Youtube video game stars may be breaking FTC regulations
August 21, 2015 11:47 AM   Subscribe

According to Gamastura, Youtube stars like Seananners may be breaking FTC disclosure guidelines. Adam "SeaNanners" Montoya has heavily promoted a new video game called Dead Realm on his Youtube channel. He does not mention that he has a financial stake in the game's publisher, 3BlackDot, in every video about the game. The FTC has specific guidelines for Youtubers and product endorsement, which Adam (and others) have ignored.

Youtubers are extremely popular these days, especially younger people.

I know when I watched a random video of Dead Realms by Seananners, it was not apparent that he had a stake in the game. Compare it to a video he did for Gary's Mod, which he does not have a stake in. Looks like a nearly identical format.
posted by clockworkjoe (54 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
But... Ethics!
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on August 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


It would appear that this is actually about ethics in games journalism.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:56 AM on August 21, 2015 [92 favorites]


Damnit. Beaten to it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:58 AM on August 21, 2015


I'm still trying to figure out who Sean Anners is.
posted by briank at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, they're sea ’nanners. You know, the things sea monkeys eat?
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:04 PM on August 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


What's going to be frustrating is you just know there's going to be a contingent of people who are going to say that the problem is the FTC and "antiquidated" regulations.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


quoth Gamasutra: "... failing to do so potentially damages the credibility of YouTubers as a whole"

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha credibility ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Also: YouTubers, get outta my tater patch.
posted by scruss at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait, shit, I can't even tell if that was making a joke or lamely explaining the original joke. HELP I HAVE BECOME CLUELESS AND IRRELEVANT.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's not limited to just games, of course. Try looking for makeup reviews that aren't just paid product shilling, for example.

Companies are just starting to realize they can tap a new channel to potential customers where the content producers aren't actually that savvy.
posted by odinsdream at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder to what extent my nemesis, Cookieswirl C, is backed by Big Toy.
posted by Artw at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2015


The BBC ran an interesting article this week about how this is being addressed in the UK. The FTC isn’t the only one looking into this.
posted by Martijn at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been excited to mess around with Super Mario Maker, which among other things was the focus of the Nintendo World Championships earlier this year. It's a bit of money for me at $60, but looking at what's possible with it and just the joy that went into making it, yeah, I think I can shell out for that. And it's been all over YouTube! There's like dozens of videos of people going all through the game, spoiling its deepest secrets, making and playing all kinds of wonderful levels. I was all set to buy it today. Well, heh, I discovered a funny thing:

THE DAMN GAME ISN'T OUT UNTIL SEPTEMBER 11, MORE THAN THREE WEEKS FROM NOW.

All of those videos on Youtube of people having a ton of fun with the game are "journalists" and other people who have been slipped free review copies by Nintendo. And they'll probably continue to fill YT with all the fun they are having while us peasants are expected to content ourselves to watch and admire what they're doing until the magic day the game that's obviously already ready to release is deemed suitable for ordinary users.

It's enough to make one want to take up ROM hacking.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Payola is unfortunately common in this world, to the point where some of these folks are quite open about it.

For example, Yogscast, one of the higher-ratings tubes groups, has tried to start a program, YogDiscovery, to feature games for money. Naturally, people have wondered about a conflict of interest there. The answers seem to boil down to "trust us".

The conflict is that even just a few years ago, these were just a couple of uni students goofing around. Now, five years on or so, Yogscast has a multi-million dollar revenue stream and a stable of half-a-dozen or more "content creators", a moderate size production studio, in other words.
posted by bonehead at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't there be money in a game review and writing site that makes it a point to refuse all connections with game studios? That forgos access and free review copies in order to assure readers that they're not in the pocket of Big Pixel?
posted by JHarris at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Money? From whom? The entire Youtube ecosystem is predicated on advertising. Direct sponsorship deals pay more than Adserver Roulette.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you believe that any halfway-lucid 'civilian' YouTube video in praise of ANYTHING is NOT a paid advertisement, you don't know how the Advertising Biz works. (Hint: it's gotten more sophisticated and craven since 'Mad Men')
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2015


Way back in the 90s, the gaming zines everybody admired would make a point of shitting all over the games publishers would comp them for review purposes, and viciously called out other zines who treated such titles with a soft touch. Kids today, O tempora, etc.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


And they'll probably continue to fill YT with all the fun they are having while us peasants are expected to content ourselves to watch and admire what they're doing until the magic day the game that's obviously already ready to release is deemed suitable for ordinary users.

