Microsoft and EA Engaging in Deceptive Youtube Marketing Campaigns

Posted January 22nd, 2014 at 10:45 am


The biggest story in gaming right now is the controversy surrounding Microsoft targeting Youtube personalities to promote the Xbox One. What has really blown things up is the manner in which they have done so that violates FTC regulations by requiring any participating individuals to hide that they are being compensated for their opinion or endorsement. Now Electronic Arts has also made its way into the conversation with evidence they offered similar promotions where they would pay bonuses to those promoting their products. 

Yahoo has a good summary of the Microsoft situation which was initially reported on by Ars Technica. Essentially Microsoft, through Machinima, offered a campaign where partners could earn an extra $3 per thousand views by having videos that featured the Xbox One with recorded commentary mentioning it and any game being played by name. It was outlined that saying “anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One, or any of its Games” would lead to disqualification from the additional revenue.

That in itself would not be all that controversial. Sure it’s sleazy but would not violate the law assuming the individuals made it clear that they were being compensated for what they were presenting. Yet the terms of the agreement stated that they “agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation”. That was different than past agreements for other companies that made it clear the individuals involved were required to disclose they were being paid for the video’s specific content.

FTC regulations were adjusted in 2009 largely due to “Mommy Bloggers” who were being gifted or paid by companies to promote products while misrepresenting themselves as unbiased consumers. “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement…such connection must be fully disclosed.”

The topic was already on the radar for an article but recent discoveries of EA being involved with similar tactics made it something worth addressing here. Recent campaigns have been offered for several games including Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, and NHL 14 – all with much higher payouts than the Microsoft/Machinima deal. Madden at $15 per 1K views and FIFA and NHL at $10 made them enticing promotions to enter into. EA’s arrangement included that individuals “agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement and any Assignment including, without limitation, the Details and Compensation”.

Youtubers are often thought of as uninfluenced independent voices. The majority are – whether earning revenue through Google Ads or a channel partnership – and unfortunately for them this will cloud the credibility of everyone on the platform. Any positive opinions about a video game (and especially Microsoft and EA products given the uproar) will now be met by increased questioning of motives whether justified or not.

There is nothing wrong with earning revenue through advertising but when it influences content and is presented in a way to mislead consumers that is where the line is crossed. Responsibility ultimately falls on the individuals who are required to disclose any possible conflicts of interest. However if the parties running the programs like Microsoft and EA require that they don’t to participate it’s still wrong but understandable why they chose not to. The FTC has only shown interest in going after corporations in cases such as these rather than the individuals even though they are running afoul of the law as well.

  • Tetsuo

    Good grief, EA just can’ help but make stupid decisions… Every time the company attempts to take one step forward in gaining any credibility in fans eyes, it takes 3 steps back.

    There needs to be some serious changes in administration/leadership along side a major paradigm shift towards their consumer base.

    • Casor_Greener

      Once again you clowns are shocked by obvious news. Everyone knows these cats are stooges for the companies. WTH makes you think they are biased?

      • Tetsuo

        First, if you’re going to reply, calm down and breathe oh-so-enlightened-one.

        Second, who says I was shocked? I was pointing out that EA can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot. And no, everyone on Youtube isn’t a shill- but yes, some are and it’s not surprising at all.
        Third, exactly what was the point of your reply, X-Files. To let us know that every reviewer/gaming personality is bought out/biased? And besides these specific incidents that point to specific channels/MCN’s, what’s your proof? Let me know when you’ve got it, Mulder.

  • cush2push

    EA is great and Madden is better than it ever has been it is so cutting edge they can release the same game for the next 15 years and still be the number 1 football game on the market

    • infemous

      wanna give me 2 dollars of your payout if I thumbs up your comment?

  • jacx

    2K does this too btw. Those big youtubers who get wined and dined and brought to 2K studio to see the game and then do videos about it. They getting paid too.

    • HustlinOwl

      lol the show as well??? does anyone that attends community day play this game online? I highly doubt it

  • Keith.

    Let me see if I have the timeline right:

    — Andrew Wilson and other EA execs falsely pumped up BF4 in statements to the media last summer, causing EA’s stock price to rise;
    — When EA’s stock reached its high point, they unloaded most (if not all) of their shares);
    — When the game was released, EA paid people to hype the game on YouTube and instructed them not to focus on the glitches or reveal they were being paid;
    — When others who were not being paid by EA started posting videos and complaining of the glitches after release, the stock dropped like a rock and a bunch of securities fraud cases were filed.

    All in all, I’d say that’s quite the start to Andrew Wilson’s tenure at EA! So much for his wanting to change things and not win another WCIA award…LoL. Oh well, at least the good plaintiffs’ attorneys will be happy with the job he’s doing.

    One question that remains — I wonder why EA didn’t bother to pay people to advertise NBA Live as part of this undercover/illegal operation they’ve got going on here — guess they figure that, after 4 years worth of development expense, they’ve already wasted enough money on that game. Regardless, I see it as another sign there will be no NBA Live 15.

    • fantasyboi

      I’m sorry…did u say soemthing?

    • turkey86

      Cool story from another biased consumer.

      • Keith.

        An opinion from a biased consumer is one thing.

        An opinion that’s been bought and paid for, in secret, is quite another.

        • turkey86

          Eh, kinda, but not really. They are both just spreading false information. If you can’t be critical of a 2K game that’s very transparently flawed, then your opinion on EA is worthless, biased bullshit.

        • jbl72

          I agree 100%! One’s smart enough to get paid for their bias they try to shove down people’s throats. The other is dumb enough to invest hours pouring over stock quotes, vgchartz, to spin into propaganda and gets nothing in return.

