While the past few years have seen a torrent of criticism heaped on the video game journalism world, far too little of it has been focused on the cozy contractual deals being worked out between publishers and YouTube personalities that review games. With some of these arrangements having come to light, most notably concerning Nintendo and Warner Bros. games coverage, it’s fairly safe to assume that many other publishers do something of this sort. These arrangements work something like this: the game publisher will offer access to the games for review by the YouTuber, so long as the YouTuber agrees to offer generally positive reviews to the product. The YouTuber benefits by being first to market with reviews, the publisher benefits from positive coverage, and the public gets spit in the eye while losing their trust in the personalities they have followed. Add to it all that some of these arrangements fail to follow FTC guidelines on marking paid-for material and you’re left with the inevitable understanding that this is an arrangement that can only last for a short period of time, as the public trust in the reviewers will torpedo to the point of losing the audience completely.
It’s devolved to the point where even companies from which we’ve come to expect the worst are trying to get out ahead of all this. Electronic Arts, for instance, best known for its annual rivalry with Comcast over the “Worst Company” award, has developed a new policy for marking YouTube videos produced under this arrangement that is actually quite good.
In a post on EA’s German news blog (translated by NeoGAF), EA announced that they’re stepping up their disclosure game by contractually requiring content creators to disclose with EA-provided hashtags and watermarks. The watermarks are pictured above. I reached out to EA in North America, and they confirmed that it’s a company-wide thing, though some rules vary by region.
“Supported by EA” is to be used in situations where EA has paid for access to the game (travel, review copies, etc), but did not influence the video/stream itself. “Advertisement,” on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: EA provided material or directly influenced the direction of the content’s, um, contents.
The disclosure logos themselves, seen at the link, are simple and clear. It’s actually the exact kind of transparency we would hope for. No longer should potential customers wonder if a review has been influenced in any way by EA, or even if EA has taken some actions to ingratiate itself to the reviewer. It’s clearly labeled.
Now, we’ll have to see how this ends up working in practice. Questions remain, such as how big the logos will be, whether YouTubers will take things a step further and call attention to the disclosures, or if nefarious omissions of the disclosure logos will occur. But in concept, it’s quite good, and perhaps not the kind of thing we would expect to be pioneered by EA. So good on them.