Shadow of Mordor Comes Under Deceptive Marketing Scrutiny by US Government [Update]

One of the videos, from PewDiePie, racked up 3.7 million views.

213 Comments

Update: PewDiePie has responded to the story, claiming that he "didn't even do anything wrong."

He states in a new video that he wasn't required to disclose that he was paid for the positive coverage at the time. He also points to the fact that he did include a mention of the sponsorship in the description of the video and says other YouTube creators did nothing at all.

However, as GamesBeat reports, he was in fact required to disclose the partnership, per previously established FTC guidelines. Moreover, the reference in his video's description--which can only be seen after clicking the 'Read more' link--isn't enough to satisfy the requirements.

Prior to the video campaign in late 2014, the FTC told Gamasutra a "disclosure should be clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it." A note in the video description (which would be absent when the video is shared outside of YouTube) isn't enough.

Original Story: The United States government today announced that it has proposed a settlement with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment over a deceptive marketing campaign for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The Federal Trade Commission said in a news release that Warner Bros. failed to "adequately disclose" that it paid "influencers" such as PewDiePie and others to promote the game on YouTube and social media.

The campaign in question ran in late 2014, before the game's release. According to the FTC, the videos in which sponsorship was not adequately disclosed were viewed more than 5.5 million times. Warner Bros., through its advertising agency, Plaid Social Labs, paid the online hosts "thousands of dollars" for the coverage, according to the complaint.

No Caption Provided

PewDiePie's video alone racked up 3.7 million views.

Paying for positive coverage is not new or anything necessarily bad. But the FTC goes after companies for failing to disclose this. An Xbox One marketing campaign ran by Machinima also came under FTC scrutiny.

FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich said consumers have the right to be informed whether someone is providing their own opinion or is being paid to say nice things.

"Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns," she said.

Additionally, the FTC alleges that Warner Bros. did not tell its influencers that they needed to include sponsorship disclosures during the actual videos. On the other hand, the complaint states that Warner Bros. told its paid hosts to put the disclosures in written form in their video's description box. The FTC notes that these disclosures were only visible to viewers who clicked the "Show More" button. When the same videos were posted on Facebook or Twitter, the disclosure did not move to those sites, the complaint alleges.

What's more, the FTC claims that the contracts between Warner Bros. and influencers required the hosts to submit their videos to Warner Bros. for pre-approval. The complain alleges that "on at least one occasion," Warner Bros. reviewed and approved a video that did not contain the proper sponsorship disclosure.

As part of the proposed order, Warner Bros. must agree to better disclose when content is sponsored. It requires that sponsored videos "clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products."

Additionally, the FTC's proposed settlement agreement states that Warner Bros., or any firm working on its behalf, must ensure that future campaigns adhere to these rules. This also includes educating influencers about sponsorship disclosures, as well as keeping track of sponsored videos to ensure compliance. In some cases, Warner Bros. might have to cancel or withhold payment if a video does not properly demonstrate compliance.

This proposed agreement will be floated in the public space for 30 days, starting today (July 11) and running through August 10. At this time, the FTC will determine if the proposed order becomes reality. If you want to sound off, you can send in your comments electronically here.

You can read the full FTC complaint here [PDF].

A Warner Bros. representative told GameSpot, "Warner Bros. Home Entertainment always strives to be transparent with our customers and fans when working with social influencers, and we are committed to complying with the related FTC guidelines."

Looking ahead, it's rumored that Shadow of Mordor developer Monolith is working on a sequel.

This post has been updated.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Avatar image for goose39
goose39

The government needs to stay the heck out of this business!!!

Avatar image for mbmosley7
mbmosley7

PEWDIEPIE did disclose he was paid by WB for Promoting Shadow of Mordor, this is complete B.S. I never saw any promotions on Youtube, I just bought the game because it looked awesome and it is and I still play it. Best game that year.

Avatar image for ginobili1
ginobili1

Money... oh money... how you corrupt...!!!!

Avatar image for dnsfw_jamus
dnsfw_jamus

except that he listed in his description that it was a paid advert. the only reason he's coming under fire is because he listed it under the fold and didn't say so in the video itself. ie: an honest mistake.

Avatar image for yggy
Yggy

@dnsfw_jamus: Right and I'm sure when businesses put stuff in crazy tiny fine print within pages of contract, it's an "honest mistake". Yes, he's coming "under fire" because he listed in a blatantly deceptive way, knowing full well that the vast majority never even read the description text let alone bother with expanding it when the text runs long.

If it was really an honest mistake, he wouldn't claim to having done nothing wrong while engaging in deceptive paid hype schemes and disclosing this in a clearly deceptive but just-legal-enough manner.

