FTC Spotlights The Reputation Hole Machinima Dug For Itself With Undisclosed Paid Xbox Pimp-Posts

from the here's-a-shovel dept

Way back in early 2014, we wrote about the revelation that Microsoft and Machinima, the popular YouTube network, had worked out some kind of arrangement in which the newly-released Xbox One would get positive coverage from Machinima personalities. Likewise, Machinima's agreements with its own personalities leaked, laying out just exactly how those personalities would be compensated for pimping the Xbox One without ever informing fans that they were doing so. This, at a very minimum, was an existential gamble wagering the trust Machinima had built for itself amongst fans for the chance at some dollars from Microsoft. It was a bad wager. Once this all became public, I'm struggling to understand why anyone would put an ounce of trust in the Machinima outlet at all.

And now the FTC is involved, taking the time to ding Machinima for the behavior and enjoining it to never do anything similar in the future.

In a press release today, the FTC announced that the two parties have come to a settlement that will prevent Machinima from pulling this sort of shadiness again. Writes the FTC: “Under the proposed settlement, Machinima is prohibited from similar deceptive conduct in the future, and the company is required to ensure its influencers clearly disclose when they have been compensated in exchange for their endorsements.”
The FTC also cited specific examples of Machinima's actions, including naming personalities that were involved, helpfully torpedoing those personalities' ability to get fans to trust them in the future.
Respondent paid influencer Adam Dahlberg $15,000 for the two video reviews that he uploaded to his YouTube channel “SkyVSGaming.” In his videos, Dahlberg speaks favorably of Microsoft, Xbox One, and Ryse. Dahlberg’s videos appear to be independently produced and give the impression that they reflect his personal views. Nowhere in the videos or in the videos’ descriptions did Dahlberg disclose that Respondent paid him to create and upload them. Dahlberg’s first video received more than 360,000 views, and his second video more than 250,000 views.

Respondent paid influencer Tom Cassell $30,000 for the two video reviews that he uploaded to his YouTube channel “TheSyndicateProject.” In his videos, Cassell speaks favorably of Microsoft, Xbox One, and Ryse. Cassell’s videos appear to be independently produced and give the impression that they reflect his personal views. Nowhere in the videos or in the videos’ descriptions did Cassell disclose that Respondent paid him to create and upload them. Cassell’s first video received more than 730,000 views, and his second video more than 300,000 views.
The FTC then goes on to expose the entire deal Machinima had with Microsoft's advertising group, Starcom, which included an initial roll out of paid positive coverage by a few personalities, but was then to evolve into a Machinima-wide program of paid-for positive coverage of the Xbox One, with payments to be based on traffic/views.

This, it should go without saying, was insane. In the arena of YouTube personalities in general, and perhaps more specifically with the gaming fanbase and the culture that surrounds it, you simply cannot gamble with your reputation and expect the reward to be worth it.

Filed Under: disclosure, ftc, paid placement, payola, videos, xbox
Companies: machinima, microsoft, youtube


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 1:17pm

    Just occasionally, greed brings its own just deserts

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 1:19pm

    I learned when it comes to reviews you can no longer trust anyone over games. They are all compromised in some manner. Anytime I see a review, a let's play type vid, a write up on a game, I know not to spend any time reading it nor to give it any creditability.

    Gaming houses have killed all integrity involving reviews.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 4:42pm

      Re:

      I dunno, I don't exactly follow many YT channels, but for reviews I'm guessing AngryJoe is probably pretty much on the level. He... doesn't pull his punches, at all really, when it comes to reviewing games whether small or big, and is generally pretty good about laying out what the good is versus what the bad is, and isn't willing to, like I see elsewhere, 'overlook' the bad if something shiny is dangled in front of him like multiplayer or something.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2015 @ 2:42pm

      Re:

      Sort of. IGN is infamous for misleading reviews and even outright lying - take, for example, the case of Metal Gear Solid V, where IGN displayed PC and PS4 images together...only they labeled them wrongly.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 1:33pm

    "with the gaming fanbase and the culture that surrounds it, you simply cannot gamble with your reputation and expect the reward to be worth it."

    Really? You don't know "game theory": all I see is upside cash in hand, and the downside is what? ... Some "gamers" will like that they "beat the system", or in Techdirt parlance "monetized" it. If they've taken ordinary care and gave just a screen name, no lasting effect, just make up another name.

    Mainly, however, you imply that "gamers" are above-board and honest to a fault, aren't cynical enough to stand for this highly excusable deception -- $15K will keep even a gamer in beer and cheetos for a year, right? I'd guess so even after buying the very latest sixteen-core with 64G and eight-video card rig, too.

    I think -- and this is a compliment if'n ya look at right, kinda squint -- that you're projecting onto "gamers" in general a core of old-fashioned honesty that most do not possess.

    So, YAY, innovative shills! You monetized opinions otherwise just given away!


    Now, as usual, it'd be nice if Techdirt (including Copia "think tank") itself followed what it disparages in others. So I'd like to see financial disclosures here, especially how many dollars Google pays the site(s) for advertising or mysteriously "sponsors" and for what in return? If it's zero, why not just state it?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 2:42pm

      Re:

      No one cares about your crazy assed Google conspiracy theories.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2015 @ 10:35am

      Re: "with the gaming fanbase and the culture that surrounds it, you simply cannot gamble with your reputation and expect the reward to be worth it."

