An employee at G2A, an online marketplace for digital game keys, reportedly offered to pay gaming journalists and websites for favorable coverage, provided the journalists didn’t disclose that it was paid content. In the US, the FTC requires journalists to clearly disclose if they’re in any way compensated for publishing content.
Game key marketplaces like G2A can be controversial within the gaming and game development communities. They allow gamers to buy, sell, and trade keys to unlock and download digital copies of games. Sites like G2A say they provide a vital service, allowing players to buy and sell used digital games just like they would at a brick-and-mortar store like GameStop. Developers, especially indie developers, claim that the keys on these sites are often stolen or inauthentic, and even when the keys are legitimate, they result in lost revenue for the dev team. Mike Rose, founder of indie publisher No More Robots, has started a petition asking G2A to delist indie titles, and even encourages gamers to torrent his games rather than buying from G2A.
A representative of G2A is attempting to buy better press coverage, according to screenshots shared on Twitter by Thomas Faust of indiegamesplus.com. In an email to Faust, the G2A employee offers to pay him to publish an “unbiased” article on the difficulties of selling stolen keys through their marketplace. In a subsequent tweet, G2A confirms that the emails are legitimate, although they’re supposedly the product of a rogue employee. Check out the complete Twitter exchange below.
These e-mails were sent by our employee without authorization, for which we apologize to @SomeIndieGames and the 9 (!) other media outlets he sent this proposal to. He will face strict consequences, as this is absolutely unacceptable.
— G2A.COM (@G2A_com) July 8, 2019
The actions taken by this “rogue employee” aren’t just unacceptable to G2A – in many countries, including the US, they’re illegal. In the US, the FTC requires that any “material connections” between an advertiser (G2A) and an endorser (the journalists) be disclosed. These connections can include business or family relationships, monetary compensation, or even a gift of a free product to review. Notably, there are no special considerations given based on the size or nature of the endorser. Streamers, bloggers, and Instagram influencers are held to the same standard as major publications.
It’s somewhat understandable that G2A would want to get some positive press. The two big leaders in the PC game distribution world are both battling their own PR issues. Developers are saying that Steam’s practices are exploitative, while gamers are balking at Epic Store exclusives. However, the fact that G2A, or its staff, resorted to illegal marketing practices in order to defend the legality of their products is laughable. As the backlash to EA’s “surprise mechanics” argument shows, the gaming community can usually see through this kind of spin. Of course, when EA team members step up to defend the company, they’re up-front about it.
Next: Video Game Monetization Has Become Predatory
Sources: Thomas Faust/Twitter, G2A/Twitter
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