Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 21, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 21, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

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

Prominent YouTuber makes paid-for video disclosure more explicit
Prominent YouTuber makes paid-for video disclosure more explicit
July 15, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

July 15, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC, Indie, Production, Business/Marketing

As Gamasutra continues to investigate the ethics of game companies paying for YouTuber coverage, prominent YouTube personality John "TotalBiscuit" Bain has publicly committed to change his business practices so that all promotional videos will start with a disclosure splash screen.

Although he did formerly have text-based disclosures in the YouTube video descriptions: "From now on, we'll be clearly disclosing promotional videos," wrote Bain in a TwitLonger post published today. "If your audience trusts you, you should also be able to trust them."

Bain's comments come shortly after popular game-focused YouTuber network Yogscast announced the launch of YogDiscovery, a marketing initiative that sees the company taking revenue share from sales of a game like Space Engineers in exchange for producing videos and other promotional content for the game.

The FTC's Mary Engle recently told Gamasutra that, generally speaking, the government agency expects content creators who are being paid by a company to produce favorable content about the company's products to disclose that arrangement in such a way that it is "clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it."

"It should basically be unavoidable by the viewer," Engle told Gamasutra. Bain's new ethical disclosure policy would seem to be in line with the FTC's expectations. Similar disclosures that are appended to a video's description are not, since they can be hard to find on a video's YouTube page and don't carry over if someone embeds the video somewhere else -- as Bain himself points out.

[Update: Gamasutra has updated the headline and article's second paragraph to further clarify that Bain was previously disclosing paid-for videos, but is now disclosing this within his videos - rather than in the description of videos.]

Related Jobs

Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Senior UI Artist (temporary) Treyarch
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Lead UI Artist
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

Art Director - Vicarious Visions
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States

Senior AI Engineer - Infinity Ward


Kujel Selsuru
profile image
It's good to see someone (especially someone so big in the youtuber scene) taking a stand in favor of transparancy and he will likely see an increase in subscribers as well as respect from his viewers.

Kyle Redd
profile image
I'm glad he took the step he did, but It's not really taking a stand if you're doing the legal minimum. As pointed out in Gama's big Youtube story, text disclosure in the video description is not sufficiently visible according to the FTC's rules:

"Generally speaking, if an advertiser or a marketer is paying someone to write favorable reviews, the reviewer needs to disclose that," Engle tells me, "and that disclosure should be clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it."

Joseph Mirabello
profile image
This article kind of frames things as if TB's stance on disclosing paid-for content is newly adopted. Irrc, he's been pretty adamant about disclosure on this vids in the past too, but its good to see he's graduated that disclosure into a more unavoiadable slate on the material in question.

John Bain
profile image
Yes I'm rather annoyed by the way this article phrased things.

Firstly the title implies that I wasn't disclosing in the first place and that I'm changing my ways, which is false. It should be noted that the statements Gamasutra received from the FTC do not line up with the information on their website or that we received from our MCN. The FTC website indicates that disclosure in text form is sufficient as long as it's not buried somewhere in the fine-print. I personally have been posting this disclosure as the FIRST line of the description, to ensure that it is as close as to the video player as possible and above the fold so everybody can see it. Further more this has been accompanied by announcements in vlogs and tweets to disclose that I am taking part in a promotional opportunity.

Up until a few days ago when Engel spoke to Gamasutra, we were all under the impression that this was more than enough and I've yet to receive any complaints from my viewers as to the level of disclosure.

Gamasutra doesn't seem to mention any of this, the implication is that I was not properly disclosing or that I had no intention to properly disclose prior to all of this coming to light, which is absolutely not the case. I do feel slighted that my honesty is somehow getting me punished for crimes I didn't commit to begin with.

EDIT: The article has since clarified their stance, which I'm fine with.

Robin Clarke
profile image
It's good that the recent articles on this topic have raised awareness over the actual responsibilities that content creators have in law, and have resulted in changes being made.

If there is any risk of confusion, the media should be going out of their way to make disclosure as clear as possible. Waiting for complaints from viewers or the FTC is not a good strategy. It's easier to maintain a good reputation than try to rebuild one.

Joseph Mirabello
profile image
Yeah, even with the newly changed headline it still reads a bit awkward..especially since I'm sure there's no shortage of prominent youtubers out there who *could* be legitimately vilified here should that be what the author wished to explore. In that case, you should be the counterpoint in this article, not the headliner.

sean lindskog
profile image
Good move by TB.

I'll be interested to see how the audience reacts to paid-for content (which is fully identified as such). Will they care?

