Warner Bros ‘cash for reviews’ YouTube scandal explained
Shadow Of Mordor

Many of us now rely on YouTube reviews to inform our game-buying decisions – which makes a certain development all the more troubling

It has recently been reported that Warner Bros actually paid known YouTube stars – including PewDiePie – to review their video game, Shadow of Mordor, positively.

And trust us, it’s exactly like it sounds.

The revelation throws a fair few questions into the air, and we’re going to try and answer them.

What’s gone on?

Shadow of Mordor kill

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros, was released in 2014. It was the first major Lord Of The Rings themed video game in quite a while, so the hype was real for gamers and Tolkien fans alike.

Well, we say the hype was real.

Because an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission has concluded that Warner Bros paid cash sums to certain popular ‘YouTube influencers’ (you know, those lovely guys that help us separate the gems from the twaddle) in return for favourable reviews.

Like we said, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Shadow of Mordor glitch

The company is claiming a mix up in terms. According to Warner, this whole thing is a misunderstanding. In their words, the reviews were simply meant as a marketing tool to sell the game, and were clearly marked as ‘sponsored content’.

That defence is all well and good, but when you read the extensive list of criteria Warner allegedly forced the reviews to adhere to, your sympathies might just be dulled.

Their explanation wasn’t enough to quell the case, and Warner Bros are now being forced to answer for forking out between £100 and £10,000 to YouTubers in return for positive coverage.

Who’s done what?


Notorious YouTuber and professional screamer PewDiePie is currently the only named vlogger involved in the incident – in as much as Warner Bros reportedly gave him a sum of money to review Shadow of Mordor favourably.

UPDATE: PewDiePie has now responded to these claims to defend his actions, arguing that he stated in the description of the video content in question that it was sponsored, even though rules at the time did not require him to do so. It’s also worth noting that he only produced gameplay videos – not actual reviews of the title (which is not his style).

Here’s his response in full:

Rumours have persisted for some time that the lines are being blurred between advertising and reviews in the world of V-logging, and it’s likely that the issue is much more widespread than just this individual case.

We don’t doubt that most of these YouTubers were under the impression that what they were doing was perfectly legitimate, although the exact nature of ‘sponsored content’ has been suspiciously vague until this point.

And if a company with the clout of Warner managed to tap up someone as high-profile as PewDiePie, then it implies large entertainment companies have the potential to strike deals with anybody.

Who knows, maybe this very blog is sponsored by Warner Bros, and this is yet another ruse to lure you into there consumer fly trap…

What’s going to happen next?

Arrested Development more lies

We’d love to tell you that this slap on the wrist will extinguish any dubious future fires entertainment publishers wish to fuel – but we can’t.

Life isn’t fair, and the gaming industry is definitely not fair. In other words, it really wouldn’t surprise us if more of these incidents started to crop up.

Will and Grace cynical island

It seems like this has been YouTube’s dirty secret for quite some time. But hopefully, it won’t stay secret for much longer.

The bottom line is that people can’t pretend to give an unbiased review while taking money from the big wigs. It’s just not fair on consumers.

Simply put, this kind of thing cannot carry on – lest YouTube’s reputation be permanently tarnished, and it returns to its previous, terrifying, cat video dominated state.


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