Buying Positive Coverage Of The Xbox One On YouTube Is Dumb On So Many Levels

from the and-there-goes-your-credibility dept

We've discussed in the past how important YouTube is to gaming companies, focusing mainly on not getting over-aggressive in protecting intellectual property. Our general suggestions had been for gaming companies to invest in supporting YouTubers and building good relationships with those who promote their works.

Except when we're advocating "investing" in YouTube videos, we didn't mean actually investing in them by paying trusted sources to provide positive coverage of the Xbox One. Yet that's exactly what popular YouTube channel Machinima is doing -- and most folks are easily going to connect the dots from there back to Microsoft.

It began with a thread on NeoGAF that included text from an email Machinima was sending out to their partners which offered bonus CPM (cost per thousand views, the standard way advertising is priced) payments on videos covering Microsoft's new console. Their requirements for this "promotion" in the email were already problematic, including gameplay footage from an Xbox One game, a mention of playing the game on the Xbox One console in the video, and a vague reference to following the "guidelines listed in the assignment." Just in those lines, most journalists would find deal-killers. While the line on whether or not YouTube video makers covering games like this being journalists may be a bit blurry, there's little doubt that thousands of YouTubers look to these folks for help on their purchasing decisions. In other words, they're fame rests squarely on their reputations for honest reviews. Minus those reputations, these people have no following.

Which is what makes the details in those "guidelines" mentioned above so misguided.
Now here's where we enter really sketchy territory: Ars Technica tracked down a copy of Machinima's contract for the promotion, and there's one line that stands out: "You may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One or any of its Games in your Campaign Video." What's more, these YouTubers can't even be transparent about this arrangement, according to the contract:

"You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above. You understand that You may not post a copy of this Agreement or any terms thereof online or share them with any third party (other than a legal or financial representative). You agree that You have read the Nondisclosure Agreement (attached hereto and marked as Exhibit "A") and You understand and agree to all of terms of the Nondisclosure Agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Agreement."
Hear that sound? That's the sound of this entire promotion exploding with enough payload-force to also take out both the guilty and innocent Machinima video-producers. What this does is put everyone under suspicion. Given what we said about the importance of reputations above, this could be the meteor that destroys Machinima's world.

And it isn't just them. Even if you're the sort to withhold judgement on Microsoft for being linked to all this (and a lonely sort it must be), a lack of a direct link doesn't really matter. Microsoft will be under suspicion as well, assumed to have a paid arrangement for all this. That will not only make everyone suspicious of Machinima coverage of the Xbox One, but it will make folks wonder what other arrangements Microsoft may have made with other reviewers and video-producers. Now nobody will be trusted for an honest review. Oh and this doesn't even touch on the fact that this practice (and the agreement) almost certainly violates the FTC's disclosure rules concerning promoting products. In other words, not only could this kill some reputations, but it might also get some people into some fairly serious legal hot water.

And all because someone wanted to sneak in some paid positive coverage, which in the end will torpedo the possibility of any positive coverage. That's not how you embrace the internet, folks...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    M. Alan Thomas II (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 1:24pm

    Canary time: Nothing can stop the Machinima producers who haven't agreed to such a deal from announcing that fact; only those who remain silent are suspect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    Wouldn't surprise me

    If Nintendo or Sony have similar agreements, and Microsoft just got its hand caught in the cookie jar.

    That being said, their PR team is LEGENDARY for being terrible at their jobs, so it could go either way really.

    Won't build trust between the consumers and the producers/publishers/reviewers though, no matter how you slice this, that much is for sure.

     

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  3.  
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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    Wouldn't surprise me

    If Nintendo or Sony have similar agreements, and Microsoft just got its hand caught in the cookie jar.

    That being said, their PR team is LEGENDARY for being terrible at their jobs, so it could go either way really.

    Won't build trust between the consumers and the producers/publishers/reviewers though, no matter how you slice this, that much is for sure.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:07pm

    You know, every time I hear of a commercial I think some thing is wrong with their products that they have to pay someone to toot their horn for them. Any product worth it's price that does what it says it does well, doesn't have to have paid ads. The people that use them will be their walking testimonial ad for no money at all.

    Not to mention the fact that you pay for these ads in the price increase in that product to cover them as a hidden cost. You don't get better or a larger quantity for that extra increase in price, you get more aggravation.

    When I see some store product at eye level, I have to ask myself if I have been bothered by them and their commercials since last I considered one of their products. If the answer is yes, I don't buy it. Exactly the opposite of their purpose and intention.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:08pm

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:09pm

    There are even longer term effects

    Yes, yes, yes. It will make Microsoft look bad.

    Yes it will make anything on YouTube that says good things about XBONE suspect.

    But there is a longer term effect.

    If Jane gets paided to say nice things about the Xbone, not only is what she says suspect today, but in the future anything positive that Jane says about any product is now suspect. Is Jane just saying this for money? She did before, so maybe now also?

    In short, Jane's credibility is ruined.

    But it goes beyond that.