John Ardussi
profile image
I need some evidence that people who watch these things buy at a rate to make it worth while. Our experience is that review videos get lots of eyes and very few sales. I recently posted an article saying such and including our numbers:

This equation probably has a lot more variables than I have access to. I was hoping to have the discussion here so more people can share their experiences.

joe Astor
profile image
I know I've personally bought many games after watching YouTube reviews some of which are due to TotalBiscuit.

I can't speak for everyone but YouTube has become my main source for the eternal should I buy it questions. I'll watch pieces of let's plays and reviews.

I've also been turned onto a bunch of indie games that I never would have heard of or bought if it weren't for YouTube videos

Game quality is also important. If your game isn't good people won't buy it.

John Owens
profile image
To the people who buy games based on youTube "Let's Play" or "Reviews" where do you initially hear about the game?

Because if it's from somewhere else then surely all you do is type it into a youTube search and watch the first one you see.

Does it really matter who has made it especially if it's marked as a "pay for Review".

Magazines could charge for this because they actually brought the eyeballs to the advertisement but does youTube subscribers/viewers really work the same way.

Personally I don't know that's just the questions I would love to know the answer to.

Ian Morrison
profile image
Our own experience is that it's obnoxiously difficult to quantify. Some major youtube coverage resulted in (we think) greater traffic to the store page, but it's tough to establish firm cause and effect. It also seems to change drastically based on the character of the youtuber (and their audience). A review channel is more effective than a channel people watch largely for the antics of the creator as opposed to the games they play.

Speaking to my own experience, though, it's rarely a single youtube video that sways me on a game (Total Biscuit is an exception, actually, went out and bought Space Run based almost entirely on his video). I'll usually look at multiple sources of information, and sometimes I'll mentally file it on the "that looks neat, I'll pick it up later when it's on sale" list.

It's possible that youtuber coverage might be best considered an awareness booster as opposed to a direct-to-sales conversion, instead paying dividends later as players go "oh, I've heard of that" when you're in a sale or bundle or whatever. Our own game hasn't been out long enough (and our data is a bit too fuzzy) to really test that hypothesis yet.

Mike Griffin
profile image
I like your description 'awareness booster' with regards to this whole Youtuber coverage discussion. Making a huge audience aware that your game exists, irrespective of the presentation and instant conversion rates. Name dropping, in a sense, to enter a very large conversation and mind share.

Most of the gamers with buying power in their 20s have grown up absolutely bombarded by marketing campaigns. Publicly disclosed notices about sponsored coverage certainly registers with this generation, but perhaps it doesn't resonate or detract from their perception of the presentation. You still enter that precious mind share.

Speaking of shares, I wonder if some of these guys will become incorporated. One could imagine a day where all prominent game Youtubers (I.e., people making $4 million a year off this) become company owners. Platform brands. And we'll have major game publishers quietly buying into a stake on the board as investors, with negotiated long term - disclaimers be damned - coverage perks. Investing in mind share.

Christopher Landry
profile image
Are you only able to count numbers of sales from a link embedded in the video description, or can you also track if I watched a video, decided to buy it, then waited a couple weeks and bought it at that time (maybe it was on sale or something). I'll be straight forward, I get a lot of games from TB's videos. Whether he recommends them or not, I can at least tell if I will like them myself from what I see there. I don't ever click the links in his videos because I know I won't be buying it immediately.

Where are your numbers for customers like me? Imagine if I'm your majority customer, as in, there are 10x or 100x as many customers like me than there are people who immediately click the link in the video desc after watching the video. How do you account for us? We're still buying your game based on the influence of at least one YouTuber.

Joseph Mirabello
profile image
For the dedicated YT fan, youtube IS the first place theyll hear about a game. They'll follow a particular channel that does shotgun-style impression content of a LOT of games, like TB does. They might have initially found that channel by searching for a different game, but they'll follow the channel because they grow to like the reviewer themselves, who then introduces them to all sorts of games--as paid content or not, since oftentimes people will just load up playlists and set them going. So, yes, it does matter who made the content. And while whether or not the views translate into sales seems to depend on a lot of things, no one can deny that Youtube brings the eyeballs.

While I've yet to ever pay for youtube exposure personally, many of the paid-for-content you see from youtubers right now isn't just an'll still be raw gameplay with commentary, or sometimes NO commentary, (maybe the deal is for them to simply have the gameplay running while talking about news or while waiting for a twitch event to start or something). And no amount of praise will cover up bad gameplay.

It might not stand for all YTers, and I don't know if he still has this stance, but TB himself has been pretty adamant in the past about not selling his opinion--as in, he simply won't take a paid gig if he doesn't want to support that game already.

Ian Richard
profile image
I've bought games because of videos. I usually find out about the game because one of the reviewers I enjoy and trust puts out a video of a hidden gem. I do occasionally look for a specific game, but its rarer.

