Have you paid a YouTuber?Let's talk YouTubers first. There are currently two main methods for developers to pay YouTubers for coverage -- paying a one-off flat-fee, or paying a revenue share, based on how many sales the YouTuber coverage brings. Of all the developers I surveyed, only 1.5 percent said they have paid a YouTuber a flat-fee for coverage -- that's just five developers out of 325. As for paying revenue share, the figure was roughly the same. 2.1 percent of respondents said they have paid a YouTuber revenue share.
Has a YouTuber asked you for payment?Another angle: How many YouTubers are contacting developers and asking for payment? 14.7 percent of the developers surveyed told me that they had been asked for a flat-fee by a YouTuber, while 13.6 percent have been asked for a revenue share. Thus, of the developers surveyed, more of them are considering paying for YouTuber coverage, than have received a request from a YouTuber. So it's not just YouTubers who are interested in pay for play -- game developers who are looking to stand out in a crowded game market are weighing the paid YouTuber option. I asked developers to provide their further opinions of YouTubers asking for payment to promote games -- and as it turns out, while around 85 percent of those surveyed wouldn't pay, a good portion don't really have a problem with it.
Have you paid press for coverage?The next question: Is payment for traditional press coverage any different? I asked developers whether they have paid for written press coverage, and 4.7 percent told me that they have indeed paid for coverage. This is slightly higher than the number who have paid for YouTuber coverage, but barely. How many are planning to pay for coverage from the written press? 13.9 percent said they are considering it for the future -- again, roughly the same as those considering paying for YouTuber coverage.
Vlambeer, Devolver weigh inSome devs and publishers have been particularly vocal about not paying for coverage. One such dev is Luftrausers studio Vlambeer, and Rami Ismail tells me that, "We believe our games should speak for themselves, and we fully trust that they do." "We've been very stubborn about not paying for anything that can infer a conflict of interests during our entire existence," he adds. "If someone doesn't want to play our game on their stream or channel after hearing of it, we simply need to be making a better game." In his mind, he'd rather spend money on making his games better than paying YouTubers -- that way, players have a better experience, and YouTubers may be more inclined to cover Vlambeer's games. "If Nuclear Throne is not worth covering without pay, we're not using our resources properly," notes Ismail. "We have full faith in video content creators to play what they find interesting without pay, and we've never been under the impression that someone held coverage of our game at 'ransom' in exchange for money."
Having said that, Ismail doesn't see paying YouTubers as that big of a deal ethically, especially when compared to the traditional press. "I think at this point it's OK because YouTubers haven't developed a reputation of being editorial," he reasons. "They're seen as advertising. In the next few years, as YouTube grows as a review platform and as more people start to base their ($60) purchases on the opinions of the YouTubers, there will be an increasing amount of backlash to paid reviews." "They're simply 'not there yet' - the ethics and morals of their field is being defined as we speak. It places tremendous responsibility on the creators today to evolve video coverage along the axis they see fit." The idea of paying YouTubers for coverage is also a hot topic at indie publisher Devolver. The Devolver team is excited about how disruptive the YouTube space has been for games recently, to the point that Devolver's movie division is actually putting together a documentary on the movement as we speak. "At Devolver we have not paid for any YouTuber or any press to cover a game," Devolver's Mike Wilson tells me. "We have been very lucky thus far in that I think those guys see Devolver and the developers we work with as indie bretheren, too. But we're quite aware of what some of them are getting paid to play big games, and the good news is even if we wanted to pay we could never afford it!"
"If Nuclear Throne is not worth covering without pay, we're not using our resources properly."
For Wilson, publishers and developers who are paying for YouTuber coverage should be very careful about transparency and objectivity. "If a big personality is getting paid to gush about a game they don't really care about, obviously that's an ethical mess and will, in the end, cost that personality a good chunk of their audience," he muses. "But if I saw one of these guys say... 'so Bethesda paid me a good chunk of money to play the new Wolfenstein and say what I think, and this is honestly what I think, the good and the bad..." I would imagine it could actually create a great deal of loyalty and trust with the audience." Sadly, says Wilson, this clearly isn't happening, since big publishers can't deal with the idea of YouTubers spilling their truthful opinions across the internet, and contracts that forbid such opinions are clearly a common occurrence. "The other way to look at it is this... most artists of any kind on their way up, and again on their way down, have to do work they wish they didn't have to do to support the work they want to do," says the Devolver founder. "Aspiring filmmakers and actors make commercials or wait tables, indie game developers have day jobs, sometimes in a cubicle at big game studios that make them want to cry every day, bands play corporate gigs and covers, photographers shoot weddings, painters paint billboards.. You name it. It's just reality unless you're independently wealthy, and it allows those same artists to live and create art that they want to create."
"If a big personality is getting paid to gush about a game they don't really care about, obviously that's an ethical mess and will, in the end, cost that personality a good chunk of their audience."
What's next?Gamasutra's coverage of YouTuber ethics has not gone unnoticed by lots of the big names on the video platform. Earlier this month TotalBiscuit said he would make video sponsorships more explicit, while NerdCubed released a video in which he cites our article, and discusses his thoughts on the matter. He admits that he once took money for a video three years ago -- a video of a Need for Speed game -- and it made him feel so uncomfortable that he didn't want to do it again. "The amount of money and offers is increasing," he says. "Not too long ago I got one for $8,000 for 350,000 views on a game video. That's just one video for me, one day's work! But then would I want to be positive about it, negative... so I ignore all this stuff."
One of the big talking points has been the YogDiscovery revenue sharing platform from Yogscast -- a platform that plenty of developers told me they have been contacted about. Many devs and YouTubers have lashed out at the scheme, and generally aren't happy about it.