    Even if Jane innocently said something nice about Xbone without getting paided from Microsoft, she is suspect and loses her credibility because people, now falsely, assume she is paided by Microsoft.

    The company (Microsoft) is tainted, not just the product (Xbone).

    This has the effect that all YouTubers now make sure NOT to ever say anything nice about Xbone for fear of being labeled as being bribed by Microsoft.

    Furthermore YouTubers start watching for headline stories in industry trade rags and are wary of ever saying anything good about any product from a company that engages in this practice for fear of losing their credibility by merely saying good things about a tainted company's product.

    Credibility is an important currency. It's hard to build up and easy to lose. Don't sell it for cheap.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:10pm

    Re:

    Ah but the US government has shown the way in dealing with that problem. You tell them to lie, ala security letters.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    Re: Re:

    and things like that are why I respect totalbiscuit, regardless if I agree with him or not.

     

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  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:26pm

    "they're fame rest squarely", eh? -- Yours a bit askew.

    "That's not how you embrace the internet, folks..." -- Oh, Timmy. Such an ignorant idealist. This particular form of corruption is just popping out because so widespread that they're actually putting the contract into text! After a couple more years, this won't get even a mention.

    And in any case, gamers don't care! Except as I tried to get across to you one time, and apparently didn't: "reviewers" are only interested in getting their own slice of the pie, soon and big, be a bragging point in itself. They (meaning kids even younger than you) don't even "sell out", that's WAY too abstract and lofty a term. Current readers probably already regard this as just one of the perks for reviewing games.

    It's just aging relics like you, Timmy, who rant at youths, and have quaint "old school" notions like honesty. You're SO 20th century, Timmy.

    Oh, and don't expect gloom and doom to befall Microsoft. Bet on it to prosper, and because of this, not despite it.

    Microsoft sticks to its bad ideas only because can't come up with worse.

    10:25:55[l-626-1]

     

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  10.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:33pm

    Re:

    The advertising arrangement between Microsoft and Machinima under which Machinima paid a bonus to YouTube producers who highlighted the Xbox One was a "typical marketing partnership," said Machinima and Microsoft in a joint statement issued to Polygon.


    And, in a single stroke, Machinima actually detonated that bomb they set themselves on. If this is an example of the "typical marketing partnership" that Machinima engages in, then they have declared themselves to be shady and untrustworthy. And therefore worthless.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:34pm

    Microsoft keeps resorting to shitty marketing tactics to "win". And it's still not enough, because what they don't get is that things like these are what makes people hate them, and all the paid marketing in the world won't help them if people find out about them doing stuff like this.

     

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  12. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:34pm

    Re: There are even longer term effects -- such as poor sperring.

    "If Jane gets paided" -- "without getting paided" -- "she is paided by" -- What the hell? Brain glitch? Isn't a simple typo, as you use it THREE times!

    Anyhoo: "Credibility is an important currency." -- Umm, WAS back in the 20th century. As time goes on, flexibility is far more important, as predicted in the 1948 book "1984": "We were always at war with Eastasia." You kids should really READ that now you've aged up to where might understand it.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:39pm

    I want to see a prosecution here - this is EXACTLY why we have laws requiring disclosure of paid endorsements. I'd also like an official action by the bar association action against the lawyers who designed that contract, because it is impossible to fulfill it without breaking the law. They are soliciting something illegal and forcing the participants, who may not know it is illegal, to keep it a secret.

    Also...

    You shall be paid the consideration of One U.S. Dollar ($3.00)


    ... how much are they paying, again?

     

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  14.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re:

    What you said is technically incorrect. The US Government, by law (I know I know, I laugh too at the thought of the US government actually following the law) can't force somebody to say something that is an outright lie. At worst, they can force someone to stay silent on a given subject.
    So when somebody is talking about the security letters, if they say "I cannot confirm or deny I have received one" then take it as a given that they have. Or if they stay silent.

     

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  15.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 2:54pm

    ...and it continues

    Every new bit of news to come out of both XBox-land and PS4-land recently just seems to have the effect of making the OUYA look better and better...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 3:04pm

    Re: ...and it continues

    Nothing makes the OUYA look better. Maybe the Steambox..maybe

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 3:13pm

    Re:

    the 3 dollar are per 1000 views. that can add up to quite a bit.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Re: ...and it continues

    it more sounds like the "the PC is dying" chants come from 2 sources, one has cancer and the other one the plague.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 3:21pm

    These types of deals between gaming makers killed the game review mags. The gaming houses would give out early copies before the release date so those review mags would have an article out about the game.

    But lots of the games were substandard and some of the gaming houses got butt hurt over bad reviews. They decided that if those gaming review mags could not give them glowing reviews that they would be off the early review list and off the advertising list. People rather quickly found out that those highly recommended games were trash. Shortly after that they quit buying them.

    Now you have the same scenario developing over videos. The fact that Machinima's contract calls for no bad review or negative mention of Machinima or Microsoft or the Xbox leads right down the same path. In short they are killing the very thing that makes video game clips worth looking at. Suddenly you can't trust what you are seeing and hearing much the same as you couldn't trust the review to be honest.

