Sketchy Promo Plan Pays YouTubers For Positive Xbox One Coverage

Sketchy Promo Plan Pays YouTubers For Positive Xbox One Coverage

A new Machinima promotion offers YouTubers cash in exchange for positive coverage of the Xbox One, opening up a whole host of questions about journalistic ethics in the world of YouTube personalities.

It started on Saturday, when word leaked on NeoGAF that the video group Machinima had sent out e-mails to their clients offering cash bonuses for coverage of Microsoft’s newest console:

A tweet from Machinima’s Ron Smith, since deleted, confirmed that the promotion was real:

This all in itself is a little sketchy. Cash in exchange for coverage? Many traditional journalists would be against that type of arrangement, as it tears down the “wall” that typically exists between editorial and advertisement teams. Over the past few years, the meteoric rise of YouTube personalities has called into question the ethical and professional standards held by many popular video-makers, and while some top YouTubers have been very upfront about what they do and how they get access, there are no unified standards. This sort of arrangement seems to blur the lines further.

Now here’s where we enter really sketchy territory: Ars Technica tracked down a copy of Machinima’s contract for the promotion, and there’s one line that stands out: “You may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One or any of its Games in your Campaign Video.”

In other words, this isn’t just a simple money-for-coverage swap — Machinima’s YouTube personalities, who presumably want their audiences to trust and listen to what they have to say, are actually taking money in exchange for positive coverage.

What’s more, these YouTubers can’t even be transparent about this arrangement, according to the contract:

You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above. You understand that You may not post a copy of this Agreement or any terms thereof online or share them with any third party (other than a legal or financial representative). You agree that You have read the Nondisclosure Agreement (attached hereto and marked as Exhibit “A”) and You understand and agree to all of terms of the Nondisclosure Agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Agreement.

Now you might be wondering, “Hey, don’t game companies buy advertisements on sites like Kotaku all the time? What’s the difference?” The answer to that question is that at Kotaku, the editorial and sales departments are two different entities. Writers at Kotaku don’t interact with the people who sell us advertisements, and our editorial team would never promise positive coverage of any game or company in exchange for anything.

We’ve reached out to both Microsoft and Machinima for comment, and we’ll update should they have something to say.

Note: Do you have any information or stories about ethics in the world of YouTube and video creators? Send me an e-mail.


  • Paid reviews: all-in-one solution.

    I wonder if content claims will be made against negative coverage?

    • Holy s**t, I never thought about that, you could really block every single negative review of your product and leave all the positive ones on there though content claims. And with the new Google bot this could be done almost instantaneously. Flat out censorship!

  • Biggest recent example that comes to mind was the Dead Space 3 demo – the game grumps play through was hilarious with how they complied with the coverage requirements while implicitly making it pretty obvious to the viewer what was going on.

  • Will Editorial at all discuss the way sponsored junkets influence the tone of coverage? Far more common and pervasive than simple cash for comment, and quite unknown to the average Joe.

  • I take offence to the ideal that Xbox one positive press needs to be paid for.

    The Xbox one stands on it’s own merits, along with it’s current (and future) catalogue of games and apps.

    It will only continue to improve over time.

    Now, where’s my god damn cash for comments money?


  • The dumbest thing about this whole thing is that it could call into question the legitimacy of Machinima partners who are actually enthusiastic about the Xbox One and its games. What in ill-conceived thing.

  • Jaysus Microsoft, could you just *try* and act not like either the Mafia or a parole officer for 30 seconds?

    I am so sick of MS being my Parole officer (Oh you have upgraded your PC, talk to your parole officer and see if you are allowed to run the Windows you paid for now) and constantly treating paying customers like criminals.
    And then they do this, deliberately try to compromise coverage of their console.

  • I’m glad you guys found time between writing intentionally misleading headlines, misrepresenting sources and confecting news instead of reporting it to post a lecture on journalistic ethics. Made my day.

    • Having only read this article about the topic in question, how were the sources misrepresented and what was misleading about the headline?

      • It’s a reference to many other articles on Allure sites (Gizmodo seems to be particularly guilty) that have those problems, not this particular article.

        • I’m in the same boat and can’t usually disguise my contempt for most of the Gizmodo and Kotaku US staff, but this article rings true. It’s been reported on an all manner of more credible sites and Kotaku or no, doesn’t diminish the severity of the problem. Paying youtube personalities to shill your product and asking them to not disclose payment is dodgy as hell. Even paid product placement in movies is disclosed in the credits.

          • No doubt there’s an ethical issue here, but the notion that Youtubers are somehow ‘journalists’ is like it’s come from someone who’s never seen or used Youtube, ever.

          • I don’t even think ‘journalistic credibility’ should be used when discussing these youtube personalities. I do however, think these guys hold as much, if not more, influence than traditional gaming journalists and for Microsoft to groom them with scraps off the table for favourable Xbox coverage is just as seedy.

  • MS buys their way into everything. It will be easy to spot the people who are trying to cash in on this deal.

  • So, Machinema has decided that they don’t want the Australian market then, because i’m pretty sure that even blogs are required to disclose if they are being payed to promote something, so prohibiting them from doing so could not only cause violations of disclosure laws, but be yet another example of a company assuming that US contract law can apply to every country. While certain minor things might not be worth going after, forcing the contractee to break the law would almost certainly cause the ACCC, and possibly the ATO (if they are accepting payments, and not reporting the secret money in their tax forms) to take action.

  • Doesn’t this open the flood gates for all the people who scream when a certain site gives a game a review that isn’t inline with the majority on meta critic.

  • It’s nothing new for MS to try rigging review opinions. For example, it’s against the licensing conditions of MSSQL to benchmark the software.

    Anybody who has developed the opinion that MS have somehow become kind, socially responsible and supportive of the industry in general has not been paying attention. They are, as always, first and foremost out for their own interests.

    • socialy responsible, no, abiding by commercial disclosure and contract laws (because a contract that prohibits legally mandated disclosure is illegal), yes.

  • Why is everyone making an issue about it saying its for “positive” reviews.
    why are the articles stating its for positive reviews.

    Because of all the “proof” supplied it not once says it has to be positive. it clearly just states “mention youre playing xbox one” and “30 seconds of footage” chuck a tag on and you get the promo money.

    Its promotional to get the product noticed more, not “positive paid reviews” like its being made out for.

    Basically all theyre doing is trying to get more reviews done on the Xbox One versions of the game rather than PS4 or PC versions of the game.

    Its the same shit as the ubisoft sony marketing deal or the EA MS marketing deal.

    If it does state “positive” somewhere and i’m incorrect please post some proof 🙂

    • Those people were forbidden to say anything negative.

      They had to show 30 seconds of Xbox One footage and talk about the console. So tell me what do you think they would be saying? Keep in mind they can’t say anything even remotely negative.

      “Oh hey guys, I am playing this game on Xbox One, look at the footage, I am playing it, like really playing it, that’s right, I am playing this game on Xbox One.”

      It is nothing like a marketing deal between a publisher and manufacturer, not even remotely the same. If you don’t understand that, and why your comment is incorrect, then you don’t understand this whole issue.

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