Dead Realm YouTubers' lack of disclosure may violate FTC regulations

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The multiplayer horror game Dead Realm is very popular right now, in large part because, as the developers explained on Steam, "we developed this game to not only be fun to play, but also fun to watch." To that end, it was "created in partnership with leading global YouTube influencers Adam Montoya (SeaNanners), Tom Cassell (TheSyndicateProject) and Evan Fong (VanossGaming)," according to its Early Access release announcement. But as Gamasutra points out, that partnership opens up some potential problems with how it's being promoted.

All three of the YouTubers in question have posted enthusiastic "Let's Play" style videos promoting Dead Realm, but none of them disclose their financial ties to the game, or the fact that Cassell and Montoya are actually co-founders of publisher 3Blackdot. Fong hints at the connection, thanking supporters in the description of one video and saying in another, "We will be releasing new content such as new ghosts and new maps," but nowhere is it spelled out clearly. That's problematic because, as the FTC's .com Disclosure Guide states, such disclosures must be made, and they must be "clear and conspicuous."

"To make a disclosure 'clear and conspicuous,' advertisers should use clear and unambiguous language and make the disclosure stand out," an FAQ explains further. "Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily. They should not have to look for it." For video ads in particular, that means "on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood." But that's clearly not the case in the Dead Realms videos. Gamasutra also ran across other instances of affiliated videos in which the required disclosures regarding "brand integration" were not made, despite 3Blackdot claiming they were.

The failure to disclose these financial connections is a serious ethical breach that could lead to an FTC investigation and potentially heavy financial penalties. And for good reason: Actively marketing their own game under the guise of a conventional Let's Play not calls into question everything they've done previously, it also damages the credibility of the YouTuber community as a whole by not just blurring the line between advertisement and editorial, but wiping it out completely.

We've emailed the developers of Dead Realm for more information, and will update if and when we receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.