Warner Bros. Hit with FTC Settlement Over Paid Shadow of Mordor Videos

ffronw

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Warner Bros. Hit with FTC Settlement Over Paid Shadow of Mordor Videos

//cdn.themis-media.com/media/global/images/library/deriv/1335/1335788.jpgThe FTC is hitting Warner Bros. with a settlement because the company failed to offer proper disclosures on paid Shadow of Mordor videos.

The hits just keep on coming for YouTube stars. In the wake of recent issues with CS:GO streamers who were outed for owning sites they were promoting without disclosure, Warner Bros. is about to be hit with an action from the FTC for neglecting to disclose paid relationships with YouTubers.

At issue is the online marketing campaign for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor - the game that won our Best Action-Adventure award for 2014 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/12789-The-Escapist-Game-of-the-Year-2014-Best-Movie-and-More]. Prior to its launch, Warner started up an online marketing campaign that included paying well-known online personalities (including YouTube sensation PewDiePie) for positive coverage of the game. That those videos were made is not the problem - it's how the disclosures were handled.

The FTC statement claims that Warner "instructed influencers to place the disclosures in the description box appearing below the video. Because Warner Bros. also required other information to be placed in that box, the vast majority of sponsorship disclosures appeared 'below the fold,' visible only if consumers clicked on the 'Show More' button in the description box." This is doubly problematic because when videos are shared on most social sites, the "below the fold" content is not included.

Under the proposed settlement, Warner Bros. would be prohibited from "misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products." The company must also take steps to insure that any influencer they hire in the future complies with the same requirements.

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, "Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches. Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns."

You can read the full right here [https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/07/warner-bros-settles-ftc-charges-it-failed-adequately-disclose-it].

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Silentpony_v1legacy

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I feel like this is the beginning of the end for gaming channels being the highest subscribed channels. They grew so rapidly the law wasn't able to stay current at all the shenanigans that were going on. Now that is beginning to catch up, a lot of channels are going to be taking a lot of hits, and new channels will struggle.
 

Neurotic Void Melody

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All that WB dough just too much to say "no" too, eh? Does PDP (hehe, sounds like a narcotic!) really need the money? Isn't he one of the more popular ones? Also, Is there a list of youtubers who are part of this? The link only mentioned PDP. I sincerely hope their fans would want to hear about these little insignificant details.
A quick glance over the legal document, it's interesting that they refer to the youtubers as "influencers." The precise root of this situation.
 

sXeth

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The question I posed to this (or similar things) when it was bouncing around on Twitter.


When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?

Now, there are some who do that, making reviews or covering game news. But you're primarily looking at an entertainment medium where it'd be more akin to seeing someone drink a coke or drive a toyota on a TV program. Which are usually paid product placement, but also not required to put giant emphasis in their opening credits.
 

Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
Its weird that WB was so shady with shadows of mordor. I mean the game was really good, but they went to some really weird places for the marketing.
 

cjbos81

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I remember seeing a few of those videos and I remember noticing that it seemed odd that the same few comments about the gameplay and features were being used.

I distinctly remember something about the NPC's personalities or something like that.

It was only later when I read an article about it that I finally understood what was going on.
 

nomotog_v1legacy

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Seth Carter said:
The question I posed to this (or similar things) when it was bouncing around on Twitter.


When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?

Now, there are some who do that, making reviews or covering game news. But you're primarily looking at an entertainment medium where it'd be more akin to seeing someone drink a coke or drive a toyota on a TV program. Which are usually paid product placement, but also not required to put giant emphasis in their opening credits.
I don't know what the rules are for TV placement, but The FTC has rules for advertisers that they broke. I do like to see sponsored content labeled as such.
 

Thyunda

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Seth Carter said:
The question I posed to this (or similar things) when it was bouncing around on Twitter.


When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?

Now, there are some who do that, making reviews or covering game news. But you're primarily looking at an entertainment medium where it'd be more akin to seeing someone drink a coke or drive a toyota on a TV program. Which are usually paid product placement, but also not required to put giant emphasis in their opening credits.
The issue isn't that Warner Brothers was paying people to play Shadow of Mordor and talk about it, the issue was that, in their terms, they were paying 'influencers.' I'm not sure WB are at fault here, because soulless marketing is just part of the industry, but PewDiePie should know better. He has millions of subscribers, and he makes millions of dollars, and yet he still happily agrees to play the game and only state positive things about it. That's the crux of the issue - it's dishonest.

