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Survey opens debate of YouTubers accepting money from game makers

A survey of video gaming "YouTubers" — usually one-person operations uploading game content to a single channel — found some with large numbers of subscribers had accepted money from a developer or a publisher for recording a video about their game.

The survey, conducted by Mike Rose and published Friday in Gamasutra, comprises 141 video game YouTubers, 70 percent of whom (about 99 in whole numbers) had fewer than 5,000 subscribers, and the remaining 30 percent (42) had from 5,000 to as many as a million subscribers.

Of the category with more than 5,000 subscribers, 26 percent — roughly 11 respondents in whole numbers — said they had either accepted money from a developer or had done so "only when a developer offers." Another two answered "prefer not to say" to the question.

Of those with 5,000 or fewer subscribers, nearly all — 98 percent — said they had never received money from a developer or publisher for a video about one of their games.

"So clearly as you move up the subscriber scale, the bigger YouTubers are being offered cash for coverage or asking for cash to cover games, and at least a quarter of them are taking it," Rose writes. "However, that doesn't answer whether the smaller YouTubers would partake in the act if they were given the opportunity."

Rose said his survey is meant to examine the ethics of accepting such compensation, in a medium where there are no real standards for transparency or disclosure, but the content is expected to be offered for free and the ability for creators to monetize it seems always to face some new limitation.

"We — video creators — live in complicated times," one YouTuber said in expanded comments on Rose's survey. "It is expected from our work to be free. Copyright holders don't want us to monetize, no one likes ads, no one likes paid content - but we invest our free time into covering the games we love and want to share, basically giving free PR for the game itself. If a YouTuber asks for money for delivering great content, it's not wrong - it's compensation."

Rose's survey found that 40 percent of YouTubers with more than 5,000 subscribers said they were fine with the idea of games makers paying for video coverage, provided that such payment was disclosed to the audience.

That said, more than half of all YouTubers surveyed were against the idea, saying it compromised not just the individual YouTuber's integrity, but the segment as a whole.

U.S. law, generally speaking, requires that a a product reviewer who is compensated by the maker of the product being reviewed must disclose that relationship. However, enforcement of the law typically depends upon authorities first being aware of the conduct, and finding it egregious or widespread enough to merit an investigation.

Rose's survey and accompanying article features lots more on the push and pull of YouTube videographers accepting, justifying or rejecting payment from game developers. More than seven pages of YouTubers' comments on the practice also may be viewed at the link.

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