‘sponsored’ let’s plays, advertising and games journalism Yup, big topics. This blog post is kinda prompted by this: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-16-blurred-lines-are-youtubers-breaking-the-law But it’s a topic that has been around a while now. Basically the days of just hoping a famous youtube celeb likes your game and propelling you to stardom are ending, youtube is becoming more of an advertising marketplace than ever before. I have long blogged about and evangelised about advertising as a viable option for indie game developers. I like advertising as a PR system for many reasons. It’s fairly flexible (you can spend $1 or $1,000) it’s very target-able, it’s relatively simple and hands-off to setup (no talking to people or traveling) and also, not much discussed…its very very honest. Now I know that ‘advertising and honesty’ are not terms often thrown together. I read a LOT about ads. They can be sneaky, suggestive, manipulative, full of weasel-words and misleading comments, but the one good thing about an advert is that it is an unmistakably paid-for piece of promotion designed with the interests of the product maker in mind. When you see an advert for Audi, it may try and suggest this, or imply that, or convince you of dubious claim X, but you know that it’s being paid for by Audi, and you can take that into account. You don’t consciously think you are getting an unbiased opinion. (unconsciously you probably do…due to all kinds of cunning neuromarketing techniques…but I digress…). In other words, you know when you are being advertised to, and when you are not. With product-placement and more nebulous sponsorship deals, like the ones that some youtube celebrities are getting involved in, the situation is very different. Suddenly someone is saying they love a product and you have no idea why. We tend to assume people are being genuine unless we know for a fact they are paid to say stuff. I love Bose headphones (yeah I do, so sue me), Aeron Chairs, Ibanez Guitars and Lexus cars. Nobody has ever paid me a penny to tell anyone that. We tend to assume youtube lets plays and reviews of games are the unbiased opinions of the presenter, but is that really the case any more? I’ve never had someone ask me for money for a lets’ play, but I suspect thats because I’m a mouthy arrogant and sometimes quite confrontational British dude that is an unknown quantity to a lot of people. I also blog a lot, and occasionally say very unpopular things. If I was looking to do hush-hush sponsorship deals, *I* wouldn’t approach me, but I know it goes on. So who do I blame? I blame adblock, and the early internet culture of ‘everything should be free’. Online content costs money, it just does. Writers need to be paid, webhosting needs to be paid and so on. Now I admit, I have adblock installed. It’s normally turned off, I click it on just for a handful of unbearable sites that have so many flashing, noisy animated blinking monstrosities I can’t cope with reading them, but they aren’t my regular sites anyway. Reddit handles advertising very well, so does googles homepage, and most other sites I visit. Nobody likes ads. I don’t go to a games forum for the ads, I go there for the content, but I actually LIKE seeing ads because that way, I *know* thats how the site exists. If not, then basically I’m at a site that is run at a loss by a generous benefactor (unlikely) or the site is making money in other ways. Everyone screamed at The Times newspaper when it put up it’s paywall, but frankly, I think it’s a fair and a brave move. Why shouldn’t we pay for online content? It’s just not an option because the ‘general wisdom’ is that people won’t pay for it. A paywall is even better than ads, now YOU are directly, not indirectly paying for the content. The thing is, if we REFUSE to pay subscriptions to read (for example) Rock Paper Shotgun, then they have to get money elsewhere. They have a lot of writers to pay. Ads is the obvious solution, but what happens when everyone blocks those too? Every time we do that, we push the writers closer to the need for sponsorship, endorsement, ‘paid features’ and so on. I know a few journalists. It amazes me how honest they are. It amazes me even more because I know they don’t earn a lot. And it amazes me again because I know how much money *could* be available if they were corrupt. In a recent experiment I was paying $2,300 A DAY in facebook ads for a game of mine. That buys a lot of cocktails and goodwill gifts for corrupt journalists. I could have binned the ads and sent a brand new fuck-off huge top-of-the-range flat screen Television to a different journalist I knew each day instead saying ‘A gift from the makers of Democracy 3.’ I can even see that (assuming some theoretical journalistic corruption) that would possibly be a GOOD DEAL. This 60-inch Smart TV is just one days advertising What I’m getting at, is that it is absolutely fucking amazing that we still have a generally independent and honest games press. They are mostly paid for through advertising. We should understand that, accept that, and embrace that as gamers. The alternative is much worse. I KNOW that Jim Rossignol actually likes Eve Online, I don’t have to wonder if he took a brown envelope full of cash to write about it. I like things as they are, with a nice demarcation between content and advertising. If you like it too, turn off your ad blocker for a while, and the next time a site you like offers premium subscriptions buy one.