      I guess we know at least one person who doesn't know what game theory means.

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 2:09pm

    Reviewers paid for positive reviews? Really? I never knew!

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 2:12pm

      Re: Reviewers paid for positive reviews? Really? I never knew!

      Seriously, dudes, you need to make the return NOT map to the submit button!

      Anywho, to actually give the comment for my previous post, it's obvious that reviewers are paid to give positive reviews when the scale for a game goes from 8 to 10. How do you know a game sucks so bad you'll gouge out your eyes to avoid seeing it? They give it a 7.5.

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

      • icon
        minijedimaster (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: Reviewers paid for positive reviews? Really? I never knew!

        I like to take a look at metacritc and the like and compare overall user review scores with critical review scores. More often than not you'll see an average "professional" review score of 90/100 and the overall user review score will be like 4.5/10.

        It happens ALOT with AAA titles where the companies that spend these vast budgets on the game rush them out the door and pay the "pros" for good reviews even when the game is clearly a turd. Looking at you Ubisoft and EA.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2015 @ 3:42am

        Re: Re: Reviewers paid for positive reviews? Really? I never knew!

        Yes but when you are paid for a review you have to disclose that fact under the law.

        Not doing that tends to make people angry

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

        • identicon
          Klaus, 7 Sep 2015 @ 11:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: Reviewers paid for positive reviews? Really? I never knew!

          "...you have to disclose that fact under the law."

          US law maybe, but Tom Cassell seems to be British; the FTC lack jurisdiction. Under UK/EU regulations it's a bit more nuanced, but my understanding is that since these sock-puppets were paid, what they were doing constitutes advertising (aka "advertorials"), and adverts must be clearly marked as such. That said, I'm not aware of the UK's Office of Fair Trading ever bringing action against anyone for this type of malpractice, they generally act on complaints.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 4 Sep 2015 @ 2:45pm

    Microsoft?

    What about Microsoft's role in this?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 3:09pm

      Re: Microsoft?

      They bought their way out, of course.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 4:27pm

      Re: Microsoft?

      My view of it is that creators and production companies have a duty to market their product. While you can certainly give them a bad rep for bad methods, they're doing what they're expected to do for marketing.

      It's the duty of reviewers to provide the push-back when the marketers ask them to cross ethical lines, and to have the integrity to refuse such offers.

      And it's the customer that ultimately will provide the push-back to both should either be anti-consumer in their practices.

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

      • identicon
        rainy day, 5 Sep 2015 @ 11:34am

        Re: Re: Microsoft?

        Microsoft apparently knows it can't possibly win in an honest competition by merely offering a better product. It can only win by corruption and collusion and lies.

        If MS couldn't find partners who were equally lacking in ethics and willing to lie for money, Microsoft would soon be a dead company.

        If that happened, we wouldn't miss them a bit.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 8 Sep 2015 @ 6:49am

        Re: Re: Microsoft?

        "While you can certainly give them a bad rep for bad methods, they're doing what they're expected to do for marketing."

        Which excuses nothing. The idea that marketers are "expected" to lie and cheat is one of the primary reasons why marketers are so hated.

        "it's the customer that ultimately will provide the push-back to both should either be anti-consumer in their practices"

        This is charmingly naive.

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

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 8:03pm

      Re: Microsoft?

      Nobody really trusted them anyway, so there's little shock or outrage to direct at them. Machinima always had a lot more to lose.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 4 Sep 2015 @ 4:02pm

    There's a very simple explanation for why YouTube personalities would do this: They never expected anyone to find out.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 4:18pm

    What happened to the two YouTube people named in the filing? Are they still up and running, did they lose a lot of followers?

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 6:55pm

      Re:

      I doubt Sky will lose many viewers. He's known for two things: being spastic, and shilling for MS. People watch him for the former, and tolerate the latter so as to get more spaz.

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

  • identicon
    Shadow Firebird, 5 Sep 2015 @ 12:05am

    Searching for the right words

    What a shame there isn't a phrase I could use involving gaming, journalists and ethics - that would not simultaneously make me sound like a dickhead.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2015 @ 1:39pm

    Apparently, a guy who blew the whistle on this also joined GamerGate once it started.

    https://twitter.com/Gametegrity/status/639231162494382081

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2015 @ 1:50pm

    This was where he leaked the XB1M13 agreement that all the news stories cited at the time. Almost none of them crediting him.
    http://reconxbl.blogspot.com/
    https://twitter.com/ReconXBL/status/424572453226942465
    https://twitt er.com/ReconXBL/status/639433815795073024

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

  • icon
    1stplace (profile), 7 Sep 2015 @ 4:04pm

    What is microsoft role in this subject ?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2015 @ 6:01am

    Funny, in the earliest of Machinima days I liked their stuff... but it went into overt cash grab mode fast. And I heard of a lot of you tubers just getting out of that scene and would talk about it as if they had left a bad job.

    I wonder if there was a lot more money deals earlier in it's life that just didn't reach the Microsoft amounts of cash to cause it to bubble up into the feds caring.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.