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Gaming Wednesday: This Is Not An Endorsement

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Microsoft have gone and got themselves in trouble again. You’d think they’d learn their mistakes with the Xbox One so far, but it seems they’re not learning anything at all. Bless their little hearts for being so oblivious.

So, the story so far, the Xbone has a confusing name, has an absurd focus on television and external media over video games, was initially announced as requiring an always-on Internet connection when one shouldn’t be obviously needed, requires additional payment for services like Netflix and Internet Explorer, uses microtransactions in full-price games, has an in-built camera and microphone, is expensive and is apparently having “stock issues” despite being easy to buy basically everywhere. What else can possibly put people off Microsoft at this point?

The answer is YouTube. Microsoft have shown some degree of savvy by realising that gamers tend to watch Let’s Plays and other gaming videos on YouTube since we all like to hear the opinions of other gamers before we buy expensive software. The problem is that they failed to recognise why gamers tend to put stock in them over traditional gaming media.

What Microsoft have decided is to pay certain YouTube personalities extra money if they promote the Xbone via the Machinima network. Not so bad, I hear you all cry, and you are correct. Sponsorship deals are fine, and if a YouTube personality is a fan of the Xbone and wants to give it some promotion and make some money in the process, that’s cool too.

What isn’t cool is the terms. The coverage must be positive, which is kind of expected, but also none of these gamers are allowed to mention that their comments are a paid endorsement. Which is pretty ethically poor, but I suppose it’s fine if it’s not illegal…

http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-publishes-final-guides-governing-endorsements-testimonials/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf

Oh.

Well, OK, that’s the US Federal Trade Commission, and apparently it’s Machinima UK who are involved. Maybe it’s perfectly legal in the UK…

http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/consumer-enforcement/consumer-enforcement-completed/handpicked_media/q-and-a/#.Ut7E_LTFLIU

Ah. Well. This makes things tricky.

Now, there is a lot of outrage from gamers saying that anybody getting involved in this deal has no integrity, that they turn to YouTube vloggers and Let’s Players for honest opinions. I say, getting angry at the deal itself is pointless. If I had a lot more views and someone came knocking asking me to advertise their product on my blog, I’d say yes, just to get a bit of extra money.

But, I would turn it down if it was a product I wouldn’t buy myself, and if they demanded that I couldn’t say it was a paid endorsement. If I was accepting an endorsement deal, I would absolutely want to be able to tell my readers it was paid for, and whoever was offering the deal would either have to allow me that or go elsewhere.

That’s the only place I feel that integrity could be lost. Accepting a deal where your own desire for money outpaces your respect for your audience is pretty terrible. In the case of this particular deal, it’s not even for a lot of money. An extra £3 per thousand views is hardly a lot of money, especially when you look at the amount of money other endorsement deals can usually net someone. Selling yourself out for this is hardly worth it.

The problem with all of this is it damages the reputation of all paid YouTube personalities, regardless of their involvement in this due to the suspicion that will arise from viewers about whether or not their opinions are their own. What’s more, it also adds to the damage that’s already been done to the Xbone’s reputation.

It also raise issues with Microsoft’s marketing strategy. Instead of focusing on making an attractive product that people will rush out and buy, they’re instead opting to push it onto everyone at every turn, unwilling to let anyone forget the product exist and make it appear more popular than it actually is, even to the point of manufacturing fake “opinions” to present the console in a false light.

I’ve had my suspicions that Microsoft have been paying excessive amounts of money to get people to portray the Xbone in a positive light simply by how often “Xbox One” appears on Twitter as a trending topic, seemingly without any real reason. Now I’m even more suspicious about that frequent trend, and even less inclined to purchase a console.

I find this marketing strategy insulting. It doesn’t allow people to make their own decisions. It shows a lack of willingness to pay attention to the opinion of customers. It also suggests that gamers will buy a console entirely on how often they see it.

What they have forgotten is that diluting the opinion pool using borderline illegal tactics such as these damages everybody. Sponsorship and advertisement is fine. Presenting sponsored messages as someone’s personal opinion is not.

And to finish, I will expressly state that this opinion is entirely my own and has not been paid for in any way: Microsoft are a terrible company and the Xbone has proven itself to not be worth the money, and this latest stunt has done little to change my opinion on this.

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