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EA accused of secretly paying YouTubers for coverage

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Following accusations that Microsoft paid YouTube commenters to give the Xbox One favorable coverage, a similar accusation has been hurled at Electronic Arts, according to a post on NeoGAF outlining the plan (via IGN). In itself, a company paying someone to talk about their products isn’t an issue, but both Microsoft and EA have been accused of having the people paid sign non-disclosure agreements barring them from revealing their arrangements with the companies in question, which may be a violation of FTC guidelines.

According to the EA “assignment” posted on NeoGAF, from December 10, 2013 through January18, 2014, the publisher was willing to put up money for certain types of coverage of its next-gen and PC games, including: Need for Speed: Rivals, Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, NHL 14, Plants Vs. Zombies 2, and Madden 25. EA offered $10 per CPM (Cost Per Mille), or $10 for every 1,000 views of the YouTuber’s total views. Different games have different “view caps,” but they are extremely high in most cases – Need For Speed Rivals had a view limit of 6 million, while Battlefield 4, for instance, has a view cap of 20 million. At $10 per thousand views, that could add up to some serious money. By comparison, Microsoft was only offering $3 CPM, with a view limit of 1.25 million.

In order to qualify for the payout, EA issued some very specific guidelines. These changed per game, but most shared a few common requirements, including not focusing on major glitches. EA does allow for those streaming to mention things it would like to see improved in games like BF4, however, as long as the person commenting stays “on assignment.”

On the face of it, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. EA is asking YouTubers that stream video to focus on certain aspects of their games, such as “Get to a heat level of 8 with 100,000 Speedpoints, put these on the line as cops swarm you” in Need for Speed Rivals, and focusing on BF4’s “levolution” (where you trigger an event that alters a multiplayer map, like bringing down a skyscraper). EA is asking those gamers to produce videos that make their games look exciting while highlighting certain aspects of it.

Where it becomes questionable is the non-disclosure agreement the publisher is reportedly asking gamers to sign, which prohibits them from telling anyone that EA is paying them.

It’s important to note that this is still unconfirmed. If it is true though, that may put EA in the crosshairs of the Federal Trade Commission, along with Microsoft. In Microsoft’s case, the accusation is a bit more damning since it was allegedly asking people to talk up the Xbox One without saying anything negative about it. That is tantamount to a paid endorsement not properly identifying itself as such, which is a violation of FTC guidelines. With EA, if true, the commenters were allowed to criticize the game, which legally may not be seen as an endorsement. 

Assuming this accusation is true, it will likely have to be settled by lawyers as they defend the non-disclosure agreement while arguing that it paying for videos is not the same as asking people to endorse them. 

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