Warner Bros. have reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission in the US over deceptive promotional practices in the lead up to the 2014 release of hit video game Shadow of Mordor.
According to the FTC a number of “online influencers” were paid varying sums of money in exchange for positive coverage of the game. Popular YouTube personality PewDiePie is the only one listed by name in the press release, likely due to his video alone accounting for 3.7 million of the 5.5 million views during the campaign. All of this was organised through an advertising agency, Plaid Social Labs, LLC.
Payment for positive coverage is not unheard of, with sponsorship deals particularly common among YouTubers. The FTC took issue with this promotion as most of those paid by Warner Bros. did not adequately disclose the content was essentially a paid advertisement. Some attempted to fudge things by disclosing they received an early copy of the game, but not that they were being paid to make a video on it.
Those that did disclose the connection often only did so near the end of a video description, meaning viewers would have to click “Show More” and could easily miss it. If those videos were then displayed elsewhere – Twitter or Facebook for example – those disclosures would not be visible at all. The FTC rules are quite clear on such disclosures being necessary and readily apparent to anyone viewing the videos, with the companies providing payment being expected to ensure strict compliance by associated partners.
This is all the more disappointing given that Shadow of Mordor was widely regarded as a good game in its own right, by gamers and critics alike. Now, thanks to a few dishonest parties, the opinions of trustworthy reviewers will have that small, niggling doubt attached to them. Did that reviewer really like Shadow of Morder, or did money change hands?
Most reviews are likely to have been completely legitimate and untainted by this corruption, but in an industry where accusations of unethical behaviour are quite common it is unhelpful to see instances where it is proven true.
If you’d like to read the entire decision, you can do so here. (PDF) It’s a little dry, with a heavy coating of legalese, but worth the read.
Does this case shake your faith in the impartiality of journalists, or were you already convinced that nobody could be trusted anyway? What do the filthy journalists have in their pocketses, Precious?