Avatar image for dnsfw_jamus
dnsfw_jamus

@yggy: it was the same sized print as everything else in the description, and given that at the time those guidelines DIDN'T EXIST (they were released 6 months to a year after the fact), he didn't do anything wrong.

but thanks for playing.

Avatar image for cxxal
CXXAL

The game is indeed really awesome, but law is law tbh.

Avatar image for batts86
Batts86

I understand what this is all about.., My gripe is they as in FTC go after Warner Bros for paid positive reviews.. But what about the journalists (websites) who purposely post negative reviews of games to attract traffic to "their" websites?? It happens all the time, especially for major marketed releases.. They are not getting directly paid per say (the site could pay them, who knows honestly), but they are reaping the benefits of the increased traffic... Both are wrong and both are bothersome.. I just wish the other end of the spectrum was talked about more...

Avatar image for yggy
Yggy

@batts86: The FTC has proof that WB and its paid people failed to properly disclose necessary information.

Do you have any proof that these negative reviews are invented for traffic, or is that just the narrative you've concocted to avoid considering that maybe not everyone likes what you like?

Avatar image for batts86
Batts86

@yggy: aww did I hurt the little guys feelings. Let me tell you something, that practice does happen that is not some "concocted" theory of mine. If you're obviously to dumbfounded to understand then that is not my fault. If the FTC wanted to, I'm sure they could find something. The fact that you honestly implie that you don't think this happens, makes you extremely ignorant. Run along now child, I think I hear your mother calling you to bed...

Avatar image for rumplestew
rumplestew

@batts86so the person above gives a legitimate and valid counterpoint to yr original position: "My gripe is they as in FTC go after Warner Bros for paid positive reviews.. But what about the journalists (websites) who purposely post negative reviews of games to attract traffic to "their" websites??" and yr response is...I don't know: "aww did I hurt the little guys feelings"? You brought forth that argument and the burden of proof is on you. That's how debate works.

Avatar image for batts86
Batts86

@rumplestew: what are you taking about? You think I work for the FTC.. Let me explain what I said. I essentially insuated that negative reviews to garner higher traffic to "their" sites happens in my opinion. How do you want me to investigate that? How about instead of being his knight in shining armor you bring something to the table... What Warner bros did, I guarantee happens a lot and I guarantee the reverse spectrum does too. Whether you and that clown want to admit to it or not I could care less...

Avatar image for rumplestew
rumplestew

@batts86nothing in my comment suggests i disagree with you. furthermore yr position doesn't need further explaining. it's direct and simple enough. however what you do need is evidence to support yr claim. i would speculate that buying out journalistic favor occurs frequently too, but without evidence to support the claim it remains mere speculation. i am in favor of rational discourse which is why pointed out yr egregious lack of it in one of yr responses above. it has nothing to do with any kight-in-shining-armor trope or any other loaded phrases you would like to lob my way.

Avatar image for joaorafaelrr
joaorafaelrr

@batts86: Everytime the media is gay-proof or mind-antidote they make poor reviews and try to shoot the media off. Shadow of mordor is a great game. Helped me a lot with Lumber-jacking.

Avatar image for yggy
Yggy

@joaorafaelrr: What the **** is "gay-proof" or "mind-antidote"? Is that some new dumb homophobia lingo?

Avatar image for joaorafaelrr
joaorafaelrr

@yggy: No. It's more like an shucks than a phobia.

Avatar image for Dawg9000
Dawg9000

"But Shadows of Mordor was actually good!" It doesn't matter, you have to say when you're getting paid to say so, simple.

Avatar image for GunEye
GunEye

I liked how this article is kinda click-baitey - but they used an ugly orc instead of a hot chick this time. lol

Now seriously, everybody knows companies hand out their game + possibly paying YouTubers abd other streamers to promote their game - often prior to release - to their fans and players' wrath. Players don't like having someone play the game - which themselves paid hard earned money for- for free and weeks before release too. To me that the real problem here.

Oh and who the hell watches that Pewdesomething slobe? Pathetic. Also guy is a terribly fat liar, he is full of it.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

Good article- kudos Gamespot for putting real journalism on here. That being said, the game is solid and was really innovative in one major way- that, and its the best LOTR game ever- period.

Avatar image for yggy
Yggy

@JEF8484: Still waiting for other games to incorporate the nemesis system.

Avatar image for maitkarro
maitkarro

Who cares, the game is awesome. I didn't even know he did a review for the game until now.

Avatar image for derekscorp
derekscorp

Paying for positive reviews can help a business immensely. Just look at Google.

Avatar image for thomasn7
ThomasN7

How is this any different compared to people taking money from big companies to promote their products on tv by doing commercials. People just need to stop believing everything they hear and use their own judgement. Be leaders not followers people!

Avatar image for Tekarukite
Tekarukite

@thomasn7:

It's different because they were supposed to disclose the sponsorship.

