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Guns of Icarus Online Post-Mortem - Epilogue: How Youtube, Steam, and Our Players Got Us This Far
by Howard Tsao on 06/26/14 06:36:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Heeding Christian's Call for blogs on youtube


From launch on 10/29/12 through May, 2014, the game has generated over $4.3M with 430K units sold.  While we’re nowhere near the pinnacle of indie game successes, we’re really humbled by and proud of the support people have given us thus far.  To give everyone a bit more of an idea of the how the game is doing, here are a few fun stats:  


  • Shots Fired:   2,349,358,397

  • Ships Exploded:  4,584,055

  • Matches Played:  749,470

  • Lines of Code Written:  442,173


Game sales wise, here’s a look at the journey it took:


Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 11.45.37 AM.png

Game Sales:  Cumulative Sales over Time


The chart above illustrates how the game’s total sales progressed over time, and it is by no means a smooth trend.  To see the spikiness of sales over time, here’s another chart that shows monthly sales:


Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 12.36.20 PM.png

Game Sales:  Monthly Sales


The bigger sales spikes correspond to:   


1.  Releases

2.  Steam featured Sales

3.  New distribution opportunities

4.  Youtube caster videos

5.  A combination of the above


The underlying driving force of game sales during any event is undoubtedly the players.  They are the ones gifting extra copies of 4-packs to friends, helping us spread the word, writing reviews, giving us feedback, and buttressing the community of the game.  And during events, our job is really to facilitate and support our players any way we can.  


What we found to be most effective is to coordinate multiple events so that they would coincide by lining up our game updates (with new game features, of course) with Steam features and caster events.  For example, this May, we were fortunate that Polaris was again interested in doing an event for the game.  We were also set to release Ship Customization (decals, figureheads, deck themes) as well as community features (event and clan systems, competitive leaderboards, and a new player profile) for the first time.  



Ship Figurehead and Deck Theme Renders


Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.53.21 PM.png

Polaris came up with an amazing event that not only brought back Jesse Cox and TotalBiscuit’s teams who have battled in game before, but also introduced the game to interested casters who haven’t checked out the game previously.  Various casters did Let’s Play videos but for the main event, TotalBiscuit’s crew (including AngryJoe, PBG, and Criken) faced off against Jesse’s crew (including Dodger, Markiplier, and Cry).  The last time the 2 teams played, TotalBiscuit’s side was victorious.  This time, the 2 teams returned for best out of 3 grudge matches.  We flew along side each crew and battled in 2v2 maps.  


To give YouTube viewers the best deals possible, we worked with Steam to get a Weeklong Deal at 75% off for all of the game packages (base game, collector’s edition with soundtrack and costume pack, and the collector’s edition 4-pack) but also extending our own discount days to cover the entire span of the Polaris event.  Polaris released multiple videos over the course of several days that hyped up and culminated in a weekend release of the epic grudge match videos.  On top of all that, we also put everything in our in-game cosmetic on sale at 50% off.  This included all the new ship customization items we just released.  This way, we could offer discounts to not only the new players, but the current players as well.  


We wanted to make sure that any promotions we did for the game would be complemented by support and community events.  We have a tradition of playing a few matches with players during our lunch hour twice a week, our “Dev Hour,” where those who win against us get a free cosmetic of their choosing.  We quickly realized that Dev Hour matches were in high demand during the promotions, so we ended up hosting multiple simultaneous Dev Hour matches and played for longer.  This quickly taught the surge of new players an old adage that all veteran players know, “Dev Hour and beating Team Muse is the best and easiest way to farm items.”


During the 2.5 weeks worth of events and videos, players bought and activated about 175K copies (including copies in the 4-packs) that totalled over $500K in sales.  The videos from the casters generated over 3M total views.  We reached the highest concurrent players we’ve ever had and brought back quite a few of players who moved on to other games.  However, reaching new concurrent highs uncovered new bugs and networking issues as well as hardware issues on our hosting company’s end.  This compelled us to spend the next 2 weeks to try to find the sources of the issues and fix them.  We followed up with a couple of patches that improved stability and performance.  Some players definitely suffered, and we had to make sure we supported and reimbursed them when called upon, especially given how incredibly supportive and diligent they were in submitting reports.  


Overall, we thought everything went well, and we took the opportunity to know what we needed to improve on by listening to feedback.  If I am to breakdown the reasons why, credit of course goes to Steam for helping us with the dates and duration of getting the game on sale, to Polaris for once again working with us, planning and organizing an incredible event with amazing casters and great videos, to the casters for their incredible support, and last but not least to our players who helped us spread the word.  For us to have any success, we try to bring multiple events together to create as much of a virtual cycle as possible.  


