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Microsoft Paying for Positive Xbox One Coverage on YouTube 128

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the smell-of-fresh-cut-astroturf dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft, partnered with Machinima, has put forth a promotion for YouTube personalities: make a video about the Xbox One and get money for it. Problematically, they also require the reviewer not to disclose that they're getting paid (or mention anything negative), which breaks FTC disclosure rules (PDF). Microsoft has a well-known history of astroturfing, but is this the first proof of them doing it illegally?"
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Microsoft Paying for Positive Xbox One Coverage on YouTube

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  • And? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And this type of action is new or newsworthy how?

    I certainly hope this type of act is reported for each and every company that ever does it. Maybe we can dedicate a whole website to the 1,000s of companies that do this type of thing. We'll call it NothingNewHereAtAll.wtf and it won't have the horendous /. beta format.

    • Re:And? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dingen (958134) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:12AM (#46023583)

      The astroturfing itself isn't that newsworthy, but if it could be proved MS is doing something illegal here, it might blow up and become quite something.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Oh come on! Micrsoft has been busted for astroturfing hundreds of times and nobody gives a toss. Do you really think all those "fans" here really believe Win 8.1 is a great OS?

        Get a clue sunsine, there's not much else to that company APART from astroturf.

        • Do you really think all those "fans" here really believe Win 8.1 is a great OS?

          It may shock you to know that some people have a mind of their own and can think for themselves. It may shock you even more to know that MS does not (and cannot) pay for every single positive review or comment.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I'm NOT shocked at all that MS has to pay for positive reviews and comments about its products.

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        There is a line when marketing crosses into consumer fraud.

        • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:43AM (#46023855)

          It's not a fine line at all in many jurisdictions, where any paid promotion must be explicitly disclosed. The agreement quoted here includes a gagging clause that's in direct conflict with that.

          • by Talderas (1212466)

            And Machinima is in violation for making such an agreement. This is hardly surprising, they greatly exploit their content producers because a large segment of them are kids coming out of high school that want to play video games for a living and really have no idea about the value of their work.

            • by cayenne8 (626475)

              ...because a large segment of them are kids coming out of high school that want to play video games for a living...

              Seriously?

              How does a kid make an adult living sitting and playing video games?

              • It's called game testing, and it barely makes minimum wage. Unfortunately many high-school kids don't realize how little those jobs pay and actually make them "career goals".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Talderas (1212466)

        There's nothing that indicates any wrongdoing on Microsoft's part. The agreement linked to in the article is between Machinima and the video creator and not the agreement between Microsoft and Machinima. There's no way to tell if the "positive endorsement" was required by Microsoft or if that's just something Machinima tagged on to the agreement, but hey it's Microsoft so lets bash them anyway and not let facts stand in the way.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Wraithlyn (133796)

          You're right that the headline overstates things, but on the flip side, this isn't a court of law. We are entitled to educated guesses as to where such a "positive endorsement clause" most likely originated from.

          If YOUR guess is, "I bet Machinima did that by themselves", my opinion is that you're fucking naive. I could be wrong of course.

          Have a nice day.

          • by sd4f (1891894)

            I wouldn't exclude the possibility of microsoft having no direct involvement. The games reviews industry is in broad terms, quite happy to constantly give good reviews. Just look at all the 7/10's they like to give to awful games. The problem is, a lot of reviewers are reliant on publishers for their games to review. If they don't get them, then they have nothing to review, or worse, they have to pay for them. This is why they don't want to give bad reviews to bad games, it even happened with duke nukem for

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        but if it could be proved MS is doing something illegal here

        Umm, what exactly is in any way illegal here?

        (Now, if you said "slimy"....)

    • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jones_supa (887896) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:20AM (#46023657)

      Maybe we can dedicate a whole website to the 1,000s of companies that do this type of thing.

      Don't know about a website, but at Wikipedia people have collected a list of astroturfing cases [wikipedia.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:11AM (#46023579)

    its legality is irrelevant

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      The problem is that it's hard to tell the difference between a fanboy and an astroturfer. And is a fanboy immoral for taking money for something he/she was going to post anyway?

      • by Alomex (148003)

        is a fanboy immoral for taking money for something he/she was going to post anyway?

        That's the key difference. If the person believes it anyway it is ok. Most of the pro-microsoft posters here seem to land on that pattern. Only recently have I run into pro-Windows 8 posters that seem to have no convictions or beliefs of their own. They simply seemed to have been paid to post empty pro-Windows 8 content.

        • by Gr8Apes (679165)

          post empty pro-Windows 8 content.

          Isn't all pro W8 content empty?

          • by Kalriath (849904)

            No. For example, I kinda like it. Well, once I installed Start8 and set it to boot into desktop mode, anyway. Task Manager alone is droolworthy compared to its predecessor.

            • by Gr8Apes (679165)
              The original task manager showed memory and cpu usage, along with a few other details and allowed you to kill processes. What more do you need in a task manager? Adding full monitoring eats up more resources, has more areas for things to go wrong, and may prevent you from loading that crucial app when things do go wrong. In previous windows versions prior to Vista at least, Task Manager was a relatively stable rock steady app that would work and could be accessed even if the rest of the system was largely u
        • I think you are also letting your Anti-Microsoft bias get in the way too.
          Some people do like Microsoft products, or do not find as many faults in them as Slashdotters make us believe.

