Popular game video maker Machinima apparently ran an endorsement giving Youtubers were a special bonus for promoting the Xbox One, Ars Technica reports. Suggestions of the promotion first appeared on NEOGaf, where a poster listed the stipulations: videos had to contain at least 30 seconds of Xbox One gameplay footage, and couldn’t say anything negative about either Machinima or the console. Machinima UK confirmed the promotion in a now-deleted tweet.
Theoretically, there’s no problem with that — if Microsoft wants to get large numbers of semi-crowd sourced spokespeople rather than a few high-priced ones, that’s its prerogative. It’s no secret that the Xbox One has struggled with hardcore gamers since before it was announced, and this sort of astroturfing is hardly anything new. The confidentially agreement is where the promotion gets dicey — talking about the promotion in any way disqualified you from the bonus.
As Ars points out, the FCC has guidelines when it comes to endorsements when there is ”a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.” Because these Youtubers are operating as certain kinds of journalists, direct compensation for expressing a particular point of view would need to be divulged — which, of course, the agreement explicitly forbids.
Machinima would stop paying out the bonus after a collective 1.25 million views, meaning that the entire cost of this campaign is a drop in the bucket next to Microsoft’s considerable war chest. It’s more likely that this is either a sort of stealth marketing test, or a small part of a larger effort.
This campaign would appear to be designed to reach hardcore gamers, the very people that are exponentially more likely to have read some of these leaks and become wary about anyone talking positively about the Xbox One on Youtube. So it’s already off to a bad start. Still, I imagine that we’re only going to see more of this sort of thing going forward. Advertisers are struggling with traditional means on the internet, and in some cases getting creative appears to mean getting a little bit shady.
We’ve contacted Microsoft and Machinima, and will update with a response.