Paid Product Endorsement by Prominent YouTubers Just Another Form of Infomercial

This isn’t even worth a rant, but a brief commentary seems appropriate.  Over the last few weeks the topic of prominent YouTube channels getting paid to cover games, whether with a direct payment of by profit-sharing, has started being discussed.  Gamasutra has run a number of articles looking at the issue, but the short version is that this is happening.  TotalBiscuit made a post today saying “From now on we’ll be clearly disclosing promotional videos in a splash screen at the start of the video. If the audience trusts you, you should also be able to trust them.”  An anonymous survey response said “We – video creators – live in complicated times.”  Yogcast thinks it’s ok to engage in revenue sharing for the game Space Engineers for a month while the video they do on the game is new.

None of these things are ok.  This is not “Change is scary”, or a pointless stand against the inevitable.  Yes, people with big names are going to take money to promote things and there’s nothing I can or even should do about it.  Ads happen, and that’s not a bad thing because they’re very easily bypassed.  The question none of these people seem to be asking of me as a viewer is “Why should I trust you?”

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Rob Fearon, indie developer behind Death Ray Manta, sums it up in a single word.

TotalBiscuit said “From now on…”, heavily implying he’s passed off game commentary that he’s been paid for as if it was an unbiased opinion.  Yogcast’s opinions on Space Engineer are as believable as Suzanne Somers on Thighmaster.  And that idiot who said we live in complicated times?  We don’t.  This is stupidly simple.  When someone is paid to cover something and doesn’t disclose this, that’s a serious ethics violation.  That history of trust the YouTuber may have created?  Gone and dead.  Getting paid and admitting it up front?  That’s an ad, and might as well be running on late-night tv while people are utterly amazed that their lives have never been graced with the amazing cooking power of the Flavorwave.  There is nothing actually wrong with pimping a product for money, but it needs to be clear that the video is a paid endorsement and the YouTuber needs to realize the opinion they put forth is garbage.  It’s a paid opinion, and we’ve been living in a world covered in ads our entire lives.  I can’t imagine why anyone would care about another one.

Having said that, here’s Mr T hawking the Flavorwave.  So long as the YouTubers (there has got to be a better word for them than that) realize that this is what they’re doing and admit it up front with disclaimers at the video’s beginning, then no harm, no foul.  You couldn’t pay me to watch it, though.