This Tuesday, as those of us that were lucky enough to have an extended weekend trudged into work, news broke about some shady promotions that Machinima and EA have invited YouTube personalities to be a part of. Understandably, many people were a bit pissed that such promotions not only existed, but that the participants were seemingly barred from disclosing any part of said agreements. This week I will briefly examine each of the leaked agreements along with examining the effect they have.
Machinima aimed to promote the Xbox One for Microsoft through their multitude of YouTube channels. The big caveat for their agreement was that the posted videos could not contain ANYTHING negative towards Machinima, Microsoft, or the Xbone and its games. To be fair to Microsoft, perusing the agreement that was posted on Pastebin clearly shows that the agreement itself is between Machinima and the owner of the YouTube channel. But one does not need to strain any brain cells in realizing that Microsoft is the company financing this promotion as Machinima does not have anything to gain other than gratitude(unless they are worried Microsoft will pull their app from the 360 and Xbone). What likely happened was that Microsoft gave Machinima a boatload of money and said “Make the Xbone look good!” Machinima, realizing their task was nearly impossible without clever stipulations, crafted the aforementioned agreement. Of course, both Microsoft and Machinima employ a team of lawyers that made sure that not one of the agreement’s 2597 words was “Microsoft”, which apparently allowed Machinima to tell participants to not disclose anything about the agreement while still remaining in compliance with FCC advertising laws.
EA’s promotional agreement was a bit less shady, but only just. Instead of barring any and all negative comments in the videos, they asked for the videos to mainly focus on certain aspects of the game, but allowed participants to mention things they would like to be improved. Like Machinima, EA does not seem too concerned if participants “forget” to mention that their videos are being compensated by EA. What is interesting, in the case of the Battlefield 4 campaign, is that one of the conditions is to not make a video that focuses on the glitches in the game. The fact that this assignment began before Battlefield 4 officially launched points to EA being aware that the game was basically a beta product at the time of its launch, something that probably will not help them with the impending class action lawsuit.
Nobody should be surprised that these agreements exist, nor should anybody believe that they are the first of their kind. YouTube gives anybody the chance to get millions of views, and companies are always looking for new ways to advertise. Many of the more popular YouTube channels have subscriber numbers in the millions but do not have the same ability to negotiate huge advertising deals like a television network. Not only are these companies able to spend less by advertising this way, but they are also able to reach an audience that is already interested in the product, a much more focused approach than relying on demographics. None of these factors really bother me because every business wants to advertise more effectively and cheaper.
What does bother me is pretty much everything else these agreements entail. By using YouTube personalities, these companies are able to give off the impression that the “opinions” in the videos are from everyday gamers like me. Instructing these people to not talk negatively about the product or the company behind the product further abuses any trust the viewer may have in the presenter’s opinions. The proverbial cherry on top of this sundae of shit is that the agreements do not list the disclosure of the compensation for the presenter’s opinions as part of the conditions, something that could result in FCC laws being broken. Despite EA’s claims that their program requires participants to comply with these FCC laws, not one of the Battlefield 4 or Need for Speed: Rivals videos that I found disclosed any part of EA’s compensation, but they all hit each of the other conditions.
It is pretty clear why these companies do not want it getting out that they are paying for these videos. EA and Machinima’s (and more than likely Microsoft, by extension) circumventing of advertising laws is a fantasy that Billy Mays (RIP) and the dude that beat up a hooker (I think he used a ShamWow to clean up the blood) dreamed about on a nightly basis. There is not a much better way to sell shitty products than to pay people to laud them to the sky without mentioning the windfalls of cash they are getting for doing so. Unfortunately, the legal ramifications for this mess will probably be small fines, if anything.
This whole situation just reinforces the notion we can not believe anybody on the internet. Money has always had the ability to corrupt people, but it is disappointing that these companies are wrecking another avenue that can provide informed opinions. At this rate, small websites like this one could be next for a nice payd…..er I mean we could be the first one to reject thousands of dollars so that we maintain our integrity. What are your thoughts on companies using YouTube channels this way? Do you think Microsoft is behind the Machinima campaign or is it just Machinima’s own doing? Drop your opinions below!