Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
August 23, 2014
arrowPress Releases
August 23, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Some games pay to be featured on Conan's 'Clueless Gamer' sketch
Some games pay to be featured on Conan's 'Clueless Gamer' sketch
January 24, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

"One source familiar with the show's practices said about a quarter of the games that were featured on the [Clueless Gamer] skit were paid endorsement deals. None of these deals are disclosed to the public.”
- Re/code report on which games paid to be on Conan O'Brien's "Clueless Gamer" sketch.

Newsbrief: Re/code reporters Eric Johnson and Amy Schatz published a story today detailing their investigation into when and why Conan O'Brien's talk show accepts payments for certain games to be featured as part of its "Clueless Gamer" sketch.

It's a good bit of reporting that includes information and opinions from a diverse array of sources, including opinions from publishers who paid to have games featured on the show and those who didn't, yet had their games featured anyway -- often to mocking, negative commentary from Conan himself.

This is troubling, because -- as the Re/code reporters point out -- Conan never discloses that roughly a third of the games featured on the show have paid for the privilege.

"These Clueless Gamer segments are not serious reviews nor endorsements — they are strictly comedic sketches," a Conan show spokesman told Re/code in an email. “We do not believe sponsorship identification is needed."

Read the full report for more details, including comments from multiple sources on the Conan show as well as people who paid to have their game featured on the "Clueless Gamer" segment and those who did not.

Related Jobs

Raven Software / Activision
Raven Software / Activision — Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Sr. Software Engineer (Gameplay)
AtomJack — Seattle, Washington, United States

Level Designer
FarSight Studios
FarSight Studios — Big Bear Lake, California, United States

Lead Android Engineer
Churchill Navigation
Churchill Navigation — Boulder, Colorado, United States

3D Application Programmer


Alex Covic
profile image
My first thought was, "who cares?" - I assumed that with some games. But it is worth to read the story in the link above. It gives more context, shows the legal issue(s) (FCC rules) and asks questions about the pretty shady world of television advertisement.

From a marketing/publisher point of view, I would want my game on Conan, too. Any TV audience, outside the usual video game websites/magazines, is valuable? Nothing unethical on the publisher side.

Matt Ponton
profile image
"This is troubling"... no, it's common sense to how the world works. Well, maybe it's not as common as it should be.

Michael Joseph
profile image
not trying to nitpick but, if you mean through lies and deception then the world doesn't work this way even if it does for the financially successful capitalist. It works despite it. Now maybe if it was common sense there wouldn't be any marketing shenanigans going on. People are generally trusting and society functions largely on trust... that the people around us are interacting with us in good faith. Obviously we don't live in the Ricky Gervais "The Invention of Lying" universe but this would be quite a different world if everyone always assumed the worse from one another and were suspicious of everything others said or did.

Saints Row and GTA would be quite different games if the NPCs were modeled to assume that every other NPC or player characters were a potential threat. It's actually difficult to imagine what it'd be like... even in fictitious dystopian anarchistic societies, eventually you can reduce people to groups where the members have trust in one another thereby providing some level of functionality. Pure dysfunctional societies must be an oxymoron.

And I don't care how savvy anyone thinks they are, they're going to fall for deceptive, subliminal, unethical, etc marketing some of the time.

Granted most of us are enablers of businesses who engage in these sorts of unethical practices (we work for them or we buy their products) and we declare "this is how the world works" because sometimes its the price we pay to have a "good job" and it all seems too impossible to change and if you can't beat'em... That's cynicism.

And the world is growing increasingly cynical because we accept the unacceptable all around us. And they'll tell you "Ruthless and unethical people dominate the world, deal with it, join in, hate it if you must but become a player and don't waste your energy trying to change the game."

Matt Ponton
profile image
I was meaning towards things being on TV being paid to be on TV and endorsed by celebrities.

Jesus Alonso Abad
profile image
Actually, I thought all of them paid :O I don't know about the US, but in Spain that kind of marketing is norm rather than exception.

Andy Lundell
profile image
"She added that O’Brien was not asked to review Outlast favorably as a condition of the payment."

I believe that, but those segments are heavily edited. Whether a game comes off as good or bad will mostly come down to how the segment is edited.

I'll bet the editors know which way the producers want it to go!

