The Federal Trade Commission and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have reached a settlement following charges that the Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor publisher paid YouTube creators to endorse the game without disclosing that they had been paid.
In the fall of 2014, Warner Bros. enlisted YouTube stars, including PewDiePie, to promote Shadow of Mordor in a positive light, according to the FTC. These influencers were paid thousands of dollars for their work and were provided with advance copies of the game. Although they were paid to do so, video creators contracted by the publisher were not required by Warner Bros. to include conspicuous language alerting viewers that they were paid endorsements. Instead, disclosures were buried deep within the video's description box, the FTC said in a statement about the settlement.
Warner Bros. had ultimate approval of these videos, and the FTC alleged that at least one promotional video lacked the necessary disclosure entirely. Undisclosed sponsored content of this nature goes against the FTC's consumer protection guidelines, leading to the organization's investigation and eventual charges against Warner Bros.
Following the settlement, Warner Bros. will be required to make it clear on any Shadow of Mordor promotional videos that the company hired the YouTuber to create the content on its behalf. It must also comply with the FTC's guidelines in any sponsored content in produces in the future. The FTC will also require Warner Bros. to monitor and educate influencers it sponsors to ensure that they are adhering to the FTC's rules.
The FTC referred to this as the first case in which a company was charged for paying off influencers to promote its games. An earlier case, however, found Machinima facing similar complaints from the FTC. This past March, the YouTube gaming channel settled with the organization after not disclosing that it had paid broadcasters to upward of $30,000 to promote the Xbox One in a positive light.
More recently, a pair of YouTubers who used their channels to promote a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive gambling website landed in hot water after viewers exposed them as the owners of the site. The pair had not mentioned that they held equity interest in the site they were promoting, which appeared to be in violation of FTC regulations. The FTC did not comment on whether it was investigating the case.