Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
You fight for me now.

You fight for me now.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Inc. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Although the FTC’s complaint against Warner Bros. (pdf) doesn’t list a specific influencer, the commission’s press release names PewDiePie, the world’s top-earning YouTube creator, as one of the so-called influencers who took the studio’s money.

The FTC’s complaint states that an outside marketing team hired by Warner Bros. gave YouTube game reviewers “cash payments ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars” as long as the videos they made about Shadow of Mordor met certain criteria. One of those criteria was that the video had to be positive about the game; couldn’t show any bugs or glitches the reviewer may have found in the early release copy they were given to play; should not have any negative feelings about the game, Warner Bros. or its affiliates contain; and had to include “a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box directing the viewer to the [game’s] website for more information about the [game]to learn how to register and to learn how to play the game.”

In addition, the YouTube creators also had to post at least one Facebook post or Tweet to promote the video they were making Shadow of Mordor.

According to the FTC, the third-party marketing company operated by Warner Bros. was hired, told YouTube video creators to disclose that the video was sponsored in the information box below the video. However, this violated FTC rules because viewers had to click the “Show more” box to see the reveal. The FTC added that if the video was viewed on Facebook or Twitter, the viewer would not even see the “View More” link and would be fooled into thinking the rating was objective.

Further, the FTC claims that some of the paid videos never contain a disclosure in the “See more” section in the first place. In those cases, the creators only disclosed that they had been granted early access Shadow of Mordor.

“Consumers have a right to know whether reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement in the commission’s press release. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be honest with consumers in their online advertising campaigns.”

The settlement with Warner Bros. imposes no fines or payments, but simply orders the studio to “[provide] each Influencer with a statement of his or her responsibility” to clearly and conspicuously disclose future approvals.

The committee noted that the sponsored videos for Shadow of Mordor were viewed 5.5 million times, of which PewDiePie’s sponsored video was viewed more than 3.7 million times. The Swedish YouTube star was criticized in 2015 for making an excessive amount of money, according to some viewers, which he refuted in a video that was viewed 13 million times. Ars has reached out to him for comment and will update if we receive a response.

This isn’t the first time YouTube creators and studios have come under fire for accepting payment for positive reviews. In 2015, the YouTube gaming network Machinima settled with the FTC for creating “false and misleading” videos promoting the Xbox One just after launch. This month it was discovered that popular YouTubers Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Tom “Syndicate” Cassell were the owners of a Counter Strike: Global Offensive gambling site that they had extensively plugged into their own channels without disclosure. No regulatory action has yet resulted from this.

For Warner Bros. this settlement will be made public on the FTC’s website for 30 days, after which the committee will decide whether to finalize the proposed agreement.

By akfire1

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