Avatar image for MaxBlaze
MaxBlaze

This is a bad article. You'd have to be stupid not to already think that maybe companies pay popular content creators to promote their product. Everyone says it in the comments/twitch chat "How much did *insert company name* pay you to praise this?"

Avatar image for yggy
Yggy

@MaxBlaze: So because Twitch chat says it, it must be totally legit and anyone who doesn't know is stupid? Methinks you overestimate Twitch chat.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

@MaxBlaze: Bad article? lol- wow. This website has the balls to actually document this. Dude, people like you always find a way to bitch...then again, I'm a video game site.

Avatar image for deactivated-57aa19ab947c7

@MaxBlaze:

It's a law regarding disclosure. There's no special exception for "stuff people already know". The disclosure requirements must be met .

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

@tony_at_home: well said

Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@MaxBlaze: No it isn't, we may assume a lot of bad stuff. But to see it laid bare is essential. I'm glad they're finally reporting, even if you already 'knew'

Avatar image for aj87
aj87

The game is so good that the way I see this whole BS situation, its like he is making a video to promote sugar saying: "Hey bros, this thing is called sugar, and you know what? It tastes sweet." and then someone is making a shit storm because he is misleading people into believing sugar is sweet....

Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@aj87: Just because a game is good doesn't excuse them from bullshit marketing.

Avatar image for aj87
aj87

@RogerioFM: I wouldnt call bullshit marketing if the product is good and the person is saying its good. But even then, he put the information required in the description, which, to me, its enough, and the game speaks for itself.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

@aj87: Where are the articles about Destiny and the Division- not horrible games- but dam they were waay over-hyped- SOM is a much superior product.

Avatar image for Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

Here is the link to the Analysis of Proposed Consent Order to Aid Public Comment:

http://federalregister.gov/a/2016-16729

I don't see the point of the Comment Form without knowing the actual proposed order. It's pretty light, not-difficult reading.

I see one thing in the comment that I do not see in the Analysis. I do not see in the Analysis any allegation that WB, PewDieDie, or anyone else falsely advertised a bad game as a good game.

Avatar image for IceQBkid
IceQBkid

What are they even on about? Shadow of Mordor was a great game! It basically sold itself! You could watch a muted video of gameplay and still want to buy it lol.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

@IceQBkid: I'm still amazed a LOTR game essentially beat the Arkham games in its own thing (imo).

Avatar image for archav3n
archav3n

dont support tubers. these people got paid to tell lies. that's how pewpewpew made $7M a year?

Avatar image for CyberEarth
CyberEarth

So don't support any "paid reviews" via Youtube.

Avatar image for Khasym
Khasym

@CyberEarth: Actually no. There are quite a few people who do HONEST reporting on paid gameplay. They disclose it at the start of the video, with an actual speech made on the spot saying something like "hey guys, this is a paid demo of x-game by y-studio. They invited me into the closed beta(or like "i Kickstarted this game," etc.) so check it out. "

This specific nonsense, is actually the specific fault of Plaid Social. They weren't just paying people for positive reviews. They withheld review codes and pre-release codes, UNLESS youtubers signed contracts that basically forced them to say what Plaid Social specifically wanted. Jim Sterling did a Jimquisition about it. How anyone who signed the contract basically became a mouthpiece for Plaid Social. They were required to talk about the Nemesis system, how lively and organic the development of orc enemies were, and specifically forbidden(for reasons I'm still not sure of) from mentioning the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies or books at any time in the video.

Avatar image for CyberEarth
CyberEarth

@Khasym: What does that have to do with what I said?

Pretty sure I simply said "don't support any paid reviews on Youtube". And you shouldn't. Anyone that pays for a review via Youtube or other social media should clearly label it so gamers can clearly avoid it.

At least when I come to a place like Gamespot, I know the reviewers receive betas/free product/etc in order to review the product.

Avatar image for Runeweaver
Runeweaver

so when does the new ghostbusters movie come under scrutiny, Drew Mcweeny giving it 91%.

Avatar image for JEF8484
JEF8484

@Runeweaver: I seriously think the "good" reviews are a fail-safe to not get shitted on by the PC press.

Avatar image for Wintermist
Wintermist

Maybe they should start to take a look at gaming sites, to make sure titles are made clearer so people don't click by mistake and the gaming site earns more money from ads where the user was tricked into it.

Avatar image for allyal1
allyal1

Like everyone is saying, Shadow of Mordor was a good game... its makes no sense...

Avatar image for CyberEarth
CyberEarth

@allyal1: It's not about whether the game was good or not. It's about disclosure, which the rules are very clear.

Avatar image for rodoxthedark
rodoxthedark

But it was a good game so should be able to get away with it! If it was say Tony Hawks 5 then I'd say burn them all