I agree with Joe, I rarely buy them immediately. I mentally put a price tag on any game I want and I buy it when it's on sale.

The other thing to keep in mind is that cinematic/story-driven games rarely get a purchase from me. If I don't see value in the game play I will be satisfied watching a video.

John Owens
profile image
So it acts like a load of individual people doing something similar to Nintendo Direct.

That makes more sense however I still think that if it's something like a Lets Play or a "Review" then that's where I begin to think perhaps this isn't the right way to go.

As I've said without the game developers they wouldn't be able to make their content and once they start charging it sort of blurs the lines a bit to why developers should allow them to use their content if it doesn't add any value to the developer. What I'm basically saying is by charging they loose the moral high ground.

Alan Barton
profile image
I think this is the right way to handle this and its good to see someone so high profile making a good move like this. I try to watch every WTF IS video he creates, (and I recommend everyone in the games industry to watch them) so I know John Bain/Mr TotalBiscuit has long tried to be very balanced and impartial on his shows, but this good move will certainly help avoid viewer confusion and further help boost the credibility of his shows. I hope more youtube channels follow his lead.

(I wish I had more time to go into more details on this subject, because I think youtube is huge and even revolutionary in what is happening, but I'm very busy at the moment, but I have even been thinking (for what its worth) about writing a big blog article about this whole subject and trying to explore some of its many facets).

But anyway, I really do think this is a good move. :)

John Owens
profile image
But that's the thing. He thinks it's right that developers pay him to cover their products because it acts as advertising which gives them value.

But a negative review doesn't give the developer any value however their content does give him value so why shouldn't they expect to be paid for that and if they aren't be able to ask him to take down the "review" for breach of copyright?

Personally I think the system works best if the cosy relationship between the press (which he is) and the content creators doesn't exist and no-one pays each other anything. youTubers should be able to make enough money without having to charge developers. That way the system retains it's integrity.

Although at the very least using a clear disclaimer is a welcome step in the right direction.

John Bain
profile image
"But that's the thing. He thinks it's right that developers pay him to cover their products because it acts as advertising which gives them value."

No, he doesn't think that, quit putting words in "his" mouth. It is right for companies to pay for advertising, when it is actually advertising. Every piece of branded content I've ever done has been at the developers request, through the network Polaris who was approached to do the deal. When the content is actually promotional, of course it's right for them to pay for it.

"But a negative review doesn't give the developer any value however their content does give him value so why shouldn't they expect to be paid for that and if they aren't be able to ask him to take down the "review" for breach of copyright?"

I'm sorry but, what? Well for one thing it flies in the face of free speech and fair use. Someone said something bad about your product so they should pay you for it or suffer copyright consequences? What kind of insane world would that be? There's a reason critique and commentary is protected, to stop that very kind of abuse from happening.

"between the press (which he is)"

I'm glad to hear that you believe you can define what is and is not the press.

"youTubers should be able to make enough money without having to charge developers. That way the system retains it's integrity."

Sounds great. First we'll need the 65% of our audience that adblocks to stop, so if you could get on that it'd be great.

John Owens
profile image
Hi John thanks for responding.

I'm not exactly clear what you define as promotional material. Is it a part of your show or your channel or is it the responsibility of the games company to market the video?

If it's a part of your show you aren't just being hired for your celebrity endorsement but rather so your show and the subscribers it brings cover it.

There is a difference.

"I'm sorry but, what? Well for one thing it flies in the face of free speech and fair use. Someone said something bad about your product so they should pay you for it or suffer copyright consequences? What kind of insane world would that be? There's a reason critique and commentary is protected, to stop that very kind of abuse from happening."

I'm not saying that at all. Now you are putting words into my mouth.

What I'm saying is very simply you use the content/IP created by developers to make a show without then paying for that content. Unlike for e.g. radio stations who pay royalties to play the songs I'm unaware of any youTubers who do.

When the review or Lets play is favourable then sure the developer is OK to let the royalty payment slide however if it's actually going to damage the sales then why should they not at least demand compensation for your use of their content.

I'm not too sure if Lets Play videos would fall under fair use.

Reviews probably would be as it's allowed that you can show a brief clip but it's very subjective what's allowed and what isn't.

Either way there's nothing that stops you from talking about the game. It just stops you from showing it.

As for making a living of youTube. I do sympathise as it's very hard for anyone today to make a living in digital media when the consumers expect everything to be free and not to have to view ads and perhaps with the difficulties developers have it's easy to forget the issues you guys do.

But isn't that almost the problem. You expect the content developers make to be free for you to use, developers expect the content you make to be free for them to use and consumers expect everything to be free. lol

As I said above I'm not too sure where I stand on this.