The YouTube Payola scandals continue

4 min read


With certain circles of the gaming populace still hung up on the possibly fabricated Gamergate scandal, you’d imagine people in the gaming public eye would be a little hesitant to engage in the sort of underhanded backdoor deals that the gaming media is regularly accused of engaging in. Unfortunately that’s not the case. According to prolific YouTuber John Bain – known on the internet as TotalBiscuit – there’s a bit of a dodgy deal surrounding YouTubers and Lords of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor.

He’s revealed that YouTubers were given early access review code for the game only if they took part in a paid branding deal. In essence, it means they would get the game and extra money to advertise it.

Now in truth, that’s not actually all that different  from how we operate with regards to advertising; the ads you see on the site are paid for, and it’s how we get to continue doing this job and eating. Review copies are never held ransom for it though and it’s never tied to a branding deal that says that you’re unable to say bad things about the game. It’s an awful practice that PR people really ought to stop doing. Tying the review copies to advertising makes it rather tricky to disconnect the paid ads from the review or assessment.

Speaking in response to those questioning why its such a bad thing, Bain replied with the following:

Reading a few forums (yeah I know my mistake) about this whole Shadow of Mordor brand deal thing boggles my mind. There are literally people saying “I don’t know what he’s complaining about, if he wants it early he has to give something in return”. Ermm, the problem is that you can’t review, first impressions, critique or whatever this game on PC prior to launch or even on launch (unless you weaseled your way in as we did) if you don’t take a deal that specifically says “you can’t say bad things”.

You don’t see a problem with that? It is the worst case scenario in which a company withholds review copies to maximise potential exposure while keeping critique at bay, it’s about as anti-consumer as it gets. I guess some people are incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Of course I can buy it and cover it on release, by which point a bunch of people have already purchased it. Not only do we lose relevance the longer we have to wait but more importantly, consumers end up with less information. We live in a world where some consumers actually want less information it seems and are entirely ok with the first pieces of information to come out being bought and paid for. Heh, I sometimes think the biggest enemy in the battle to protect consumers, are consumers.

For many consumers, YouTubers are the new media they look to when forming their gaming opinions. They’re seen as being more trustworthy than the traditional gaming press, who’ve been accused of having greased palms for favourable coverage since the inception of the medium.

If you’ll recall, this isn’t the first time YouTubers have been embroiled in claims of paid positive coverage. More and more, it’s starting to look like YouTubers are guilty of the very things that we in the games press been accused of doing for years.

What’s your take on it? Is it okay to enter branding deals for access to games? I really don’t believe that it can be seen as being remotely wholesome. Shadow of Mordor is out in the US today, with a local release on Friday. To date, it’s received almost universal acclaim, but it’s becoming quite difficult to trust any of that opinion. For what it’s worth, we have yet to receive our copies of Shadow of Mordor…and didn’t even get the fancy press kit that was doing the rounds a month or so ago.

Last Updated: September 30, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Mordo, in shadow…

    • Hammersteyn


  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    If someone enters into a deal like that I’d expect to see it disclosed, otherwise they open themselves wide to the idiotic gamersgate crowd & their corruptionz! allegations whether it’s true or not; because it’s about perception, not reality. Personally I wouldn’t trust that review because of a deal like that in place, not that I use Youtube for reviews anyway. Much rather watch singing auditions that have a positive ending, they make me happy.

  • Rags

    Erm, unless I missed a line, I don’t actually see what part of the deal says they have to give positive reviews? No different than any other online media. Where is ze journalism?

    • Not positive reviews, but Totalbiscuuit implies the deal involved “not saying bad things”

      “Ermm, the problem is that you can’t review, first impressions, critique or whatever this game on PC prior to launch or even on launch (unless you weaseled your way in as we did) if you don’t take a deal that specifically says “you can’t say bad things”.

      • Rags

        That is just hearsay. What does the contract say? What does Warner say?

        • Sageville

          I would assume said contract would also have a non-disclosure clause regarding the actual contract terms itself.

        • Contract or not do you really think that if they drop a poor review they will be given early access by any production house again. Please remove your head from your ass.

          • Rags

            I share your view, but its not the issue. Foul play depends on the terms in the contract(if there even is one). If WB throw them a few dollars and a review copy, any review is good enough for them since its just publicity. If you can’t trust these reviewers then good luck finding any trustworthy media outlet.

          • Ragnar The Vengeful

            As far as youtube reviewers go, I tend to believe TotalBiscuit. I saw a video of him the other day naming and shaming a dev who got his review (of a terrible game) removed from Youtube due to “copyright infringement”. Look it up. All I’m saying is that when it comes to freedom of speech TotalBiscuit has historically been on the moral side.

          • Rags

            Yes, but he needs to show hard evidence. And even if it is proven beyond doubt that youtubers received review copies and some cash, I’d like to know how this is different from say this page where Fifa and xbox adverts are all over this page and when media themselves are invited to exclusive press events and placated with niceties. Does this also influence their objectivity? Maybe.