Working with Polaris and Youtube Casters

Our first exposure to the world of YouTube was back in alpha and beta.  One day, we were just sitting in our room fixing myriad of bugs and issues, and all of a sudden there were a lot of people in game.  We were really surprised and scrambled to support players en masse for the very first time.  We started asking how people found out about the game, and realized that Yogscast had done a Fan Friday video of the game, where they played matches and were quite good at the game!  They had been playing the game for a few days and decided to do a video to support the game, which we’re still really grateful for.  Then, we were fortunate to have TotalBiscuit checking out the game and doing a WTF Is during beta.  Before Pax East 2013, Jesse Cox and Dodger checked out the game as well and mentioned the game on the Co-Optional Podcast, which really helped with getting the word out.  


Along the way, we realized how powerful these videos and youtube casters are in getting the word out, especially for indie developers like us.  For instance, one YouTube video had incredibly generated over $35K in sales for us on its first day of going live.  The players who got the game through videos of casters such as TotalBiscuit, Jesse Cox, or Yogscast were generally enthusiastic and engaged.  Let’s Play videos are not only entertaining to watch but show actual gameplay—players who played for the first time after watching already had substantial knowledge of the game mechanics.  The sales of the game from a caster’s video were generally a degree higher than written articles about the game.  For us, it’s always a struggle to be noticed along with so many great indie games, so we treasure any coverage or exposure we’re able to get.  That’s why we’re always accessible and open with the community at large.  If there is anyone wanting to do a Let’s Play, interview, or write up, regardless of their size or reach, we welcome the opportunity.  Yet, a video’s power to showcase the game actually being played is undeniable.  You just see the game being played straight through.  All veils are lifted.




At Pax East 2013, because we had a small booth at the Indie Megabooth, people from the Polaris networked stopped by to get to know us and our game.  After Pax, we kept in touch, and they approached and talked to us about doing an event with multiple YouTube casters.  Jesse Cox, Dodger, and Totalbiscuit had already played the game, and they wanted to have other casters who were interested but hadn’t checked out the game involved as well.  For the proposed event, Jesse Cox and crew (Dodger, Markiplier, and Cry) battled against TotalBiscuit and crew (Criken, AngryJoe, and PBG).  Us developers hopped aboard our own airships and paired up with each caster ship in a 2v2, best out of 3, team battle.  Each caster created a POV video for the matches.  


A price was established by Polaris (Polaris proposed a paid-for campaign, after all) based on the format and scale of videos and event, essentially for an estimated number of views.  Initially, we thought the price was beyond what we could afford.  It would be more money than we’ve ever spent on promoting the game by a wide margin (going to Pax itself was then the most money we’ve spent, and we’ve not paid for a promotion aside from going to shows and conferences up until then).  We were also reticent about a paid event, wondering if it would be ‘authentic’.  After talking with Jesse and TotalBiscuit and learning that some other indie devs have done similar paid events, we decided to take the chance.  The decision was a very difficult one because for a small indie studio like us, it was highly risky and costly.  Yet, looking back, we were glad we took the chance and the risk.  


Our biggest worry with the event was authenticity.  Yet, the casters involved were great in that they were genuinely interested in the game and really tried to learn the game.  This really showed forth in the resulting videos.  The event ended up being a win for everyone.  We ended up selling enough copies to make a positive return.  We believed in the casters’ work and had no problems supporting them.  Polaris and the casters made money to sustain their work, and the players got entertainment and hopefully a good enough of a game on sale.  We’ve been fortunate enough to work with casters and Polaris again, sometimes paid, sometimes not.  When working with Polaris and casters on a paid event, they would come up with amazing event formats that result in fun and engaging videos.  While people have been debating the merit of paid events or videos, as long as the content and message are authentic, we have no problem supporting casters to create great content.  Ultimately, we are a small developer, and getting the word out is really hard and a constant uphill battle.  It honors and humbles us that big and small casters, and the press at large, take interest in our game.  To have the opportunity to work with YouTube casters, paid or not, is something that we’ll always consider.  Being just one developer in a swarm of great indie titles, so long as the campaign is done honestly and with authenticity, we’ll tend to take on the opportunity if we can afford it.  


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Anders Larsson
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I am super excited for your success guys! We are in early Alpha for our project Games of Glory now, and I know how important Youtubers and streamers can be. Any suggestions about who and how to approach them?

