The Federal Trade Commission has posted a FAQ which offers guidelines for product placement in social media, online videos, television and streaming -- and the questions and answers that deal with video game personalities who use services like YouTube and Twitch suggest being extremely explicit about disclosing when paid consideration dictates that a game is played.
Here are a few of the relevant questions (and answers):
I’m doing a review of a videogame that hasn’t been released yet. The manufacturer is paying me to try the game and review it. I was planning on disclosing that the manufacturer gave me a “sneak peak” of the game. Isn’t that enough to put people on notice of my relationship to the manufacturer?
No, it’s not. Getting early access doesn’t mean that you got paid. Getting a “sneak peak” of the game doesn’t even mean that you get to keep the game. If you get early access, you can say that, but if you are paid, you should say so.
I’m getting paid to do a videogame playthrough and give commentary while I’m playing. The playthrough – which will last several hours – will be live streamed. Would a disclosure at the beginning of the stream be ok?
Since viewers can tune in any time, they could easily miss a disclosure at the beginning of the stream or at any other single point in the stream. People should see a disclosure no matter when they tune in. There could be multiple, periodic disclosures throughout the stream. To be cautious, you could have a continuous, clear and conspicuous disclosure throughout the entire stream.
I guess I need to make a disclosure that I’ve gotten paid for a video review that I’m uploading to YouTube. When in the review should I make the disclosure? Is it ok if it’s at the end?
It’s more likely that a disclosure at the end of the video will be missed, especially if someone doesn’t watch the whole thing. Having it at the beginning of the review would be better. Having multiple disclosures during the video would be even better. Of course, no one should promote a link to your review that bypasses the beginning of the video and skips over the disclosure. If YouTube has been enabled to run ads during your video, a disclosure that is obscured by ads is not clear and conspicuous.
Gamasutra spoke to the FTC last year amidst concerns that the burgeoning YouTuber scene was leading to undisclosed paid deals -- that viewers could not identify. The commission was then quite clear on its position, saying that "... disclosure should be clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it."
The truth of the matter is that it was, at the time, often very difficult to understand when a video was paid-for -- even in some very popular (and profitable) channels.