Today the folks at the Federal Trade Commission took to Twitter to answer questions about how "influencers" (people with followings on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, etc.) should disclose when they've been compensated by companies for their work.
This is deeply relevant to the game industry, given that Twitch and YouTube have become key pieces of how many devs make and sell their games.
In fact, the FTC's live Twitter Q&A was inspired in large part by its recent settling of a case against YouTubers Trevor "TmarTn" Martin and Thomas "Syndicate" Cassel, promoted the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive gambling site CSGOLotto to their millions of followers (and aallegedly paid other influencers to do so as well) without disclosing that they were co-owners of the site.
That settlement was a first for the FTC, which ordered Cassel and Martin to clearly disclose all partnerships and sponsorships going forward. Alongside that settlement the FTC sent warnings to 21 other influencers, updated its endorsement guidelines, and expounded upon them via Twitter today.
Some are directly relevant to game companies who make promotional deals with influencers. If you mandate disclosure and someone doesn't follow through, for example, it appears the FTC won't hold it against you as long as you do your due diligence.
Q24: If an influencer doesn't heed a brand's written advice regarding disclosure, how is FTC likely to react to the brand? #Influencers101— FTC (@FTC) September 20, 2017
Later, the agency stated that it does not necessarily consider disclosure tools built into some social media platforms sufficient, and cautioned people against relying on them alone.
FTC staff doesn’t think that the built-in YouTube and FB tools suffice. #influencers101— FTC (@FTC) September 20, 2017
However, one of the most striking assertions was that if an influencer receives something from a company for free, with no stipulation to speak well of it (or, indeed, to speak anything at all) the FTC still believes that needs to be clearly disclosed.
Strictly interpreted, this implies the FTC expects influencers who receive copies of games to clearly disclose who sent them the game and why, perhaps even with a tag (#ad, for example) marking their work as paid content.
This is a somewhat stricter take than what the FTC's Mary Engle told Gamasutra back in 2014, when she explained that [emphasis ours] "generally speaking, if an advertiser or a marketer is paying someone to write favorable reviews, the reviewer needs to disclose that...it should be easily seen or viewed (or heard in the case of audio) by the consumer or by the viewer. It should be made within the endorsement message, and within the review."
Gamasutra has reached out to the FTC for further details on its disclosure and enforcement policies, and how they may affect game makers and broadcasters going forward. For further insight, check out the FTC's endorsement guidelines.