Howard Tsao
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Hi Anders thanks you so much! And congrats! Working with youtubers have been a blessing for us. And we love to work with anyone really. Sometimes people ask us for keys or to get on stream with them, and we basically always oblige :D Whether someone has 3 views or 300k views, we don't really mind either way. To have an opportunity to have our game to be seen is always great. And we definitely reach out to different people, sometimes at shows, conferences, or sometimes by email or social media. With youtubers, a lot of times they just want great, entertaining content, and it's more about the game and their audience. We might have a crazy story about publisher nightmare or rough launch etc, but really it's about the game with them I think. And people are pretty approachable. Sometimes people are busy or the game isn't the best fit. Like reaching out to journalists in general, we don't always succeed :D But the youtubers we got to know all care a lot about indie games and are constantly looking for new and interesting games. They don't really review per se, and I think that's actually great, because it's more about their experiences in game. I think for us, it's a lot about friendships and relationships. With some of the youtubers we got to know, they really treat devs as friends, money or not. Work with Polaris as been great as well. They are flexible and laid back, really easy to work with.

Hope this helps! If this is useful at all, I might include it in the post as well. Thanks again, Howard

Howard Tsao
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By the way I checked out your game, and it's definitely shaping up! Your site is pretty nice :D Best of luck! Howard

Anders Larsson
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Thanks Howard! I wish you continued success and happy players!

sean lindskog
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Congrats Howard. Thanks for sharing your insight/numbers.

Steffen BaboonLord Kabbelgaard
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Very nice blog, especially with the details on paid campaigns, thanks for sharing!

Dave Hoskins
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Apart from the first one, all the images on here are missing!

Howard Tsao
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Hi Dave, yeah I saw that. Weird! I'll reinsert them asap!

Howard Tsao
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Ok they should be back! Thanks a lot.

Xavier Sythe
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I'm really disappointed that you paid for coverage from Polaris. That sets a dangerous precedent, IMO. Additionally, the Yogscast didn't actually disclose that this was a paid campaign, and the fact that your team paid for coverage, while not necessarily a journalistic sort, speaks volumes about your ethics, or lack thereof.

Simon Carless
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Actually, there is paid disclosure of that Polaris Media YouTuber video series, Xavier - it's in text at the bottom of the YouTube description. (We were interested and went looking for it after we read the article.)

Howard Tsao
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Hi Xavier, thanks for the comments! I think I might have caused some confusion? When Yogscast and TB covered us initially, those weren't paid at all. If WTF Is is a review, that wasn't a paid event. When Polaris organized the paid events for us, they as well as the casters did disclose everything and labeled their videos I believe. But that's really up to them, and devs don't have control over that. Pitching devs to do paid for events along with other things that they choose to cover is becoming a pretty regular occurrence for Polaris for a while now. Their sources of income seems to have shifted from ads only to doing sponsor events with teams big and small. It's definitely something we've debated over initially but decided to try. It's pretty interesting to think about for me as well. I'm not sure if what Polaris is doing or aiming for is like what Beats does for athletes or what companies do for sponsorships, and if a celebrity endorses a product, then is that unethical for the celebrity or the company or the agency or not. I do feel that Polaris, other networks, and some casters are headed in that direction. In our case, I do see that Polaris and the casters do a good job at being transparent, and we pretty much do the same. I think if the casters who play or check out the game do so because they like or are interested in the games, and if they disclose the info clearly and their viewers like the contents and enjoy the games, I don't really have an issue if they take payments or not. Lastly, we didn't set a precedent. The precedent had been set a while before by others. Not an excuse or anything, but just making this clear. Thanks again!

Xavier Sythe
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Additionally, TotalBiscuit is a reviewer. The fact that you paid for coverage from a REVIEWER (sure, he'd already reviewed your game, prior to payment) is disgusting. No, absolutely no chance of bias from him.

Robin Roth
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I would like to give you some advice. Before you post anything anywhere at least do some research and don't just try to bash other people because you don't like them. The first post you made is wrong since polaris(tgs at the time) disclosed the fact that it was a paid promotion. This post is wrong because as you say TBs WTF wasn't paid for and trying to link the paid promotion to bias in the WTF is a bit of a leap since there was a seven month gap between the two videos you are talking about. Also TB isn't only a reviewer he is (for lack of a better word) a youtuber who does a multitude of things including reviews, casting and even lets playing(even though he often says the terraria show was bad)

John Bain
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"Additionally, TotalBiscuit is a reviewer"

No, I am not.

If you'd done your research at all before making this accusation you would be aware that the only coverage Guns of Icarus had prior to said (fully disclosed) paid campaigns was an interview/playthrough with the developer. I have never made a formal assessment of Guns of Icarus at any point, nor am I a reviewer in the first place.

