The FTC fiasco with Warner Bros is a reflection of a bigger problem

We don’t talk about it often, but the modus operandi of video game PR has been making some radical changes over the last year or so. I once wrote about how reviewers need to be the gatekeepers of the gaming community. All of this comes to a head with the announcement that the FTC settled with Warner Bros over paying Influencers to talk about  Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I’ve been playing the game reviewer/blogger/journalist game for quite a while and with that I can say I see the writing on the wall. Reviews, their scores and who gets what out matter considerably less than they did in the past. Now, it’s how many eyes can you get on the game.

youtubeThis is where Influencers come in. I’ve seen more review request met with similar questions about how many Twitch or YouTube subscribers you have. It used to be questions about Metacritic association, Alexa pagerank and things like that. Sure, the shape of the industry is changing and in many ways, the days of the written game review are coming to an end. The issue at hand is that game companies have learned that they can cut out the middle man and reach out to a popular YouTuber and have them play the game for a fee. When you can reach a million views without even having to worry about a score, why would you even bother with the latter?

I’m not saying that Influencers that do Let’s Plays and stuff like that online are morally corrupt. That wouldn’t be fair at all. Instead, I am suggesting that the ethics they have to worry about are far less strict. PewDiePie didn’t go out at say “OMG guys, this is the best video game I’ve ever played. You really need to buy it!”, and to be fair he did disclose, albeit only on the direct channel, he was paid to play the game. Here’s the thing, that is what these types of Influencers do. They play games and talk about the games. My son knows so much about silly flash games because of DanTDM, and don’t get me started on Roblox. These people offer a much more organic way to form opinions on a game, it’s true. A reviewer should be critical, but a YouTuber or Twitch streamer can just go out and play.

ScreenShot20150806at114011AMThis has forced the written reviewer into a corner. Something you see, more often in major releases now, are score battles. When Undertale was out, scores were incredibly high, yet someone comes a long and gives it an incredibly low score. Similar things happened with releases like Overwatch too. Problem is, in this day and age, reviews are a dime a dozen. Anyone can write one. Influencers, however, with one stream or video, can convince hundreds or thousands of people to buy a title.

It will only be a matter of time before the majority of reviews are in video format, or we see things like live reviews. Reviewers will need to adapt and take aspects that YouTubers and streamers already use. Clicks will be traded in for likes and subscribes and sure, we’ll still see that occasional review score but the real value will be in the amount of views on your videos.

I can’t say that Warner Bros is entirely wrong with how they went through with things, just like I can’t say that these streamers and YouTubers were in the wrong for taking payment. In fact, one of my favorite YouTubers, Dunkey, talks a bit about the way things work in one of his videos. The system has found a way to bypass the critic. We’ve seen this happen with Evolve and Star Wars Battlefront, I’m sure we’ll see this happen even more when the fall releases get ready to drop. Hopefully, with this FTC announcement, we’ll see more people clearly disclosing if they are getting paid by marketing or have received the game for review or preview purposes. I guess time will tell.

What are your thoughts on this? Has the Youtuber killed the written review star? Do you watch tons of videos? I’d love to hear what you think!