          MS does do a lot of things right with their products, and there are also a lot of things that can be improved, sometimes I feel the made the wrong tradeoffs in their design.

          I am OK with windows 8, but it isn't want I really would want in a Desktop OS, It seems to try to mix Tablet and OS together making something not so good at

          • by Alomex (148003)

            Some people do like Microsoft products,

            which is exactly what I said in the OP. So what's your point?

      • A fan who receives gifts or money in exchange for positive public relations work, and doesn't disclose this, is a shill.

        So no, it's really easy to tell the difference - unless there is intent to deceive.

        I have a hard time calling it "immoral" though, in the sense that we're talking about the Free Market, where such fancy ideas such as morality evidently bear no relevance. Put it in the big pile of "badwrong" by the door.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          A fan who receives gifts or money in exchange for positive public relations work, and doesn't disclose this, is a shill.

          So no, it's really easy to tell the difference - unless there is intent to deceive.

          I have a hard time calling it "immoral" though, in the sense that we're talking about the Free Market, where such fancy ideas such as morality evidently bear no relevance. Put it in the big pile of "badwrong" by the door.

          I dont.

          Accepting money for comments and not disclosing it is deceiving an audience. It doesn't matter if it's JoHam on Slashdot taking money from Apple or British Prime Minister David Cameron taking money from the EDL in exchange for favorable comments (not that I'm accusing anyone of astroturfing or shilling, these are examples only). By not disclosing the financial interest behind the comments, its deliberately and knowingly deceiving an audience.

          So it's completely immoral and for a broadcaster or n

      • by Yaotzin (827566)

        Actually, thanks to the tag #XB1M13, you can easily separate the shills from the fanboys. The trouble is avoiding the fanboy stamp.

    • its legality is irrelevant

      Existence is futile. Your non-features will enhance our own. You will be illegitimated.

    • It's relevant to the extend that it can help us stop the practice.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fake reviews, Fake adverts, Fake court presentations...

  • Sad that this is commonplace to those playing at attention.
  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @09:34AM (#46023777)

    I was wondering how they were getting all this great coverage when the PS4 is in such high demand that you still can't find it anywhere and there Xbox Ones are stacked up like cordword in every Best Buy I've been to in the last few weeks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      Just because a product isn't selling well, doesn't mean it's not actually a superior product. I've heard people say that the GameCube actually had comparable if not better graphics compared to XBox, but most people just dismissed it outright, assuming that it couldn't possibly be any good, given it's appearance. Technically, all the numbers on the GameCube were lower, but it was capable of producing graphics that were just as good, because of a completely different architecture. Another example The iPad
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Except in this instance, the PS4 and XB1 are so similar in function, hardware and the software they run (mostly games) that it is reasonable to draw comparisons. Sales are just part of that of course and sometimes the better product loses out. But in this case I doubt anybody could seriously claim that the XB1 is the better product and people just don't realise it. Neither the PS4 or XB1 can claim to be perfect so far and much could change over the course of a few years, but so far the PS4 is leading for a
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You make it sound like "small app selection" and "not liking the UI" are MINOR ISSUES.. Obviously many people consider them major issues.

        Also, obviously, many people don't consider the lack of USB a reason not to buy an iPad.

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          Actually, I stated that the iPad having a the biggest app selection is actually "a pretty important marketing point". However, it's worth mentioning that on the Surface, there's a lot of apps you just don't need, because they are built into the OS. You don't need a file manager,or special applications to access shared folders on other machines. The built in video player works well for most people, so you'll see fewer of those around. The browser is quite capable so a lot of those website replacement apps
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Companies, not just Microsoft, pay Youtubers to mention their product in their videos. People make a living posting videos to Youtube and some Youtubers have sponsors pay them for mentioning products in their videos without disclosing that they are being paid to do so. If this controversy with Microsoft becomes a thing, there may be collateral impact on Youtube land beyond Microsoft.

  • as they can account for the people out their who say it's good and you need to learn to get use to the start screen.

  • https://twitter.com/KyleOrl/st... [twitter.com]

    Its still not really apparent what, if any, involvement MS actually had in this.

    The authors of the articles freely admit its an assumption

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Machinima is getting ad buy from MS. They're not promoting the XBone out of the kindness of their hearts. They got money from Microsoft, they take a cut, the pass on a pittance to the "influencers". If you honestly think MS is not connected you are deluded. The whole idea that this is some sort of rogue operation is ridiculous.

      Besides, this was not even the first campaign. It happened around the release also (at $1 CMR). But I guess Microsoft just didn't notice that one and Machinima snuck another one past

  • Some details (Score:3, Informative)

    by eatvegetables (914186) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @10:12AM (#46024107)
    From contract.

    '''

    You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above. You understand that You may not post a copy of this Agreement or any terms thereof online or share them with any third party (other than a legal or financial representative). You agree that You have read the Nondisclosure Agreement (attached hereto and marked as Exhibit “A”) and You understand and agree to all of terms of the Nondisclosure Agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Agreement.