"I'm really disappointed that you paid for coverage from Polaris. That sets a dangerous precedent, IMO. Additionally, the Yogscast didn't actually disclose that this was a paid campaign, and the fact that your team paid for coverage, while not necessarily a journalistic sort, speaks volumes about your ethics, or lack thereof."

It is painfully naive that you believe Muse set a precedent and that this kind of coverage has not in fact been going on for years. Whether or not the Yogscast disclosed is purely their problem, not Muse games. The contracts we signed for the promotional campaigns I was involved in explicitly stated that disclose as per FTC regulations was REQUIRED on every piece of content created. Their ethics are beyond reproach, they made no effort to conceal the fact that they had engaged Polaris personalities in a promotional campaign, in fact they did quite the opposite, they were extremely open about it, made no attempt to gag personalities about their involvement and the fact that you can accuse them of a lack of ethics while commenting on AN ARTICLE WHICH PROVIDES FULL DISCLOSURE is somewhat laughable.

Let's next tackle the idea that somehow you cannot run a promotional campaign in this way. I cite as my example Rockpapershotgun, who at this moment have their entire website skinned for the game "Dizzel", prior to which they had a similar site skin for Pixel Piracy, a game they have also written numerous articles and opinions on. Where else exactly would you promote a videogame except on video-game related content?

The "Battle Royale" format for game promotion is one of the most effective at driving interest and also one of the most reasonable when it comes to upholding the reputation of those involved. Nobody is being asked to give opinions of the product, they are merely being asked to give up their time to play it. If they do not like it, that will be extremely obvious during play. Enthusiasm is not easily faked for the discerning consumer, they will see right through that and you if you attempt such a thing. It is a thoroughly organic form of promotion that leverages the sizeable audiences of these personalities and also provides them with entertaining content without the worry of compromised reputations. Participation in such events is not and should not consist of endorsement of the product and displaying large chunks of unedited footage will give a clear and honest indication to the viewer exactly what the quality of the product is. It is a format that promotes honesty, because you have no other choice, viewers can smell bullshit a mile away and see it at 10.

In conclusion I feel your accusations are under-researched and show minimal understanding of the format and the realities of the industry at the moment. These promotional campaigns are going on all the time, are properly regulated by the FTC and will not be stopping anytime soon. You have a problem with people being paid to like a product and misleading their audience. So do I, but Muse never did that, nor have any of the other partners I've worked with. RPS are not being paid to like Dizzel, they're being paid to give a significant chunk of their sites real estate over to advertising it. The only difference between the two is that our "Battle Royale" campaigns are significantly more effective, engaging and enjoyable for the viewer.

Christian Nutt
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So, quick question. I am not naive, and while I may not understand every nuance of what's going on here I have a good idea.

What I wonder is why there's no apparent disclosure a video is sponsored during the video itself?

Take this one:

There's nothing at the beginning or the end disclosing that it's sponsored. The only mention is in the "about" text, which YouTube hides by default and which won't be shown if the video is embedded elsewhere.

I think there are, from my perspective, some red herrings here. It's not really salient if it's a review or not, I think, though I understand your point there.

What's much is meaningful, I think, is this question: Is this content distinguishable by an average viewer from un-sponsored content?

Bringing up RPS actually undermines your point, I think. Saying that you'd covered the game already due to genuine interest rather than sponsorship and then saying that RPS is likely to both cover and also allow advertising for the same game seems to imply that these are similar circumstances, I think, which ignores the reality that editorial and advertisement on RPS are clearly distinguishable at a glance.

John Bain
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Because there doesn't need to be disclosure during the video itself. FTC regulations dictate that it must be disclaimed in written form, which can be found in the description "This video is part of a Guns of Icarus promotional campaign. Some of the content contained in this video and/or compensation for our participation has been provided by Muse Games."

If you feel the FTC regulations are not correct, you are free to contact them about that. Any more disclosure than that is up to the individual. I personally, verbally disclosed my involvement in the deal multiple times, far more than was necessary.

"It's not really salient if it's a review or not, I think"

It is absolutely important whether or not the video constitutes a review. The level of expectation from the viewer is completely different depending on what kind of content is being produced. If I play Hearthstone and record it, I am not reviewing Hearthstone, I am merely playing it. A review is a specific type of content that is held up to a higher standard than regular commentary and as such is expected to be unbiased.

"What's much is meaningful, I think, is this question: Is this content distinguishable by an average viewer from un-sponsored content?"

Yes it is, since all Battle Royale and Rumblezone content on the Polaris hub is sponsored content and disclosed as such. The series itself is not used for any other purpose. The branding is clear and obvious.