    The deal of confidentiality to hide the fact that reviewers are limited to being less than honest, kills the trustworthiness and value of the site. The only thing at this point you should use these for is for how the game looks, feels, and plays. Don't put in what you don't see as it isn't there. Beyond that, this deal kills it's independence and impartiality. I would not trust one of these for any type of recommendation as they have poisoned the well.

     

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  20.  
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    S. T. Stone, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 3:47pm

    Re:

    Another update: EA, already on gamers' bad sides with the SimCity debacle, now stands accused of this same act (though with a higher payout).

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/01/21/ea-also-reportedly-paying-youtube-channels-for-covera ge

     

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  21.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 21st, 2014 @ 5:09pm

    Perhaps it would have been cheaper to fire the idiot who created this concept, and used that extra cash to make better games.
    They stole the power to crush bad reviews of crap games, and now seek to pervert the rest with silent agreements paying for good coverage.
    So in the end what does this win them?
    A tiny bump in sales figures, and many customers who will stop looking at what were trusted reviewers before making a purchase. Sales will most likely slump for many titles as no one wants to be the first to waste their money on what is a dog of a title.
    People will do what they have always done, go to public forums and talk about the games. But in the back of their mind they will be wondering if the review is tainted.
    First they bought off the game review mags, then the game review sites, now they are killing the trust some public figures built.
    All in all a winning plan to kill the long term survival of the platform.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 6:26pm

    out_of_the_blue attempting to be some authority on credibility and honesty is possibly the most hilarious thing I've seen all day.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    JASON MOUNCE, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 8:33pm

    Re:

    NOTHING CAN'T STOP SONY FOR BEING MUCH LESS RELIABLE IN FINANCIAL LEVEL.

    Sony vs Mucrosoft : 17 Billion rat vs 300 Billion goliath

    Even if Sony was winning for the next 2 generations in a row, it still not winning in financial power compared to Microsoft.

    Truth hurts when you see the big picture. Sony is nothing now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    riii, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 10:33pm

    my list of groups I will never trust for the rest of my life
    government
    foreign government
    sony
    EA
    DICE
    microsoft
    hewlett packard

    so sad to be so young and learn how fucked up people can be towards thousands or ten millions of people just for a couple millions in cash.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    matthobbs, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 10:55pm

    Re: Re:

    wow lol someone has some serious issues. where is your 17 billion dollars bud? thought so. Sony all day

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2014 @ 11:40pm

    Re: Re: ...and it continues

    Hey, if I want a small console that I can carry around easily, I'll get a WiiU.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 1:50am

    I wonder, is XboxOne that shitty that money is needed for people to say good stuff about it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 1:51am

    Re:

    Html stunt cut the rest of the msg:

    That along with the PR fiascos M$ has been pulling since they unveiled XB1 3 times before official release with always on restrictions and locking the games to 1 console etc etc etc should compose the "How Not to Do Business for Dummies" guide book.

     

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  29.  
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    jsf (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 7:08am

    Waiting for the FTC

    Now that multiple such agreements have been exposed I expect that the FTC is going to come and have a look. That should open up a big can of worms.

    There is nothing really wrong with having promotional arrangements. They have existed for over a century in one form or another. The problem is when you try to hide it.

     

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  30.  
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    Lawrence Fuller, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 9:05am

    I'd hope this was just some overzealous lawyer writing a full scale "cover my ass by forbidding anything and everything under the sun in this document" rather than Microsoft's official policy. But given the history of Microsoft's social media team, I think its probably just a bad policy. A few years ago, social media was relatively pure, but much of social media nowadays is probably manipulated in this way. There's frequent posts here about politicians (I remember the Romney case specifically) buying likes and followers. This probably happens every day given how many companies are listed at BuyFacebookfansReviews.com. The bigger issue though is that Microsoft has a big trust problem amongst a big segment of technical people, many of whom are gamers. I don't think it's good policy for a company the size of Microsoft to be worrying about crazy confidentiality deals and trying to control social media like this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 10:10am

    Excellent products don't need deals with NDAs to get positive reviews.

    Just Sayin!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 9:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: ...and it continues

    Hey, if I want a small console that I can carry around easily, I'll get a WiiU.

    Or one of these: Piston Console.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Lurker Keith, Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 7:28am

    More info

    I saw in a recent Address the Sess (see below) that this wasn't Microsoft's doing, directly, at least according to a PR guy (not w/ Microsoft) who was brought in for the discussion to get a PR perspective.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDz1EWfVqHk&list=UUQXR8pItAoKDAJSbphFxbrg&feature =c4-overview (another hour & 1/2 special)

    This controversy's guests were:
    *that PR Guy, whom Adam's worked w/ before
    *TotalBiscuit (who it looks will be a regular for these kind of controversy specials)
    *someone from Kotaku
    *the guy who actually leaked the contract text

    The PR Guy says this looks like a company was given the go ahead by Microsoft to do the promotion & that company drew up the contract.

    This Address the Sess appeared pretty thorough on what happened, & has multiple perspectives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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