Imagine if your favourite YouTube Let's Player put out a Colonial Marines video and talked up how good it was while either craftily editing or diverting attention away from the negative aspects. You might notice and think, oh, Randy Pitchford definitely paid this guy, but there are viewers, particularly younger ones, who'll go out and buy that shitty game on the back of the LPer's influence.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Worgen said:
Its weird that WB was so shady with shadows of mordor. I mean the game was really good, but they went to some really weird places for the marketing.
I find that equally baffling. It's a totally legit game. It'd be like paying someone to say positive things about BioShock. I almost feel like Warner Brothers got ripped off.
 

sXeth

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Thyunda said:
Seth Carter said:
The question I posed to this (or similar things) when it was bouncing around on Twitter.


When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?

Now, there are some who do that, making reviews or covering game news. But you're primarily looking at an entertainment medium where it'd be more akin to seeing someone drink a coke or drive a toyota on a TV program. Which are usually paid product placement, but also not required to put giant emphasis in their opening credits.
The issue isn't that Warner Brothers was paying people to play Shadow of Mordor and talk about it, the issue was that, in their terms, they were paying 'influencers.' I'm not sure WB are at fault here, because soulless marketing is just part of the industry, but PewDiePie should know better. He has millions of subscribers, and he makes millions of dollars, and yet he still happily agrees to play the game and only state positive things about it. That's the crux of the issue - it's dishonest.

Imagine if your favourite YouTube Let's Player put out a Colonial Marines video and talked up how good it was while either craftily editing or diverting attention away from the negative aspects. You might notice and think, oh, Randy Pitchford definitely paid this guy, but there are viewers, particularly younger ones, who'll go out and buy that shitty game on the back of the LPer's influence.
Maybe, but it still seems like they're making up an arbitrary new set of rules in this case. To borrow from a wiki article on PewDiePie

"Due to his popularity, PewDiePie's coverage of indie games has created an Oprah effect, boosting sales for titles he plays."

Yet if you watch Oprah, its a tiny little blurb at the end that usually mentions the products being paid endorsements. ON the other hand, people who are legitimate experts claiming objectivity who appear on Oprah, like Dr Oz, face consequences for trying to shill stuff because they are there as legitimate objective experts. Oprah herself is a TV personality.

Add on that most Youtuber's play a character, effectively a fictional person. Even if based on an exaggeration of their own personality. There's a divide between the character of PewDiePie and Felix Kjellberg the real person, in the example. Its relating a fictional character's enjoyment of something to an objective recommendation.

James Bond drives around an Aston Martin (though I think its been changed in the last movie or two), which Aston Martin paid for that to be the case. I don't suddenly take that to be Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery recommending the car to me objectively.

Now, if the videos are reviewing the game while playing it, or being presented as an unfiltered preview, then its obviously in another area.
 

Saelune

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I think the real story is...its fucking 2 years later.
Silentpony said:
I feel like this is the beginning of the end for gaming channels being the highest subscribed channels. They grew so rapidly the law wasn't able to stay current at all the shenanigans that were going on. Now that is beginning to catch up, a lot of channels are going to be taking a lot of hits, and new channels will struggle.
I don't see why though. Smaller channels don't need contracts, as merely being asked to do it often may be enough.

If anything, things will level out for smaller channels. This might hurt big ones like Pewdiepie...but fuck him. The big ones tend to be the sellout ones who never had a backbone to begin with.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Saelune said:
No what I meant was that the larger channels got big in part because of undisclosed promotions for popular games. And with new vigilance and laws coming into effect, the smaller channels won't have that same undisclosed cash-flow and will need to get popular off the inherent talents of the hosts without the safety net of backroom deals.
 

Saelune

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Silentpony said:
Saelune said:
No what I meant was that the larger channels got big in part because of undisclosed promotions for popular games. And with new vigilance and laws coming into effect, the smaller channels won't have that same undisclosed cash-flow and will need to get popular off the inherent talents of the hosts without the safety net of backroom deals.
...good? You made it sound like a bad thing, but if shitty channels wont be as popular or numerous, I'm down for that.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Worgen said:
Its weird that WB was so shady with shadows of mordor. I mean the game was really good, but they went to some really weird places for the marketing.
And the porting. And the quality assurance. And the HR department.
 

