EA and Microsoft caught engaging in covert YouTube payola

21 Jan 2014  by   Peter Parrish
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Congrats EA, you’re making the news again.

It’s a Tuesday, so there must be a scandal in the games industry. Today, we’ve learned from a diligent YouTube user with a strong sense of ethics that Microsoft was handing out cash ($3.00 USD per 1,000 views) in return for positive coverage of the Xbox One from Machinima ‘partners’ on YouTube. EA, it seems, has been up to similar tricks, offering substantial payola for saying nice things about EA games.

Part of the agreement with Microsoft stated that participants “may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One, or any of its Games” (pretty normal stuff for shady advertising.) However, things get murkier, because the NDA contract went on to say that YouTube users must “keep details of the promotional agreement confidential” in order to receive payment. In other words, become a paid shill without any indication on your channel or video that you are now a paid shill. Lovely.

EA’s agreement is much the same, according to details dug up over at NeoGaf. YouTube users agreeing to say wonderful things about Battlefield 4’s (horribly broken, lest we forget) ‘Levolution’ system would be handsomely rewarded with a $10.00 USD CPM. It’s not clear if this was per 1,000 views, like Microsoft’s deal (if it was, Microsoft come out looking a little cheap in the payola stakes.)

As with Microsoft’s arrangement, the EA contract reportedly states “You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement and any Assignment including, without limitation, the Details and Compensation listed above.” So, again, you become a paid shill but are not allowed to indicate to your viewership that your opinions have been bought by the publisher whose game you are showing off.

NeoGaf detective work put together a list of YouTube users who signed up to the Microsoft deal. You might want to check if your favourite “objective” YouTube personality is on there.

There isn’t one out there for EA, but you should probably keep it in mind if you see YouTube users saying uncannily nice things about Battlefield 4, Need for Speed or FIFA.

While I’m (clearly) no legal expert, it’ll be interesting to find out whether such arrangements are legal under Federal Trade Commission regulations. They’re usually quite strict on having adverts clearly labelled as adverts. Indeed, their rules demand full disclosure when there is “a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.”

Update: Microsoft and Machinima has now released a joint statement to the Verge:

“This partnership between Machinima and Microsoft was a typical marketing partnership to promote Xbox One in December. The Xbox team does not review any specific content or provide feedback on content. Any confidentiality provisions, terms or other guidelines are standard documents provided by Machinima. For clarity, confidentiality relates to the agreements themselves, not the existence of the promotion.”

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