Nick Meh
profile image
I think people are missing the point of the article(s). It's not shocking that studios pay to have spots on shows. It is a norm.

What is shocking is there is basic extortion taking place. Conan's show is not disclosing who paid for the spot. And they are currently getting away with it thanks to a small loop hole in the FCC rules. By all accounts there should be disclosure somewhere. End of show, on the website, somewhere.

So now Conan's show can go into this seudo critic/review stage. But that's not the fear. The fear is more, are you being subjected into paying for the spot rather to avoid a shit review.

Look at the source article. Through PR investigation, they found that Conan reviewed three games up against each other and slammed 2 of the 3 and only really played the 3rd.

So we know the one that got played, paid for that spot thanks to their PR firm slip up.

That might have just been a coincidence if:

Outcast wasn't a 2013 new release wasn't being pitted against THQ's 2010 game and then against a 2012 game that had it's own sequel released that year and that game isn't even available anymore.

If I am Parsec, I should be pissed. You reviewed my 2012 game, when 1) I don't even sell it anymore and you can only find it in the deep trenches of reddit. And 2) my sequel to that game came out earlier that year. Why didn't you play my new game that I am actually selling? The THQ game from 2010 was clearly used just to raise up the paying spot, since THQ wouldn't say anything about it.

I agree with the author. It is troubling. Not just from a game review sense, just overall shady reviewing. I wonder if Parsec even got offerred a chance to pay.

Tyler King
profile image
Yeah this kind of advertising happens ALL of the time in any broadcasting world. It is extremely common in the radio world as well. Turn a radio on and listen to one set of commercials. I would be willing to bet that there will be at least 1 commercial that is voiced by one of the main "stars" from that station, and they are always saying things like "I love this new Samsung blah blah blah, its the greatest thing ever." It's not a commercial is just the radio station giving their stars air time for free so that they talk about their favorite new things.

Even in "scripted enviornments"(I know Conan's is as well.) it is hugely prevailent. I started watching the Arrow with my wife and there are so many Windows 8 advertisements in it would just make me laugh. Everytime a computer screen would be shown there was a focused 2 second close up of windows 8. Again not a commercial, just a TV show highlighting the awesome tech that allows Oliver Queen and his team to save the world(Which of course is Windows 8).

Places like CNN do it all of the time. They let advertisers mask their links to look like official CNN articles and if you click on them it jumps you to their sites.

Every industry has their sneaky way of advertising without officially telling the public "Hey I'm trying to sell you something." Even though everyone is and in the end of the day its what makes the world turn. At least Conan's are entertaining.

James Yee
profile image
Hawaii Five-Oh I think is even worse, they do Windows Phone, Windows 8, Chevy, and more all with their focused usages. Even worse are when the characters perform "scripted scenes" with the devices. (Like talking about the stats of a new Chevy. Ugh...)

Terry Matthes
profile image
I think it's a clever way for the show to gain some revenue while engaging a demographic that's clearly interested in the show. I thought the Tomb Raider review was hilarious myself.

If the sponsorship identification rule of the FCC doesn't apply than why would anyone go out of their way to include the names of sponsored products in their credits.

It's not like this is some ridiculous Kayne and Lynch scandal. They're literally a joke. The whole segment is a gaff so if a game gets knocked or praised you know it's all just for laughs. If you tune into Conan for his serious game reviews you're doing it wrong.

If I had a video game to pitch and they money your damn right I ask Conan to do a segment out of it. To me that's a dream come true PR wise. To label the practice "unethical" is going way way too far.

evan c
profile image
When he gets to review the games even before they were released, celebrity appearances and plugging stuff like a special edition controller, it's obvious that the publisher is paying for it.

I'm more surprised at how people are reacting to this. Seriously, most people never even considered that you need to pay to be featured?

evan c
profile image
I think the bigger news or question here is "which games were featured for free?"

Pallav Nawani
profile image
And whether the free games were fairly reviewed...

Terry Matthes
profile image
How would you ask that a game showed on a joke of a segment be fairly reviewed given the fact these aren't real reviews? Should there be no Obamacare jokes tied in? Perhaps if they used props in the jokes for the paid games and only dialogue for the free games that would constitute unfairness to you? Again these aren't real reviews, it's just exposure for the games. Do you understand this?