In light of the issue blowing up this week, I thought I’d revisit it. Again. Because it’s a hot button issue, but also because it was either this or write about Kim Kardashian and I have to draw the line somewhere.
I’ve talked about it in the past. Twice, in fact. And my views are exactly the same. I have no inherent problem with YouTubers partnering with game creators to produce entertainment and advertising material – with the caveat that it is clearly disclosed and that the YouTuber doesn’t pretend to be impartial when covering that company in the future.
But disclosure of payment is a very problematic area when it comes to many YouTubers. And now we have proof.
Mike Rose of Gamasutra did an absolutely stupendous rundown of the opinions of YouTube personalities on whether it was ethical or not to take money from creators, as well as the proportion of YouTubers who have taken money in exchange for coverage. You may find the findings disturbing, you may find them vindicating. Either way, the data is illuminating. Rose also contacted a US advertising industry expert about the legality of the practice, and the answer will surprise nobody. I urge you to read the entire article, because it is, frankly, better written and researched than anything I could produce.
Additionally, Simon Parkin wrote about the issue over on Eurogamer. It focused on John “TotalBiscuit” Bain and his dealings with creators and sponsored content. It also explores the legality of the practice in the UK, as well as EA’s Ronku partnership program. Again, this article is very thorough and informative, and you should definitely read it.
Rob Fahey at Games Industry Biz also wrote on the subject, opining the lack of journalistic ethics that appears rampant in the industry – due to the myriad of small cuts that each minor scandal inflicts. It isn’t all grim, and Fahey’s overview is hopeful, not pessimistic. It offers an interesting overview of the subject, and hints at some important matters that need to be addressed by the industry. So again, go read the thing, because it’s good.
In contrast, Bartosz Brzostek, a founder of 11 bit studios and makers of This War Of Mine offers a developer’s perspective on paid coverage. His views are interesting, and aren’t to be taken lightly, considering how eager many developers are to get YouTube personalities to cover their games. There are problems with his proposed solution, but again, I have no fundamental problem with paid coverage – as long as it’s disclosed.
Before we traditional media people get too self-satisfied, revelling in the public shellacking of those new-media upstarts, we mustn’t forget that we too were not so different not too long ago. Magazines in the 90s and early 2000s pioneered the practice. The early days of internet gaming sites engaged in similar shady deals, before industry self-regulation could stamp out most of it. And indeed, there are still sites that ask developers for money before they will review a game – mostly small, popup sites that review mobile games, but it’s not unheard of.
What I’m saying is, nobody can throw stones here. We’re all rulers in our own glass houses, and gloating about the newbies’ mistakes is not constructive. Instead, there needs to be education, transparency, support, and cooperation to remove corrupt practices.
After all, if one of us looks bad, we all look bad.
And I hate looking bad *tosses hair dramatically, clenches jaw, stares directly down the camera barrel*