Hey, for once, that internet conspiracy theory that people have been paid to give a game positive coverage and reviews turned out to be right. Only it wasn’t journalists and critics reviewing Ghostbusters or Batman v. Superman or any video game forum trolls have deemed “bad”—it was beloved YouTubers like PewDiePie.
The Federal Trade Commission has settled with Warner Bros. in a case that found the studio paid YouTube “influencers” like Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg to say nice things about its 2014 game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, but didn’t do enough to make that information clear to viewers. Essentially, people were led to believe that the YouTubers really liked Shadow of Mordor, when really, they were just getting paid to really like it.
Warner Bros. apparently paid a third-party marketing firm to set up the sponsored videos, according to the FTC complaint, and that firm told the YouTubers to include disclosures in their video descriptions telling viewers that Warner Bros. had paid for the Mordor videos. Apparently, though, not all the YouTubers disclosed the fact they were cashing WB checks, and the ones that did still didn’t do enough to inform consumers. On the videos that did disclose, the disclosure was hidden by the “Show More” link at the bottom of YouTube video descriptions, and anybody watching on Twitter or Facebook wouldn’t even see the video description area, the FTC said.
As for the videos themselves, in order to get paid, YouTubers couldn’t say anything negative about the game or Warner Bros., couldn’t show any Mordor bugs or issues in their videos, and had to push people to follow a link to the Mordor official website. They also had to tweet about the videos and share them on Facebook.
As serious as it might sound that the federal government caught Warner Bros. paying for videos and failing to tell viewers about it, turns out the whole thing is a slap on the wrist. Warner Bros. won’t be fined, and neither will any of the YouTube influencers who got paid to fake liking the game. As Ars Technica reports, the deal “orders the studio to ‘[provide] each Influencer with a statement of his or her responsibility’ to disclose endorsements clearly and conspicuously in the future.”
Good thing the government was here to tell Warner Bros. to tell multimillionaire YouTube video maker PewDiePie that next time he makes a sponsored video, he he has to make sure the sentence that says he got paid to pretend he liked the game is more visible. Phew.