But isn't it better that Nintendo allows footage to be shown early (rather unusual for Nintendo, actually, now that I think about it) rather than embargoing everything until the day of release when it's too late to cancel pre-orders and such?

(Of course, in general you just shouldn't pre-order games. But people still do.)
posted by kmz at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2015


Way back in the 90s, the gaming zines everybody admired would make a point of shitting all over the games publishers would comp them for review purposes...

The counterpoint to that is that that e.g. EGM would run a four-page spread that looked identical to a game review but was actually an advertisement denoted by the "special advertising section" notice at the top of every page that was maybe one shade off the background color.
posted by griphus at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And, lest anyone thing that games vloggers are something special:

Why I Don’t Trust YouTube Beauty Gurus Like Zoella and Bethany Mota
posted by bonehead at 12:25 PM on August 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Shouldn't there be money in a game review and writing site that makes it a point to refuse all connections with game studios? That forgos access and free review copies in order to assure readers that they're not in the pocket of Big Pixel?

I think what people really care about is disclosure. The more reputable sites will have a blurb explaining how they got the game and any conflicts of interest. Polygon does this, for example.

Increasingly, though, I think that people just don't care about reviews (or detailed previews, even). And the more sophisticated writing plays to a small crowd. The masses want to watch videos of people playing games, and this is totally sensible.

And they'll probably continue to fill YT with all the fun they are having while us peasants are expected to content ourselves to watch and admire what they're doing until the magic day the game that's obviously already ready to release is deemed suitable for ordinary users
.

Streamers seem to create hype for games; trade press, increasingly, doesn't. So yeah, this is going to be every game from now on. Fortunately there are many streamers to choose from and hopefully you can find one who isn't a total sleazeball.
posted by selfnoise at 12:25 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Way back in the 90s, the gaming zines everybody admired would make a point of shitting all over the games publishers would comp them for review purposes...

The counterpoint to that is that that e.g. EGM would run a four-page spread that looked identical to a game review but was actually an advertisement denoted by the "special advertising section" notice at the top of every page that was maybe one shade off the background color.


The funny thing is, back then many of the game publishers would do absolutely nothing in terms of a events for previews, or demo builds. So a writer at a trade magazine would be given the press release and maybe a shot or two and asked to write up a preview. He hadn't played it? Nope!
posted by selfnoise at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's far more important to my nephews that Smosh or someone else they watch daily covers a game than some random website. I'm not certain they even know what PCGamer is. RPS is something their dads read.
posted by bonehead at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The counterpoint to that is that that e.g. EGM would run a four-page spread that looked identical to a game review but was actually an advertisement denoted by the "special advertising section" notice at the top of every page that was maybe one shade off the background color.

I wrote a letter to EGM complaining about a TurboGrafx ad that was pulling that sort of bullshit when I was, like, twelve. My letter got printed, heavily edited, in a later special edition TurboGrafx buyer's guide and the editor basically called me stupid and illiterate. Oh to feel such heights of righteous fury again. The 90s were a heady time for ethics in video gaming journalism.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


So a writer at a trade magazine would be given the press release and maybe a shot or two and asked to write up a preview. He hadn't played it? Nope!

I can't tell if this is more or less honest that giving reviewers a perfect 10-minute preview of a game that ends up being a pile of crap (looking at you Aliens: Colonial Marines.)
posted by griphus at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2015


Why I Don’t Trust YouTube Beauty Gurus Like Zoella and Bethany Mota

Ironically I couldn't get any content for this article to load until after disabling AdBlock.
posted by odinsdream at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not certain they even know what PCGamer is.

To be fair, I'm not sure PCGamer knows what PCGamer is, these days.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


...and the editor basically called me stupid and illiterate.

Was it Sushi X, that smug prick?
posted by griphus at 12:43 PM on August 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Everyone loves a free lunch. Everyone likes to have credibility (or pseudo-). If they think they can get away, they'll happily throw away the later to get the first.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2015


Maybe it's time for youtube to die. I think I might be ok with not being able to watch all the awesome videos I enjoy if it means that the assholes making bank off of sketchy marketing/shilling/miscarriage techniques would have their income streams dry up.
posted by item at 12:51 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except we live in a terrifying cyberdystopia where the nation's children revere YouTube "celebrities" with names like Splurch and Poopypie and yet could not even pick legitimate famous people like Alan Thicke and Dyan Cannon out of a lineup. Surely, this is the most dissolute generation of young people yet bred.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:58 PM on August 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Shouldn't there be money in a game review and writing site that makes it a point to refuse all connections with game studios?

