Home Gaming Is paying YouTubers for coverage ethical?

Is paying YouTubers for coverage ethical?

3 min read

This post has not been paid for by any specific publisher

The Internet has really changed over the last few years. Its strange to think that some people out there actually make living purely from streaming their games or from their views on YouTube. What about those who are being paid by publishers to cover certain content? Is it ethical?

Gamasutra have written a detailed article on the topic, and their findings are quite interesting. They did two separate polls on those who have less than 5000 YouTube subscribers, and those who have more. Their reasoning for the split is that they wanted to determine whether those who have more subscribers would be targeted more by publishers, which is pretty logical reasoning.

mmmm pie


From the results above, its pretty obvious that having a larger following means a better chance of being approached by a publisher. 26% of those with more than 5000 subscibers admit to taking money to record videos. I wonder why 5% opted to not answer the question. Do they maybe see it as being unethical?

The survey then went on to ask, “What is your opinion of YouTubers charging money to developers for video coverage, and is it ethical?” Those who have less than 5000 followers had 64% that were against it, while the remaining saw no problem with it. One comment read:

If the YouTuber brands himself as a reviewer, it would not be ethical. If the YouTuber is more of a Let’s Player, it’s really up to him as long as he remains transparent.

Its actually a very difficult thing to debate. What differentiates a reviewer from somebody who just plays the game? Is it simply the score that the reviewer gives the game? They are essentially doing the same thing at the end of the day, talking about and demonstrating how a game works, but one may be perceived as being “bought” by the publisher because they have labelled themself as a reviewer.

Those with more than 5000 followers didn’t differ too much on those with less, with 40% saying they are fine with developers and publishers paying for video coverage. One comment reads:

YouTube videos are, in a sense, a form of advertising — therefore it makes sense to pay for advertising

This does ring true in some ways. One could arguably compare these YouTubers giving a game attention to those celebrities who put their face next to a luxury watch or perfume. Yet, those against paid for YouTubing aren’t wrong either.

You can’t be sure the reviewer is unbiased because of that

If you wish to read all of the responses, the full list can be read right here.

If content is being paid for, is the YouTuber really being transparent and fair about the game they are playing? If I were in the same position, I don’t know If I could find it in me to criticise a game knowing that the publisher or developer might not like my content, and thus never ask me to cover content for them again. Then again, I know that I would hiding the truth from my viewers, and it could bite me in the ass in future.

The article goes into more detail about some specific community responses, as well as how the law works with regards to disclosing payments. Overall, the whole debate all seems to boil down to one thing; transparency from the YouTuber. Its worth noting that many of these people look to YouTube as a source of income. Regardless, do you think its ethical for a YouTuber to receive payment to cover content? Or is that the sort of hate only reserved for reviewers who receive fancy trips and money to cover content?

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Last Updated: July 11, 2014


  1. It’s very simple. If money changes hands then you’re open to your viewers perceiving you as having a bias – whether it’s true or not. There may also a tacit “obligation” to reciprocate in some way. It’s the same reason many companies don’t give out or accept gifts anymore beyond minor promotional items.


  2. Brian Murphy

    July 11, 2014 at 15:11

    It’s a very dangerous situation for Youtubers to put themselves in, because it’s simply very difficult to remain unbiased when you’re being paid to cover a game. I mean, such practices have already had pretty damning effects on certain gaming websites, so I don’t really think Youtubers are above being corrupted.

    That having been said, in a perfect world, IF the youtuber is paid by company X, they would announce it, full disclosure style at the beginning of the video, and either indicate the amount paid, or give a rough estimate so people have an idea.

    There’s kind of a reason why youtubers have become so popular, some of it’s the personalities, others simply feel that youtubers are less subject to corporate fuckery. However, these folks get more and more popular, the lure of corporate money can be a very real and dangerous thing.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. Human’s aren’t very good at resisting the lure of money.


  3. Rince&pop

    July 11, 2014 at 15:12

    Sho, this is a tricky one. Sites like LG survive because of advertising and that is made obvious. They do not ‘condone’ what they are advertising, that is for us to figure out. So the same could be said for youtubers willing to take money. It’s a grey area if you ask me. Taking money doesn’t mean you will be biased, though I would think the chances are much higher.


    • Kromas

      July 11, 2014 at 15:18

      I would most likely keep paying them to punt the brand “Master Race” and “Mass Effect”. 😛


      • Rince&pop

        July 11, 2014 at 15:20

        I’d replace “Mass Effect” with “Master Race inclusion in all games” 😛


        • Kromas

          July 11, 2014 at 15:23

          They can keep their crappy FPS games. Half Life > Halo any day of the week.


  4. Devon Stanton

    July 11, 2014 at 15:19

    First and foremost no-one should ever be paid to do a review. EVER.

    Secondly I think it’s important to point out that coverage on a game is different to reviewing a game. A publisher may “pay” for coverage on a title where the youtube in question is possibly doing some unique stuff for the game. Take for example Freddiew, they re-create live action sequences based on games. Some of which is contracted by the publisher.

    When a YouTube is offering a unique way of showing off a product then you’re paying for their creative means of displaying that. It differs when you have the likes of a Lazygamer in this instance where the publisher/distributor will pay for advertising on the site. YouTubers only means of income is the medium they’re using.

    All the publisher is paying for in essence is eyes on what the result is of the content that is produced by the youtuber not necessarily his “impressions” the same could be argued for this site for instance. Lazygamer is sent on trips to see games to provide coverage, they do highlight the fact that the trip was paid for.

    In the end it’s a double edge sword both need the other in order to survive. how they co-exist is a different story entirely


  5. Ryanza

    July 11, 2014 at 15:25

    giving money to youtuber’s for let’s say a Let’s Play video, is the same as giving money to Thepiratebay and those who upload to the pirate scene.

    Ethical? can anything good come from youtube and money. cat food?


  6. J_Joestar

    July 14, 2014 at 21:19

    As long as transparency is maintained, i don’t think it would be too big a deal.


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