"Bringing up RPS actually undermines your point, I think. Saying that you'd covered the game already due to genuine interest rather than sponsorship and then saying that RPS is likely to both cover and also allow advertising for the same game seems to imply that these are similar circumstances, I think, which ignores the reality that editorial and advertisement on RPS are clearly distinguishable at a glance."

Not really. The point that the OP was making was that it is unacceptable to have some form of sponsored content in the same place where "reviews" are found, which ignores the entire business model of the games media industry. The form in which that sponsored content takes is the only difference.

Yama Habib
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The fact will always remain that it's common practice for review/journalistic outlets to receive funding (directly or indirectly) from the very sources that they cover and critique. This happens with games, this happens with movies--hell, even Gamasutra hosts ads to some questionable "Game Design" programs from time to time.

While this is undeniably a conflict of interest for the outlet, it's simply an effective means of marketing to the target audience for the advertiser. The only protection the consumers of this media have is disclosure--if someone *wants to know* whether or not a form of media is a paid advertisement, that information should be readily available. This is why most banner ads have the word "advertisement" written in tiny white text, and why Polaris' Battle Royale videos have "this is a paid promotion" in the description. Debating over what the "average viewer" can and cannot distinguish is just plain arbitrary and irrelevant.

michael naunton
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"Whether or not the Yogscast disclosed is purely their problem, not Muse games. The contracts we signed for the promotional campaigns I was involved in explicitly stated that disclose as per FTC regulations was REQUIRED on every piece of content created."

The fact that you respond to questions of ethics by talking about legality rather sinks your case.

"In conclusion I feel your accusations are under-researched and show minimal understanding of the format and the realities of the industry at the moment"

... and "everyone else does it" really doesn't help your case.

Jennis Kartens
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Christians point remains very valid. The borders between advertisement and genuine content are a lot more blurry on Youtube as they are on traditional websites.

You can always argue it away with "But I only play what I like anyways".

You said "viewers can smell bullshit a mile away" which I believe is true in the way that you can't show something you honestly dislike and lie into your viewers faces like in traditional staged ads.

But if there would not have been payment in the first place, the limited video slots would may be filled with a different game instead.

As part of the media, the responsibility is with you to disclose payed and non-payed content properly and open. It is unethical to hide it behind forced regulations that may even been placed when Youtube did't exist. The laws can be quite slow in contrast to the rapid development within the internet.

James McDermott
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Christian Nutt was not talking about the LETTER of the law - which, as you've clearly said, you have covered. He was talking about the SPIRIT of the law, which is to inform users that the content they're watching is a paid presentation/advertisement/whatever. Putting the legal disclosure in the description, while meeting the letter of the law, misses the spirit as most people won't look in the description - and this likely includes your own audience - so they'll be unaware that this Polaris event was sponsored by the developers.

Yes, putting the disclosure in the video as bookends to the actual content would distract from the content, it would also make it painfully clear you were paid to participate. I also think if you had done that, a way to deflect the obvious "TotalBiscuit did a paid advertisement like he said he wouldn't!" (even though you've previously said you don't do paid REVIEWS and did a video on the topic) would be to add in to the statement that all opinions are your own and not those of Polaris, the developers, etc. Provided that could be said factually - as in, the contract I'm not privy to actually stated (through words or lack thereof) to use and voice your actual opinion about the game - it would help lessen negative reactions.

Bruno Xavier
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"No, I am not.
... ..."

None of these words change the fact you've charged money from a developer to hype a product. Guess who lost a sub...

Emile Tynures
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Speaking as an incredibly small channel in comparison with to those who were part of the battle royale I was lucky enough to be given a chance to participate in the promotion run by Polaris recently. It was my first sponsored event and I put a lot of thought into whether to do it and how to present it in an honest fashion. Let me respond to a few of the statements so far:

"What I wonder is why there's no apparent disclosure a video is sponsored during the video itself?

Take this one:

There's nothing at the beginning or the end disclosing that it's sponsored. The only mention is in the "about" text, which YouTube hides by default and which won't be shown if the video is embedded elsewhere."

As TB has pointed out the FTC requires written declaration of endorsement. Here we have a few disputes about this:

1) You may be conforming to the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law - As an end user it is not our job (and is legally inadvisable to) second guess the FTC's guidelines in how we conform to them. We are free to agree/disagree as we see fit but we must comply with the letter of the law.

1b) Addendum to part 1 - Some have argued that the spirit of the law is intended differently because the FTC's guidelines are archaic. Incorrect. These guidelines were updated specifically to cover the grass-roots dotcom endorsements we have seen the the FTC specifically publish examples in 2013. The FTC is, if not ahead of the curve, certainly keeping up with it.