How will your reviewers get advance copies to review? You won't be able to effectively compete for eyeballs without exclusivity or timeliness.

Also, if your business model is advertising, you will have a sales problem. Advertisers want to buy an audience with specific interests. If you're cutting out the biggest, most obvious reason to reach that gamer demographic, you're just making things that much harder on yourself. Not impossible, but hard. And it's already hard to capture an audience with a critical mass.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2015


You won't be able to effectively compete for eyeballs without exclusivity or timeliness.

Hasn't the AP been breaking embargoes because they know they won't suffer consequences because they're the AP? Maybe there should be a website that specializes in that. They'll only ever be able to review one game per publisher, but it'll be a good review.
posted by griphus at 1:05 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that while there's a real ethical issue involved, the primary one is a matter of something more basic... what we have now is basically a bunch of kids whose little whimsical hobby turned into a paying business. What do they know about regulatory compliance? What do they know about ethics? What do they know about any of this stuff? Nothing. It's not unreasonable to expect adults to figure those things out. But they aren't hanging around with adults. Their audience is in large part teenagers, or even younger. I don't think most of these guys know anything about business models or any of that. I don't think they're usually that savvy. I think, much as a lot of them are making money for what most of us would consider frivolous stuff, that most of them are still just coasting on dumb luck. It's like someone discovers they make great cupcakes and they sell them all around town before the health department finds out. They might make bank and not kill anybody, but at some point they're going to have to face reality and it's going to be very unpleasant.

The unfortunate thing is that so far, actual enforcement by the people who know this isn't okay hasn't been forthcoming. Once a few people get smacked, folks will get the idea and it'll improve. Until the rules have some teeth, they're all just acting like it's something they can worry about later. Given how prevalent that is even among business owners twice that age, I'm not surprised. That doesn't make it okay, but I'm not surprised. I don't think they're necessarily trying to pull anything over on anybody, I suspect they just don't see why it should matter.

I'd bet most of their books don't bear close inspection, either, or their tax returns. I suspect at least a few of them are in violation of apartment leases or condo agreements that don't allow home-based businesses. There seems to be a general attitude, even when they get successful, that the money just falls out of the sky and they're still just guys who play video games in front of the internet. It could just be an act, but I don't think it is.
posted by Sequence at 1:10 PM on August 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seems like YouTube could make these sorts of issues go away very easily with a few extra checkboxes on their posting page, and a 1 or 2 page PDF overview of "So you want to make money on YouTube? Here's what you need to consider!"
posted by blue_beetle at 1:23 PM on August 21, 2015


All of those videos on Youtube of people having a ton of fun with the game are "journalists" and other people who have been slipped free review copies by Nintendo. And they'll probably continue to fill YT with all the fun they are having while us peasants are expected to content ourselves to watch and admire what they're doing until the magic day the game that's obviously already ready to release is deemed suitable for ordinary users.

But how is that any different than a movie/tv reviewer who gets advance copies of the movie/show?
Disclosures if it's paid sure, they should be clear and upfront about that. But I'm not sure I see the harm in early review copies being sent to folks.
posted by bowmaniac at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2015


Seems like YouTube could make these sorts of issues go away very easily with a few extra checkboxes on their posting page, and a 1 or 2 page PDF overview of "So you want to make money on YouTube? Here's what you need to consider!"

Good idea. If I were making a series of YouTube videos, it might not occur to me to ask the FTC if I'm following their rules, but YouTube is an obvious place to check. (And while "ignorance of the law is no excuse" for criminal acts like murder, there are so many regulations that strict liability causes more harm than it prevents.)

Edit: As Sequence said, these are kids/young adults whose hobby is now, technically, a business. I can understand why they aren't quite treating it like one.
posted by Rangi at 1:30 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


legitimate famous people like Alan Thicke

*scorf*
posted by item at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hasn't the AP been breaking embargoes because they know they won't suffer consequences because they're the AP?

Yes, but by exclusivity and timeliness, I mean, there will be only X number of advance copies provided. If you're starting your review process by purchasing the game on the same day as everyone else, you'll be neither exclusive nor timely. You've already lost potential eyeballs, and getting people to switch their media brand is very difficult even with good content.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2015


But I'm not sure I see the harm in early review copies being sent to folks.

[ Insert a reference to Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Because of the implication here ]
posted by lmfsilva at 1:36 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


> The 90s were a heady time for ethics in video gaming journalism.

Word.