The Rogue Wolf

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Worgen said:
Its weird that WB was so shady with shadows of mordor. I mean the game was really good, but they went to some really weird places for the marketing.
It's practically becoming a corporate mindset that they have to deceive the audience, no matter the quality of the product.
 

Chaos Marine

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I'm simply wondering what's the point. Companies like WB rake in so much money that any kind of fine or penalty and what they god sentenced with could barely be considered a slap on the wrist. Barely even a financial finger wagging. Super huge companies should face fines of the millions at the least. Repeat offences should become exponentially more severe. A company that makes fifty million and gets fined a couple hundred thousand are going to look at the maths and not care.
 

Kahani

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ffronw said:
Under the proposed settlement, Warner Bros. would be prohibited from "misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products." The company must also take steps to insure that any influencer they hire in the future complies with the same requirements.
So the settlement is that they have to do exactly what the law required them to do in the first place. I fail to see how there's any punishment involved here.
 

ffronw

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Kahani said:
ffronw said:
Under the proposed settlement, Warner Bros. would be prohibited from "misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products." The company must also take steps to insure that any influencer they hire in the future complies with the same requirements.
So the settlement is that they have to do exactly what the law required them to do in the first place. I fail to see how there's any punishment involved here.
This is more in the vein of "This is your slap on the wrist. If you do this again, you're going to be facing much harsher penalties." It's more of a documentation step at this point than a penalty.
 

UberGott

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Seth Carter said:
When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?
Critics aren't journalists, much as this particular cottage industry blurs that line.

Even so, Critics are people who are paid by their employer to look at a product and - as objectively and honestly as possible - tell the reader if said product is worth spending their time and money on. They aren't bound to the same ethical quandaries as someone reporting actual press releases news, but it's still poor form for them to lie about the value of a product, since that's ultimately their one job.

To put this another way; if Warner tried to pull this manipulative BS on Batman v Superman, only offering to show early screenings to people who wouldn't complain that the movie was a train wreck, we'd never have heard the end of it. The mere fact that Shadows of Mordor was "pretty good" are making people ignore how potentially dangerous and scummy this practice is, particularly when guys like PewDiePie and Total Biscuit probably influence more sales than "classic" text reviews by now.
 

sXeth

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UberGott said:
Seth Carter said:
When did LPers ever claim to be objective journalists to start with?
Critics aren't journalists, much as this particular cottage industry blurs that line.

Even so, Critics are people who are paid by their employer to look at a product and - as objectively and honestly as possible - tell the reader if said product is worth spending their time and money on. They aren't bound to the same ethical quandaries as someone reporting actual press releases news, but it's still poor form for them to lie about the value of a product, since that's ultimately their one job.

To put this another way; if Warner tried to pull this manipulative BS on Batman v Superman, only offering to show early screenings to people who wouldn't complain that the movie was a train wreck, we'd never have heard the end of it. The mere fact that Shadows of Mordor was "pretty good" are making people ignore how potentially dangerous and scummy this practice is, particularly when guys like PewDiePie and Total Biscuit probably influence more sales than "classic" text reviews by now.

Adding to my research, I've now scanned the first five pages of PewDiePie's videos. And while my brain is trying to melt out my ears from the stupid exposure, there doesn't seem to be any vague implication of him being a critic other then a Bayonette LP segment "Is this game too sexual? Bayonette 2 Playthrough Pt 4". I haven't watched the things, but it doesn't seem like a critical platform.

TotalBiscuit on the other hand does actually review and recommend games. And cover the industry as a games journalist. He is also, IIRC, currently being paid directly by a collective audience on Patreon partially to guarantee objectivity and fair reviews. As is Jim Sterling.

PewDiePie playing a game and seeming to enjoy it seems on par with Kanye West tweeting that he just had some good McDonalds. Its entirely likely he's being paid to do so, and a million people may consider this a logical opinion to live by. But he's not the restaurant critic in the newspaper or my personal nutritionalist trying to push the same thing on me. He's self-employed, so no ones paying him to do anything other then whatever he feels like doing.

A common thing in LPs, for instance, is to edit out excessive deaths/retries, unless they're entertaining somehow. Am I suddenly liable for misrepresenting Wolfenstein : The Old Blood because I cut out 15 final boss tries before I figured out it was a stealth mechanic and made the game seem more seemless and intuitive then it actually is?