            Why Doug’s reply to me was thoughtless, is because only the details of a contract in which it explicitly says ‘don’t say bad things about our game’ matters. Then we can objectively say that they sold out. And since its too much to expect actual journalism from gaming news sites/blogs these days we do not even know if such a contract exist.

            The bigger issue here is that most reviewers in any form of gaming media rely on advertising in its market to keep the lights on. There are only a few exceptions such as say Forbes and high subed youtubers who do not or need not rely on such advertising revenue.

    • Weanerdog

      I still think that it needs to be disclosed that the reviewer is getting paid by the company he is reviewing for this specific review.

      • Rags

        I agree.

  • Hammersteyn

    Getting a game and receiving money to advertise it on your channel is a conflict of interest. These people’s videos need to start with a message declaring that it’s a brand deal. If Nike gives me a pair of shoes and R1000 asking my opinion I would be silly to say bad things about it. I ruins repeat business

    • Why does your ruins I’ze repeats businessessezesss? *RUNS

  • It just gets worse and worse. I have to say that now I don’t even bother looking at reviews on youtube unless it’s Angry Joe or Jim Sterling as the number of integrity deprived people out there are growing by the day.

    • Hammersteyn

      Yahtzee is also funny

      • Oh he is!

        • Hammersteyn

          He’s review of Destiny is kak funny

          • I need to watch it actually.

          • Guest

            He sums up the story of the game quite nicely:
            “Fight the darkness until further notice”

            Very funny and also very true and also very sad 🙁

  • Jaded_Reprobate

    “not only have we yet to receive our copies of Shadow of Mordor…and didn’t even get the fancy press kit that was doing the rounds a month or so ago”

    by the sounds of things, if you do a legitimate review… ie. let the public know the game is actually shit, then you won’t be getting anything from this lot…

    sad to think that this is where gaming is headed… the only way to actually trust a review now days is to wait until at least a week or 2 after launch and then see what people have to say about the game

    • XCamed5153

      [email protected] now very easy.. Many fake sites are also their, but they [email protected] only from you without giving you anything. I found this genuine site 1 yr ago., Fully filling their commitments. Its not a spam. just go through it & be happy……http://onlinehomeproject…..

  • Malema4Eva

    “Bloody [PR] agents….”

    • MakeItLegal

      lol classic

  • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    Puts a bit of a sour taste in my mouth =/

    Always give people the OPTION, but never force it on them…

  • Ross Woofels Mason

    Correct me if I am wrong but wouldn’t something like this be the same as an endorsement of sorts? YouTubers are hardly journalists, which is why they became popular in the first place. But if someone comes to me as says I will give you all this stuff to and we want you to say how awesome it is, that’s no difference from Rugby players saying how much they love their Gelette MKIII razor.

    I agree with the other people, in that if this is something that people make clear like “Play through sponsored by Wadda Wadda & So ‘n So then I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

    If that’s not done how ever, then honestly I think it’s up the integrity of youtuber if they want to take part in this or not, same way at the end of the day it’s your decision whether giving that old man a handjob in a bathroom is worth crack or not.

    Personally I see nothing wrong with Youtubers or Reviewers getting free stuff, as long as they are still free to say what they like about it. People paying others to say good shit about them is as old as time it’self though.

    • Weanerdog

      The point is why you are raving about how great it is to give the hand job, are you doing it for the crack or the love of giving hand jobs. If we know you got crack for it then we could at least make our own deductions about your fervour, also we know that you like crack and that chances are that you will want some more in the future and that burning your bridges to that crack may not be in your best interest.

      • Ross Woofels Mason

        best. reply. ever.

        Damn that made me lol.

        • Weanerdog

          Spreading lols is what I do.

  • Sageville

    I don’t want to read any reviews if the game’s PR / Publishers have bought said reviewers.

    Then you may as well just read and believe the promo material on the Disk box.

    Bizniz is scaley yoh!

  • Weanerdog

    If they were so confident that the game is great why do they need to hold the review copies back from those who do not want a perceived conflict of interest overshadowing their review.

    • HvR

      Diminishes the value of the early access copies.

      For the Youtuber it is worth more if he/she can be the first review and reveal more features.

  • HvR

    “and didn’t even get the fancy press kit that was doing the rounds a month or so ago”

    Maybe send in the interns to “go begging on their knees” for press kits.

  • HvR

    Oi, so you can no longer trust day one reviews.

    Seem we are going from no longer pre-ordering to no longer buying the first week or month.

    Missing the days when everybody was talking and raving about a game because is was awesome not because double the development budget was spent on marketing.

  • Jedi Consular Kromas

    And that my friends is why EA is getting better in my books. They are starting to allow people to demo their top brand games for free lately. It is a month or two after release but still.

    Bring back demos!

    Alternatively …. ARRRG!

  • Brady miaau

    I fell this is the same business ideals as 50 years ago, just using new and different tech.

    Also, is it just me or is Lazygamer super slow, both at work and home (both fast lines)

    • Ragnar The Vengeful

      They’re not all slow, Geoff seems to have at least moderate intelligence.

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