Like a ghost from the distant past, we’ve received word about the terms of the FTC and Warner Bros. dispute over Shadow of Mordor, according to a post by the FTC today. The two parties have spent the past several months disputing the marketing controversy that arose in 2014, when YouTubers made early gameplay videos of the game under the promise they wouldn’t talk about the game in a negative light.
The big thing they mention is “Warner Bros. is barred from failing to make such disclosures in the future and cannot misrepresent that sponsored content, including gameplay videos, are the objective, independent opinions of video game enthusiasts or influencers,” as it says in the statement. This looks like a slap on the wrist at first glance. While it seems like the FTC is simply telling Warner Bros. to never do this again, this case can be used as an example to curtail similar situations from arising in the future.
“Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” said FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
The situation first came about due to a series of tweets via YouTuber TotalBiscuit, which caught the public’s attention.
This revelation eventually led to the investigation that we see before us today. The bottom line is that Warner Bros. Shadow of Mordor marketing campaign misled the public about the state of the game, leading people to believe the opinions given by YouTubers in early gameplay videos was objective and wholly accurate.
Warner Bros., via Plaid Social Labs, paid channels and influencers to post sponsored gameplay videos of Shadow of Mordor on YouTube. They got a free advance copy of the game, but they weren’t allowed to talk about it in a negative light (bugs and glitches), according to the terms of the deal. Due to the fact it was sponsored content, Warner Bros should have guided these YouTubers on how to place clear and sufficient disclosure, yet according to the FTC they failed to do so. If there was disclosure, it was confined to the video description below the “Show More” button, past other information Warner Bros. had told these people to include.
This begs the question of if Shadow of Mordor even needed the extra boost. Beyond the initial glitches and bugs, the game received a modestly positive reception from reviewers regardless. The Nemesis system seemed to be an innovative feature that added a bit of variety to gameplay. The game’s DLC only served to add more characters and development to the solid foundation presented.
The FTC ordered Warner Bros. to prohibit misrepresentation of gameplay in their gameplay marketing videos, and orders them to enforce stricter disclosure between themselves and influencers. But even further, Warner Bros. must ensure any third-party entity they hire also follows these rules. They have to educate influencers on how to disclose and monitor the marketing content itself to guarantee these rules are followed. If they aren’t, Warner Bros. is legally inclined to withhold payment to ad agencies and influencers themselves.