Over the last week, there has been much discussion around the act of YouTube personalities in the video game space accepting money from game developers in exchange for coverage of their games. A survey of YouTube content creators performed by Gamasutra found a considerable amount of popular channels (more than a quarter surveyed) acknowledging that they had accepted compensation in this way at some point, giving rise once more to the old chestnut that the people who critique games for a living are little more than bought-out PR mouthpieces.
This subject comes up so often that it barely registers for me. It’s sexy to think that there is some form of rampant corruption, a shadowy cabal of marketing executive puppeteers making people dance on strings of dollar bills, but it’s a fantasy. What these commentators, critics, and entertainers on YouTube are doing necessitates a relationship of trust between themselves and the audience consuming their work. Trust necessitates honesty. Without it, we are nothing.
Laws requiring publishers to disclose when content they produce has been supported in some fashion by the content’s subject exist not only to protect consumers from deceptive practice, but to protect the publishers from the assumption of deception. When we are forthcoming about the extent of our relationships to the people and things that we cover, we can maintain the balance between having access to the tools which make the work possible and having credibility. Fail to do this and your career is probably on borrowed time until your error is discovered, after which it will never be the same.
I have absolutely no qualms about the idea of accepting money to present coverage of a product. Everybody has to make a living and I’m not one to turn my nose up at a revenue stream. To participate in the act myself, however, it would have to be subject to my terms. Such terms would have to include a completely clear statement that the content was supported, that money changed hands before this material was made. I would also have to be allowed complete freedom in regards to any opinion or other commentary delivered, but it’s of the utmost importance that people understand that I was contracted for the work.
This seems like an equitable arrangement, honest with both the audience and the marketer. The marketer’s interest is being met as their product receives exposure, the audience receives their content knowing that I’m on the level about how and why the content exists, and I get to sleep at night with a full stomach.