2) The endorsement placement is too far down - This varies from video to video. Personally I (and TB) both opted in our videos to place the disclaimer right at the top of the description so as to be clearly visible directly below it. Other users may do different, personally I prefer it directly underneath but your mileage may vary. Nothing compels YouTubers to place the disclaimers in particular parts of the description.

3) The endorsement disclaimer is not in the video - Here we have something that could be valid. There are several good reasons for not putting the disclaimer in the video, people generally do not watch an entire video so to guarantee someone viewed it then you would have to put it right up front. However, then you are burning incredibly precious time to grab a viewers attention. A good point is made about the disclaimer in the description being lost if it is embedded elsewhere but again this has massive issues since as a linked video can be linked to any point in its runtime the viewer could, again, but potentially missing out on a disclaimer. Is it feasible to overlay a sponsored logo throughout a video? Not really, especially since people would end up arguing about size and colouration and whether it stands out or not. At the end of the day at least a little responsibility has to fall on the heads of the potential consumer. But if YouTube were to implement a 'sponsored' label over for videos I, for one, would be in support of that.

This one I am just sure about:

"Whether or not the Yogscast disclosed is purely their problem, not Muse games. The contracts we signed for the promotional campaigns I was involved in explicitly stated that disclose as per FTC regulations was REQUIRED on every piece of content created."

The fact that you respond to questions of ethics by talking about legality rather sinks your case."

So, ethically the poster wants to hold Muse Games or TB accountable for Yogscast allegedly not giving disclosure? I really don't follow that. Not only are the Yogscast a third party, they are a third party hired through Polaris (another third party) and Muse Games and Polaris have asked, going so far as to make it legally binding, for participants to disclose the deal in accordance with FTC guidelines.

"None of these words change the fact you've charged money from a developer to hype a product. Guess who lost a sub..."

Oh dear. Right. Let's state this for what it is, a bullying tactic delivered in the form of a taunt. I still don't understand why people think this is actually bad or somehow a loss for a youtuber so much that they can parade around and 'taunt' then that they lost a sub for their position. If the poster could have shown a rational point of view then they would not need to resort to such a pointless line. It is an attempt to someone elicit an emotional reaction, if it were merely a loss of one sub for a difference of opinion then they would not need to inform him in public of such. Personally I actually enjoy it a little when I get these comments, because it is someone I would rather not have on my channel. I actually see the loss of one such sub as a net gain as it makes the community less toxic and a nicer place for the rest of the subs thanks to the reduction of bullying of others.

Now let's actually mention the generalisation inherent with the problem of YouTube endorsements which is the advertising-based model.

At the end of the day the thing people really have a problem with is adverts, in one form or another. Endorsements are simply another form of advert but instead of being 'in your face' they manage to combine being a product placement with normal your normal content. Yes, this does, at a fundamental level, make them more dangerous but we have disclaimers for just such a reason (when was the last time you got a viagra admail with an FTC disclaimer attached?). I was initially hesitant about participating in the promotion but the disclaimer and a few rules that I personally apply to the content (I try to not give an opinion in the video, if it were good people would cry 'paid to like it' - personally I already owned GoI and had in fact spent a good portion of my last birthday playing it with a friend).

Content funded by ads always has and always will have the possibility of bias. Whether it is free tablets to journalists, black-marking people who have publicly denounced your business practices or simply being paid to say nice things about the Xbox One while being told to not mention the pay, there will always be this fundamental issue of how close are the advertisers and the journalists/critics/pundits/personalities.

Are any other funding models even remotely close to being able to support the thriving games community, particularly on youTube? No. Subscription systems do not work by themselves. Neither do Patreon or Subbable only channel models. The money is ultimately too low and too infrequent and then you have a whole heap of issues inherent in that system. Right now we have a system where a third party will pay some to make videos for you to watch for free, I call that pretty damn good.

Now my question is why does TB take this flak? He has actually put the disclaimer in and at the very top of his video description and actively calls out MCNs and advertisers when trying to cover up dodgy paid deals. While YouTube may, by the nature of its ease of access, be a fairly unruly place the gaming section of it is actually a lot better at following FTC guidelines than many others - such as make-up videos which are often sponsored without any disclaimers (although I do not claim to be an frequent viewer of the genre - just professional curiosity!).

At the end of the day I am very thankful to both Muse Games and Polaris for allowing me to participate in the deal which allowed me to just about struggle by on my meagre YouTube payments this spring. Ultimately I would love to participate in a future deal and hopefully won't use quite as much moonshine next time around...