    '''

    The sketchy bit for me is that Machinima bills itself as "Machinima is the dominant video entertainment network for young males around the world. " Doesn't seem to clearly state that it is, perhaps, a promotional entity as well.

    • Out of curiousity:

      If somebody sends me such a contract/NDA as the above (particularly one that says "don't tell anyone about this agreement") and I do /not/ sign it, am I still obligated to follow its strictures? I would guess not but I am no lawyer.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        The only reason I would think that you wouldn't be able to would be copyright laws. Copyright laws might possibly be construed in such a way that you wouldn't be allowed to post actual text from the letter itself. It wouldn't stop you from paraphrasing what the letter said, but using exact words from the contract could be argued to be copyright infringement. I would assume that this would fall within fair use, but if musicians can be charged royalties for using just a few notes from another song in their o
        • by Kalriath (849904)

          According to this one article [adamsdrafting.com] from the New York Law Journal, contracts are entitled to copyright protection, therefore you could potentially be hit with copyright infringement charges for posting one without permission.

  • Machinima sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sproketboy (608031)

    Machinima sucks anyway. Please avoid. You're much better off with the independent reviewers like Angry Joe and TotalBiscuit.

    • by silviuc (676999)
      Two things:

      1) TotalBiscuit is part of the Polaris MCN. He's also a partnered channel... thus he did not face recent wave of bullshit from Youtube and the music industry. AngryJoe is also part of Polaris IIRC but only an affiliate so the BS wave hit him as hard as it did the others. He is slowly recovering

      2) Sleazy Youtube MCN + sleazy software and hardware company == love. MS and Machinima sitting in the money tree....
  • by nomaddamon (1783058) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @11:14AM (#46024935)
    Full contract at http://pastebin.com/vec6vjv5/ [pastebin.com]

    Machinima lives of these kind of promotions (all Machinima affiliates get multiple offers per month)

    The total cost for this promotion for Machinima is 3750$ (promotion ends when this CPM target is met)

    It is likely Microsoft entered into a deal with Machinima to increase it's visibility and Machinima did the promotion on it's own (like it has done with a lot of brands before)
    • by Talderas (1212466)

      The summary is misleading. The article headline is misleading. It's fun to bash on Microsoft so the facts that are present will be ignored because they don't fit that narrative.

  • by jdi_knght (3507915) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @12:50PM (#46026323)

    That whole FTC ruling was directed primary at bloggers (people who use affiliate programs were hooked in there too). Remember, the initial ruling came back in 2009 when searching for some sort of product review usually brought up a bunch of blogs. If you look at http://www.business.ftc.gov/do... [ftc.gov] , over half of the document references bloggers.

    That particular problem doesn't really exist anymore for a number of products/services, because Google's Penguin/Panda updates have shoved most independent "blog" type reviews down a few pages in favour of Amazon (for products), ResellerRatings/RipOffReport (for retailers), and similar sites. Those are way easier to astroturf, so companies just hire "marketing agencies" to take care of those now instead of wasting time chasing after individual unpredictable bloggers who might have their sense of morality kick in at any time.

    Aside: Microsoft's a little behind the times, as usual. The "new" way to do things would be to hire a company to make a few YouTube "reviews" and then use their multiple accounts to like them all, while searching for negative ones and disliking them. It's cheaper and easier.

    Anyway, technically they could get a warning/fine from the FTC (or those who make the videos could) for what's being done here, but it's pretty unlikely. The video rules to qualify for the CPM bump are a little convoluted, and if the FTC actually pushed for fines, in court MS could make the case that paying out a higher CPM for Xbox videos has a similar outcome to bidding more for specific search terms on AdWords with "-sucks -awful -terrible" as negative keywords and then publicly stating that they bit more for ad clicks from non-negative reviews.

    By the way, who *doesn't* assume that there could be some bias in videos from Machinima/partners and similar outlets? Surely I'm not the only one who sees them in the same light as gaming publications where if they say something too negative they suddenly stop getting free/early access to future products or have advertising revenue cut back. It's one thing when you see "Gus's XBOX 1 review" where he's taken video with a handheld camcorder from 2005 and you kind of assume he spent his own money and just wanted to talk about it and you maybe even take what he says at face value. The clean-cut commercialized stuff, you always take with a grain of salt.

    Ignoring all that, even if Microsoft were to somehow eat a fine, I doubt they'd care. They sold the original Xbox at a loss for years, and FTC fines at most are a slap on the wrist for the big players. If you're a large corporation, you can usually find a way to make breaking the law profitable even when you're caught.

  • by Kimomaru (2579489) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @12:58PM (#46026439)
    Personally, Machinima content is so appallingly bad that this story is not surprising at all. Machinima needs a serious upgrade.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's a reason infomercials have to tell you "this is a paid advertisement by the following"

    Heads will roll and possible litigation in the future for Microsoft's shady actions.

  • Gotta do something when it ain't selling. A guy I know working at GameStop has told me they can't keep the play station 4s on the shelf and can't get the Xbones out the door.

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