through deliberate means – is a huge issue, since it casts a question on the impartiality of an entire industry. And the fact that YouTubers do not always disclose their income sources – again, either through ignorance or laziness, or deliberately.

Publishers and other people providing money should make sure that their advertising dollars are always disclosed. Always. There is a legal obligation to disclose advertising in many jurisdictions, firstly, and they can cop heavy fines and sanctions. And they should help educate the people who they are paying on THEIR obligations as advertisers, because most of them are just regular people without degrees in marketing or communications or law.

And YouTubers should educate themselves on the requirements of supplying advertising content. There are fines and sanctions possible for them too, and they need to know how to avoid the pitfalls. And there needs to be a way to regulate the rogue YouTubers who do take advertising money without providing disclosure – currently the nature of the internet means that those laws are hard to identify and prosecute.

It doesn’t quite stop with advertising, though. There are occasions of some YouTubers directly accepting money from companies running advertising campaigns in return for coverage.

A certain YouTuber – who I won’t link – has even admitted to accepting cheques from publishers in return for reviews. That same YouTuber, in the same video, also stated that a number of other YouTubers have also taken cheques from publishers. I don’t know them personally, and I’m not familiar with their work. They may be the most honest, genuine, responsible person on the internet for all I know. But the instant they took money from a publisher in return for a review their impartiality is severely questioned.

Anybody who accepts money directly from a person supplying a product for review should be placed under immediate and intense scrutiny.

The problem is that, a lot of the time, it goes undisclosed. And enforcing those disclosure rules are very difficult.

YouTubers don’t have an ethics policy. They don’t have a set of rules they have to play by. They don’t have editorial overwatch, or any obligations to uphold ethical guidelines by colleagues. They don’t have a journalistic code of ethics. And they don’t have anybody to help them understand the legal and moral requirements of the contracts and agreements they sign.

For example, OnlySP. Nick, site creator and owner, takes care of all our advertising deals. Whether it’s stats, numbers, money, YouTube monetisation, or our partnership with Crave Online – it’s all taken care of behind the scenes. He signs stuff and the website stays online. And, unless it’s a hot news scoop that he’s come across, he won’t tell anyone what to write. Anything that has to do with money is taken care of, and the writers and content creators and editorial staff really don’t care. We’ve got more important things to worry about. Like review deadlines and editorial ideas and making sure you play Gone Home (play Gone Home).

With YouTubers, that separation of advertising and content creation, almost universally, does not exist. YouTubers are on their own.

The elimination of the “middleman” – the separation of advertising and editorial that most (not all) holistic video game news and review sites have – can be great. It can streamline and speed up the creative process. It can keep production overheads lower. But it also has the potential to be abused.

In my eyes, YouTubers fall into a few broad categories:
Game reviewers and game “journalists” who produce video reviews and editorials that adhere to best practice editorial practices, who do not take any money or inducements from publishers.
Lets Play creators who play through video game content and produce entertainment material, adhering to best practice editorial guidelines.
Amateur advertisers who take money from publishers and companies to say positive things about products and create entertaining content that actively promotes a product.

This last one is only a problem when they don’t disclose who is paying them. And when they masquerade as either of the first two. Sometimes it is easy to tell the difference, sometimes it’s not. And that’s when it gets dangerous. Very dangerous.

YouTube creators that accept money from publishers to produce favourable content is not inherently bad. There is a place for them in the industry. But there needs to be strict and clear disclosure that the content is in fact paid advertising, and not independent critique.

Not all YouTubers are corrupt. There are some fantastic video creators out there who produce great, incisive, journalistic content. And there are some great, entertaining creators that produce wonderful PAID FOR (and clearly declared) advertising content. They do not deserve to be under suspicion, which the unscrupulous practices of some individuals casts on the entire medium.

YouTube is an interesting and evolving medium, and one that is currently undergoing massive growth and corporate interest.

It comes down to the familiar bottom line – trust.

I’ve said it plenty before, but it’s important to find someone you trust. Look at their body of work. See if their views align with yours. And be very suspicious of anyone who reviews anything without saying anything negative – nothing’s perfect, after all.

Lachlan Williams
Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

UPDATED: Report that Thief Will Not Run at 1080p on Xbox One is False, According to QA technician at Eidos

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