Micah Hymer
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This was one of the most transparent articles on marketing, ROI and YouTube that I have ever read on this website and somehow it's being met with anger? The developers have provided full disclosure (as have the YouTube parties above) and provide insightful analytics into this and somehow they're getting negative feedback as (and I quote) "lack of ethics"?

I'm blown away with some of these commentators. I've literally seen more intelligent discourse on Steam Greenlight. Some of these devs need to realize this industry is rapidly evolving and they can choose to continue swimming in their primordial ooze or make a move to shore... [/end rant]

James McDermott
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I'm not sure why some of the commentators are so negative. Some of them seem to think a sponsored event like Muse Games paid Polaris to put on is inherently evil. So long as the participants clearly and prominently display their legally-obliged disclosure, I fail to see a problem as well.

That being said, full disclosure DOES NOT EQUAL infallibility! For example, John Bain, as pointed out by Christian Nutt, didn't put any disclosure in the video itself - where most people will be looking - instead opting to put it in the video description. While, as point out by Mr. Bain himself, doing so complies with the letter of the law, Mr. Christian, and later myself, both attempted to argue that that violated the spirit of the law (see my comment:
yers_Got_Us_This_Far.php#comment244911 ).

Micah Hymer
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Of course full disclosure does not equal infallibility. You realize "infallible" means: 'not capable of being wrong or making mistakes : not fallible'. You'd be hard pressed to find an infallible game developer (or human being) for that matter.

Basically to summarize, what you're saying is: No laws were broken here, full disclosure was made, but the full disclosure did not meet your (or several others individuals) level of satisfaction since it wasn't cited verbatim audibly within the video itself. Of course, we're all entitled to our opinion so I can't hold yours against you. But I do question what your point is? All parties involved have been incredibly transparent on what happened and nothing even remotely shady has occurred here. No gamers were harmed during the making of their videos and a lot of gamers went out and bought a great game from a great indie developer...

Why is this industry so obsessed with taking very small things and turning them into very large headlines? Call me simple, but I'm just pleased to have been provided such a transparent look at marketing on YouTube and the potential returns that can be made.

If you want to turn this into a crusade which forces YouTube personalities to have to speed read legalese during their videos, by all means proceed. But I know as a viewer I'd rather just let them slap that disclaimer into a description than have to listen to legalese everytime I watch a video. I shudder just thinking about how legalistic our society is getting... Fun times ahead!

James McDermott
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My point is that while no laws were broken, and no one was harmed, what of the viewer who thought this was just some awesome thing John Bain (aka TotalBiscuit) was doing with his fellow Polaris personalities decided to do, NOT a paid-for advertisement! While disclosure, done properly and prominently, makes it honest, while, in Mr. Bain's case, hiding the disclosure itself in the video's description makes it dishonest because, well, it was hidden and changes people's perception of what the video is. Would you have known it was a paid event if you weren't aware of common video game marketing practices or read this blog post (i.e. like the average person)?

In short, you can still manipulate people without harming them or breaking the law. Full disclosure like in this article doesn't change that - it just makes the manipulation more obvious.

EDIT: Clarified main point.

Micah Hymer
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Yeesh, you keep throwing around absolute terms that I dont think you understand.

1. Putting a disclaimer in a videos description (yes, "Video Description") can in no way constitute "hiding" (as you call it). That's the literal opposite of "hiding". I'm sorry if you don't personally read descriptions of videos but you failing to read the description does not lump all viewers into the same boat. That's the equivalent of complaining that fine print on printed media is "too wordy". It's up to you if you want to read it.

2. "Manipulation"? Manipulating what? You to watch? You to buy? Again, because you apparently feel manipulated, does not mean all other viewers do as well. In fact, I'd highly encourage you to go post on the videos linked above urging the viewers that these commentaries were actually paid and gather all of the ones who feel "manipulated" by this information. I think what you will find is that these gamers do not feel manipulated. They wouldn't watch if the video was boring and they wouldn't buy if it didnt look fun. We can look at failed Lets Play commentators and boring videos game to substantiate this.

SO, either gamers on YouTube are mindless zombies easily bent by the will of advertisers or they discerning buyers? I guess it comes down to your view on humanity?

This isn't Dr. Oz citing a new berry that will "change your life". This isnt even a "fuzzy gray" area. This is people watching people play video games. Know where to draw a line in the sand on legalism and ask yourself if this is the place...

James McDermott
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I've already drawn the line in the sand, hence why I wrote what I wrote. I'd gladly explain how one can be manipulated without FEELING like one's been manipulated, but it seems like you've already made up your mind that I'm treating subjective thought as objective thought and that I'm a Sith (as they only deal in absolutes) who doesn't even know the meaning of the words he's using. As such, we'll have to agree to disagree.

