Since the beginning of Youtube those who create gaming videos have been seen as honest in an industry which frequently feels less than so. Seen by many as an informal counterweight to more traditional video game journalism, many Youtubers have built their reputation on being virtuous by saying what needs to be said and not being corrupted by the horrible, greedy hand of video game publishers. Many younger, more impressionable, viewers follow these creators in awe, taking in every word as if some sort of gospel. After all how could these people who show their smiling faces to the world, be anything but honest?
Well, if the Counter Strike betting scandal has taught anyone anything it should be this: a face gives a liar more to work with.
For those who don’t know, two Youtubers filmed several videos of themselves gambling on a betting website, with the Youtubers betting with skins from Counter Strike: Global Operation. These skins can be traded in for real life money via Steam. In the videos the Youtubers are seen winning a lot of very high-valued skins after gambling away a few lower-value ones. The Youtubers smile and tell viewers how much fun it is and how the stakes are really low. It turned out the Youtubers in question (TmarTn and Syndicate) actually owned the gambling site they were using and promoting, despite the two saying otherwise.
After the Youtubers were found to be lying, they promptly went about doing some damage control. One the Youtubers involved, TmarTn, made a video accusing another Youtuber of lying about him being the owner of the gambling website. “I don’t know how you sleep at night knowing that you put other people down with misinformation,” TmarTn said. I don’t suspect that the irony is lost on him.
Despite how crazy all of this, nothing about these events shocked me as this is just one example of Youtubers turning out to be less than virtuous folk.
TotalBiscuit got into trouble in 2014 when it was found that he wasn’t properly disclosing when a video was sponsored. Whilst TotalBiscuit did disclose that a video was sponsored in the About section of video, with him saying “there doesn’t need to be disclosure during the video itself”, the FTC disagreed saying: “[The disclosure] should basically be unavoidable by the viewer.” TotalBiscuit promptly changed his approach to listing sponsored content, with him putting the words “Sponsored” in video titles and telling viewers that the content was sponsored at the beginning of the video. He was praised for his honesty, which was something I never understood. The way I viewed it then, and the way I still see it now, is that he only changed it because he got caught.
TotalBiscuit was attempting to do less than the bare minimum by hiding his disclosures in the often hidden “About” section on Youtube. Christian Nutt, a journalist from Gamaustra.com, put it wonderfully:
“There’s nothing at the beginning or the end disclosing that it’s sponsored. The only mention is in the “about” text, which YouTube hides by default and which won’t be shown if the video is embedded elsewhere.
“What’s much is meaningful, I think, is this question: Is this content distinguishable by an average viewer from un-sponsored content?”
To put it simply, no… it was very hard to tell, and was definitely legally ambiguous.
Still, maybe I’m being too overly critical considering how well TotalBiscuit currently discloses his sponsored content, especially when it’s taken into account that a lot of Youtubers still don’t disclose their paid videos properly.
Unfortunately morally ambitious Youtubers aren’t just limited to video games, but also extend to vloggers too. In 2014 Youtube vlogger Zoella released a book (entitled Girl Online), which become a bestseller. Unfortunately it later turned out that the book had been ghostwritten by another author. Pengiun, the book’s publisher, said “To be factually accurate, you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own”. For someone whose entire “brand” is about honesty, the move was a very sleazy thing to do, as thousands of teenagers were tricked into buying a book which she had nothing to do with.
Ultimately, I suspect that there will be many more issues with Youtube and it’s mostly young creators in the future.
To return to the topic of video games, the thing which perhaps annoys me the most is that many people still fail to question Youtube content creators, blindingly following their word without a thought about how it’s being influenced.
With more and more gamers not trusting traditional games journalism, something which I completely understand, it seems so very odd to me that people would put their faith in Youtubers instead. Rather than take that skepticism consumers apply to traditional media and apply it to Youtubers, viewers just forgo it completely. Once more, some gamers go to even greater lengths to completely disregard something BECAUSE it isn’t said by a Youtuber. People’s faith in video content creators is so strong that they ignore anything which says otherwise.
The Youtuber fallacy of default honesty and innocence needs to come to an end. Youtubers have never been detached from the world of greed, lies and money, they just hide it a lot better than most. Whenever you read, hear or watch something it should always be questioned. Just because there’s a face with a big smile or a voice with an informal tone, doesn’t mean that what you’re hearing is genuine or true.
The sooner gamers can detach themselves from this ideal, the better. Maybe then scandals such as the one involving Counter Strike: Global Operation will stop.