Plaid Social was the intermediary that setup the deal between Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and the YouTubers who would promote Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. They refused to discuss the details of the deal after attempting to contact them two years ago, but it didn’t matter because the Federal Trade Commission was contacted about the ordeal and launched an investigation into the matter. Well, the dust has settled and so has Warner Bros.
After using Plaid Social to get top name YouTubers like PewDiePie to play Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, spending thousands of dollars in the process – and garnering more than 5.5 million views across the channels that participated in the program – Warner Bros., was called out by the FTC… and have settled charges with the commission. They’re also barred from participating in endorsement programs that use non-disclosure clauses.
Posted over on the official FTC website, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection commented about the case, stating in the press release…
“Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” […] “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
The whole thing was designed to mislead the average consumer, given that the original deal saw YouTubers being forced to only say positive things about Shadow of Mordor if they chose to take the deal, and some were influenced not to disclose that they were being paid to promote the game in a positive manner. Additionally the contract forbade them from showing off glitches, as well as avoiding talking negatively about certain mechanics or features, and not focusing on elements that may appear to be broken or poorly implemented.
The whole point was to sell the game through undisclosed endorsements, not unlike EA’s Roku campaign or the XB1M13 campaign that occurred earlier in 2014, which involved Electronic Arts, Machinima and Microsoft.
Whistleblower John Bain, better known as TotalBiscuit, leaked the contract to Jim Sterling so he could do a news story about it. The news most definitely spread.
According to the FTC Warner Bros., paid out hundreds of dollars to some YouTubers and up to tens of thousands to others.
The content made by the video content creators was used to help influence the market landscape for Shadow of Mordor and potentially boost positive sales of the game. It was a risky move that didn’t pay off, especially considering that this occurred during the time when #GamerGate was in full swing, and the Game Journo Pros leaks were occurring, along with other whistleblowers stepping forward to expose things like 40,000 people being hacked and EA and a games journalist covering it up in order to maintain a positive relationship.
In the case of Warner Bros and Shadow of Mordor, it’s not over with yet, and the FTC would like your feedback and comments regarding a consent agreement between Warner Bros., and the FTC to prevent these kind of deals from happening in the future. You can participate using the electronics comment submission form.
Most recently the FTC was also made aware of the CS: GO Lotto scandal involving YouTubers and the potential solicitation of minors to participate in gambling activities. Civil lawsuits are also being sought against the YouTubers as well.