      • brian

        He would fit in at EA… Doesn’t he just say the same thing over and over? I mean all he does is just word it differently each day.

    • BasedAsian

      You’ve gotten a lot of heat for defending 2k to the death but you make good points. Let us not all forget that EA is a crap company.

  • Brad Davis

    As someone who makes YouTube videos and was offered partnerships (and declined), none of this recent news surprises me. Advertising via Youtube is much cheaper in comparison to what these companies usually pay for advertising.

    Many want their videos to be seen by millions and therefore quickly accept partnership deals that are usually never as good as they sound.

    Overall, this news just adds a bit more on to my feelings of why YouTube has gotten worse over the years.

  • Iown You

    The minute Microsoft announced DRM for the XBOX One, I was done with them. They lied and said it was gone yet people have been popping up with DRM situations. Microsoft has lost all credibility with me.

    As for EA, they’ve been basically doing this ever since the GameChanger program came to be. Hell, their credibility died with the Madden Next Gen video for XBOX 360.

    This industry has really turned to shit because of a few lying bastards. They lie before you get the product, and then keep lying after you have it in your hands, then compensate people to keep the lie going.

    You can’t trust anything anymore, smh.

    • DetRichardMoore

      I hate to sound like a paranoid type of person, but you /never/ could fully trust an open forum such as Youtube, or even the Gaming Industry, in the same way that you could /never/ trust any Industry where the end-goal is you buying a product.

      Take for example films, ever notice how after a film releases they choose the choices quotes from reviews that make the film out to be mediocre? Music has its payola, and now this for gaming.

      Personally, I’ve never trusted Youtube for anything other than Gameplay Videos to see certain facets of a game. To assist me in purchasing a game however? I trust vids as much as I trust a film trailer.

  • DetRichardMoore

    What’s the difference between this and someone like a prominent Youtuber like Chris Smoove making that ad for the PS4 with David Ortiz?

    Don’t be surprised if you hear other big gaming companies like 2K, or Activision doing similar stuff. Youtube is an advertising battleground, this sort of thing is sorta lame, but to be expected.

    • Paddy

      ‘Yet the terms of the agreement stated that they “agree to keep
      confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement,
      including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM

      I believe that that right there is the difference between this and your Chris Smoove friend’s video i.e. at least we know this Smoove guy is a shill and his opinions aren’t to be trusted.

  • infemous

    Kinda hilarious how Madden needs that extra $5 dollar payout lmao

    This game franchise is embarrassing.

  • brian

    All businesses do this regardless…. If they’re gonna throw dirt at Microsoft and EA…. Why not throw dirt at all businesses regarding video gaming or not.

    • Skopin

      There’s nothing wrong with paying for advertising. The problem is that they paid for advertising, and made them agree not to say they were being paid.

    • turkey86

      They aren’t as hated.

    • Keith.

      No, “all businesses” definitely do not do this — that’s why there’s a story here (and also why lawsuits will likely be filed under California’s or some other state’s consumer protection statutes in the coming weeks). In fact, I’ve never heard of another major company paying somebody to advertise their product while prohibiting them from disclosing their opinion has been paid for — probably because there are laws on the books to keep it from happening.

      EA hasn’t been voted WCIA 2 years running for no reason. Their shady business practices have won them that award, just like they will again this year. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see the same usual suspects defending them (yet again) here.

      • DetRichardMoore

        What you are describing was the Payola scandal back in the 90’s. Radio Stations weren’t allowed to disclose that they were being pad to play some songs more frequently than others.

        And, if EA is WCiA once again this year over Bank of America, Exxon, Goldmann Sachs etc. Then that should be a story in and of itself.

        • Keith.

          “In 1960, as a result of the congressional hearings, Congress amended the Federal Communications Act, specifically sections 317 and 507, to outlaw under-the-table payments and require broadcasters to disclose if airplay for a song has been purchased. The FCC takes this seriously; in 2000, it fined a Texas radio station $4,000 for accepting money for playing a Bryan Adams song without telling anyone (although you can understand why Bryan Adams’s promoters would be driven to payola).”

          EA has robbed me of my football game of choice for the past 10 years, and by unfairly eliminating all competition through its monopoly, has stifled innovation in the genre. What’s BoA, Exxon, or Goldman Sachs ever done to you personally?

  • BCYa

    Microsoft makes me like them less and less all the time. I’m still leaning towards switching back to Sony and getting the PS4, but there aren’t any next gen games I need to have right now – nor are there any in the near future. Who knows when I’m gonna go next gen – 2015 maybe? Looks like a slim year.

    We already know EA is greedy.

    But since video games are getting more and more costly to make, and the games need to sell tons to make them profitable, it seems like we are going to get less good games, less originality, and more and more companies turning to sleazy slimy tactics to make cash. The future ain’t looking bright.

  • MoneyMayweather

    I don’t see the big deal here. If your dumb enough to buy a game because someone says it’s good then you deserve to get fucked over. I don’t make my buying decisions on someones opinion I do it by looking how the game plays through video.

    • jibbo262

      These practices being illegal is the big deal here. Try to look outside yourself and see the big picture.

  • jbl72

    Wait, you had to go all the way back to 2k5 to find a return? What about All Pro Football oh that’s right it sucked!.

  • Khadeem

    u mean like how you cant assign player to another player or adjust your on ball and off ball defensive settings right….or like how the game glitches every other week…or how they stripped down leagues….out of all the bs on the game that is what you came up with…ur a dolt