Consider: Was this re-review prompted in any way by the publisher's ad department receiving an irate note from EA tabulating just how much EA spent in all their mags every month, and if they wanted to find a way to keep this revenue coming in ...?
Surely not!
posted by scruss at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


The counterpoint to that is that that e.g. EGM would run a four-page spread that looked identical to a game review but was actually an advertisement denoted by the "special advertising section" notice at the top of every page that was maybe one shade off the background color.

Four? I remember huge 32-page runs of such "content."
posted by JHarris at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Except we live in a terrifying cyberdystopia where the nation's children revere YouTube "celebrities" with names like Splurch and Poopypie and yet could not even pick legitimate famous people like Alan Thicke and Dyan Cannon out of a lineup. Surely, this is the most dissolute generation of young people yet bred.

man, what-EVER. do you know how out of touch you sound? i'm sure your parents said the same thing about whatever rock stars you idolized as a kid. as a 23 year old - so just far enough removed that i didn't grow up with YouTube but I did grow up with podcasts and internet personalities informing my day to day life - i get more entertainment out of certain youtubers than i have ever gotten out of other mediums. it's an open honesty that you don't get with a lot of celebrities, because the people making youtube videos are often so clearly just regular dudes having a good time. that is appealing. we live in a time with access an unprecedented diversity of personalities at our fingertips, and that choice is wonderful, even if people choose pewdiepie (not "poopypie" as you so eloquently reduced him to. believe it or not, while his brand of entertainment may not speak to you he's actually a pretty stand up guy, probably a better person than the man who spawned robin thicke).

for the record, as a 23 year old i also had to look up your two "legitimate famous people," you realize they're both in their 70s right? no 11 year old in history has given a shit about what 70 year old celebrities are up to. and what makes them any more worthy of praise or adoration than youtubers? the amount of people they entertained? the fact that they did so over the air instead of through the wires? here's a fact: youtube is bigger than TV. if not in numbers, yet, than in terms of cultural momentum. the numbers will follow.

i just find your post really hateful in a way that bothers me. people in this generation, my age but especially younger, are being born into the internet that YOU created. if you really have a problem with what they're consuming, do something about it. make the internet a better place instead of carelessly shitposting.
posted by JimBennett at 3:53 PM on August 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


JimBennett, I think the most careless thing in prize bull octorok's comment is neglecting Poe's Law.
posted by RobotHero at 4:16 PM on August 21, 2015 [21 favorites]


What do they know about regulatory compliance? What do they know about ethics? What do they know about any of this stuff? Nothing. It's not unreasonable to expect adults to figure those things out. But they aren't hanging around with adults.

While this may be true in the whole, Seananners is in his 30s and has started his own business designing and shipping physical, non-Youtube products, Craftly. This particular video series for Dead Realm suddenly started cropping up on his channel after several videos he posted talking about things he learned starting a "real business."

If I were making a series of YouTube videos, it might not occur to me to ask the FTC if I'm following their rules, but YouTube is an obvious place to check.

This, I think, is where I'm (hoping) Seananners went wrong - he's (hopefully) done a fair amount of research before he launched Craftly, but it may never have occurred to him that these FTC rules exist.
posted by notnamed at 4:19 PM on August 21, 2015


The result of people carelessly, broadly overusing the word "troll" is that it's now difficult to give prize bull octorok's comment its due credit.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:51 PM on August 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


welp.
posted by JimBennett at 5:01 PM on August 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Don't feel bad JimBennett, it happens.
posted by JHarris at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Alan Thicke is feeling super good about himself right now and has no idea why.
posted by griphus at 5:11 PM on August 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dyan Cannon was in Deathtrap, she can already feel as good as she wants from that.
posted by nom de poop at 6:12 PM on August 21, 2015


What do they know about regulatory compliance? What do they know about ethics? What do they know about any of this stuff? Nothing.

The game publishers, makeup companies, etc... who are giving them free product to review certainly know how this works. There's absolutely no reason besides dishonest sleezebag PR why the free stuff can't come with a note reminding reviewers that you have to disclose that you got it for free. The FTC has written pretty clear guidance on the subject. While the details could get tricky in some cases, the general idea that you need to disclose when your review is bought and paid for is very simple.
posted by zachlipton at 7:11 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Alan Thicke is in his 70s!? He’s aging uncannily well. Like Dick Clark uncanny. I’d hate to see the painting in his attic.
posted by El Mariachi at 1:08 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


How does this work internationally? Can the FTC still go after an American game publisher if the Youtuber and his/her audience is in some other country? And if the game publisher is non-American they could still go after American Youtubers? Or to keep it simple would they just go after Youtube?
posted by RobotHero at 11:23 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


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