If you’re like me and enjoy Youtube gaming channels (from Let’s Play to general informative review/topic analysis), then you’re likely aware that a great deal of channels that are successful have added benefits from being “e-famous.” For example, they may request advanced copies of games so that they can put content up live on the day of release, or get access to some of the more excessive events (like E3, gamescom, San Diego Comic-Con and more).
However, Gamasutra wanted to look further in-depth at the phenomena by asking plenty of Youtube gaming channel creators several questions that delve into the ethics of something more sinister; paid coverage. 141 were surveyed, with 42 of those people (~30%) having over 5,000 subscribers. Of those 42, 11 (~26%) had admitted to receiving money, “directly or indirectly from a video game developer or publisher, for recording videos of games.” An additional two respondents (5%) preferred not to say, and only 2% of Youtube gaming creators with less than 5,000 subscribers admitted to being paid, directly or indirectly, to record videos of games.
The informal study continues on to question the ethics of paid Youtube gaming content, including possible oversight by the FTC and some very interesting responses from Youtube creators about the idea itself, where roughly 35-40% off all respondents were against the idea of taking money from devs or publishers to create their videos.
It becomes a very fickle subject, especially when it comes to transparency. Establishing your brand within Youtube is all about building a community, and there’s no better way to do that than with trust. On the one hand, anybody who creates Youtube gaming content with critical analysis or for reviews should absolutely not be paid to participate in creating a video. It absolutely jeopardizes their integrity to be fair and unbiased.
On the other hand, when it comes to “games as entertainment” coverage, I’d be okay if a Youtube gaming content creator were paid to make such content with many, many caveats.
The first should be that the creator should make it clear that they were “sponsored by _____” to make the video, both audibly within the first minute of the video and near the top of the description bar. The second caveat should be that it is limited to just one video. If Youtube creators are starting series’ based off of dev/pub payments, then it both ruins the point of playing games for your fans and it will begin to shut out Indie developers from their main avenue of publicity. Third, it should be the publishers/developers who approach the creator, not the other way around. Content creators make money off of ad revenue, which in concept is fair (more on that at another time). Seeking out companies that you deem “worthy” of paying for your attention makes you look like an outright ass.
The fourth caveat in the perfect world would be for creators to be as honest with their product as possible, but it does create an expressive problem. People who receive benefits from involving themselves with a product (such as producing a paid video) is that there is only incentives to be positive or, at worst, neutral. Why be negative, when doing so will remove you from paid opportunities in the future?
It’s part of what the survey reveals about the community; there is no oversight whatsover. The only thing fans can rely on is the court of public opinion, which is swift and fairly unjust. No Youtube gaming creator will out others that they know take deals without full disclosure, as it turns them into a rat, which will greatly affect their monetary means. That’s where the situation becomes even more muddled; should the FTC get involved with complaints over misleading Youtubers if they receive complaints? Government oversight is a huge debacle when it comes to the political conversation in the US, where a great deal of gaming content on Youtube comes from.
There are no hard rules right now. There is no set level of ethics. In a realm where partnered channels see most of the gross advertising profits go to Youtube and their MCN’s, people are willing to do whatever it takes to make their creative dreams come true that allow them the freedom from other employment. I urge these practices to go to the wayside in lieu of the upcoming tip jars, but when money motivates all, it becomes difficult to escape from that fantasy.
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