Howard Tsao
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Hi Micah, thanks a lot! I really just wanted to take up on Christian's call for submission on this subject and hope to contribute something worthwhile or useful. I didn't expect the initial negative comment, but the rest reads like a debate about where to add disclosure. If this post can spark a good debate, I'm really honored.

I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on what prominent disclosure means here. I don't want to sound biased but, to me, the most important thing is that the viewers and our players (and prospective players) feel what they got was worthwhile, direct, and that they get the best support we can give during events and onwards. If I read the comments of say Jesse's video for example, I think people are aware of the disclaimer in the description and that casters are participating in a paid-for event. In game, we are judged by the merits of the game. People have negative feedback with bugs or features they think are not done well or lacking, but I haven't really seen people complain that it was because the casters misrepresented anything. And with every issue that is reported to us, we help solve them or compensate the players.

I see that the casters have pretty amazing relationships with their viewers and subscribers, and the relationships to me seem to be a long term one. I don't think the casters would risk long term relationships or their fan base/community, and it should be reasonable to me that they reserve a bit of discretion to do what they feel is best for their fans. I'm likely out of my depth here, but just adding my 2 cents based on what I've experienced.

Thanks everyone!

Micah Hymer
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While I like the Sith comparison, I did not say or insinuate you only deal in absolutes. I did say that you don't appear to understand that you're throwing around absolute terms. Terms such as "infallible", "hiding" and "manipulation" come quickly to mind. These terms are not subjective. So riddle me this, when using absolute terms, why would I not assume you're using objective thought?

Fear not. I have a resolution to resolve this.

A disclaimer for you to apply to all of your comments: "Opinions expressed via this blog are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of other gamers and/or game developers accessing this website."

As you said, you've drawn the line in the sand here, time to stand up for your convictions! I've even provided a bullet-proof disclaimer for you. Otherwise, I may feel manipulated. That you're hiding something. That you're not- infallible.

Micah Hymer
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@Howard: That response was to James, not you. I appreciate you transparency on this topic. Obviously, I'm being a snarky debater here, but I'm surprised that this is such a "hot topic" among developers who all want these same YouTube personalities to exist and direct sales to them but demand that they can only subsist on ad revenue via YouTube...

Howard Tsao
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Oh I know hahaha. When I was writing my comment, I didn't see that the debate has gone on :D I think if this is a place where people with different views can come together and debate, it's pretty cool. I think people have intelligent opinions, but I don't think anyone is trying to do the wrong thing in this case, and I don't think it's been received by the players or viewers that way. I think some people in the video comments do voice their opinions and critique about paid vs non-paid videos, but I haven't seen awareness or disclosure being an issue based on my limited experience anyway.

Have a great day everyone!

Lucas Zanenga
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Very nice article! I think it really shows that caring and engaging your game community is key to success. And honestly, how could you not care anyway? These are people that love your game and want to talk about it.

James Yee
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Well I for one bought Guns of Icarus after the Polaris event. I knew full well it was a paid event because I watched multiple streams and read the descriptions. Hell TB has mentioned paid events before in his videos and it's never bothered me at all and honestly this is the only one that ever actually got me to buy a game.

For those who are against the ethics of this (a fine position don't get me wrong) how does this compare to product placement in TV shows and movies? For instance Hawaii Five-Oh features Chevy products all over the damn place. They do mention in their commercial breaks Chevy but in the actual show itself they never make any mention that promotion but we're all used to it at this point I guess?

Guillaume Boucher-Vidal
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Thank you very much Howard for sharing your data and insight and congratulations for your success!

With the impending launch of the game I'm working on, I've been wondering what strategy would be the most efficient; Would it be best to wait until later after launch to do paid events, so that I don't burn any possibility for free coverage I might possibly get, or should I mitigate risks and try to get something big happening straight from the start?

That kind of question has been going on in my head constantly for the past months.

Howard Tsao
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Thanks a lot Guillaume!! I think you can just reach out to youtubers about your game to start. Everyone that we've met and got to know are always supportive of indie devs and actively discovering new indie games, so you can just reach out first. We've done paid events, but especially at the start youtubers did videos of the game just to check it out. With the events, the casters would still be showing the game as is. If there were bugs and stuff casters didn't like, they would let us and viewers know :D And when they play and team up with us, if we let them down, they would not hesitate to yell at us about it, hahaha. The events are really more about scope and format. Hope this helps!!

Steven Christian
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This isn't Kotaku or IGN. This is a site for game developers. If you are not a game developer, at least try to look at things from their point of view.