If you’re in the business of promoting video games, YouTubers and streamers are the hot topic of the day. The power of the most-followed personalities in the space is no joke: they have enormous influence on the buying habits of gamers, especially those on the younger end of the spectrum. But the games media – perhaps feeling a bit threatened – has struggled to define what these “content producers” really are, and whether this new breed is obligated to adhere to the same ethics as journalists. Much digital ink has been spilled (especially by Gamasutra, in a series of thoughtful articles) about the practice of paying YouTubers, and how/if those deals should be disclosed.
A simple comparison to music and traditional radio can help make sense of this seemingly uncharted territory. There was a time when real, flesh and blood human radio DJs ruled the land just by playing records they liked (unlike the corporate-dictated playlists you hear today). These DJs, like Rodney “Rodney on the Roq” Binghenheimer, were hugely influential – bands like Blondie and Guns & Roses were championed by the man before anyone else, paving the way for mega-stardom. If a band (or publicist) was able to get a record in Rodney’s hands and he approved, it could launch a career. He had little in common with high profile “serious rock crit” writers at magazines like Rolling Stone – he wasn’t critical of anything, he just played what he liked. That spawned some criticism from the likes of Mick Jagger, who described him a “famous groupie, now respectable”.
Is any of this different than the video game scene today? YouTubers and streamers largely play what they like, although anyone promoting a game will do whatever he or she can to get the most influential personalities to spend time with it. Payola was once rampant in radio – perhaps paying YouTubers isn’t much different. Should it be disclosed? Yes. Will it be? Not sure. The point is: music critics and DJs played very different roles, with very different motivations – the same way that games journalists and video personalities do today.