The Uncertain – Episode 1: The Last Quiet released on September 16, 2016. Having not played the game, I can’t say if it’s any good or not. Based on gameplay videos, it looks like a competent (if unremarkable) point and click adventure game heavy on story and puzzles. It’s a game that got little fanfare, and would otherwise have faded into obscurity as many indie games sadly do. But in the last few weeks, the game has seen a sudden resurgence in popularity on YouTube, where as many as eight YouTubers have done videos covering the game. What gives?
Well, an email we received from Post Affiliate Pro Expert – or possibly SkyCob – a few months ago sheds light on the situation. They are offering YouTubers revenue from sales in exchange for video reviews of the game. That’s right, payment for reviews.
Conspiracy Theories Made Real
It’s a common conspiracy theory among some on the internet that game journalists get paid by publishers or developers to give high scores to their games. That theory is absurd, as the story of journalists and websites taking or being offered money for reviews would be a much bigger (and more lucrative) story than some random review. But sometimes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Instead of games journalism though, it’s happening on YouTube. For years now, reports have come out about YouTubers taking sponsorships and affiliate deals and not properly disclosing them. It was reported in 2016 that many influential YouTubers, including Pewdiepie, took money from Warner Bros. in exchange for positive reviews of Shadows of War, and didn’t disclose the deal.
Earlier this year, Engadget posted the results of a Princeton University study that showed a majority of YouTubers don’t properly (or even at all) disclose sponsorship deals. Of over 500,000 YouTube videos analyzed, they found that 3,472 had affiliate links, but only 10% contained any written disclosures in the description box or comment section.
What’s going on with The Uncertain, Post Affiliate Pro Expert/SkyCob, and developer CommonGames will likely fly under the radar compared to Warner Bros. But what’s happening with their marketing push ahead of the release of The Uncertain – Episode 2 isn’t very different.
Of This We Are Not Uncertain
In late October 2018, Cliqist Editor-in-Chief Greg Micek got an email from a representative at Post Affiliate Pro Expert. They said they saw one of our YouTube videos, and asked us to do a video review of The Uncertain – Episode 1. In exchange, they offered us 30% of revenue of all sales generated via a link they would provide us for the game. At least, that’s we think they offered. The email is so poorly written and brief it’s hard to be sure.
I go into more detail in the video above, but after contacting both the Co-Founder of CommonGames and the representative again, nothing about this offer felt right. Not the least of which because we were offered payment to provide a review. Granted, we were unable to determine if the review in question had to be positive, but that doesn’t matter.
What we do know is that this company, who calls themselves SkyCob on their website, is offering payment for reviews to YouTubers, and that some YouTubers are offering links to the game using this company’s links. As many as eight different YouTube channels have published videos for The Uncertain – Episode 1 within the last month or so. Every single one of them has the same link in their description box, pointing you to where you can buy the game, using a link directed through SkyCob. Most of these YouTubers don’t disclose the deal, but one who did confirmed they received an email from the same person at Post Affiliate Pro Expert/SkyCob that we did.
What Does this Mean?
This SkyCob company doesn’t seem very professional, based on their casual and brazen violations of journalistic ethics and their terrible grammar from both that email and their website. Even in our reply email to them, they ignored our follow-up questions to instead ask if we had a Steam account and when we’d publish the video.
Still, they’re clearly wooing some YouTubers, especially smaller ones. Many of the channels that have posted reviews of The Uncertain and are using that SkyCob link all have few subscribers and few views. They seem to be targeting the smaller or younger channels, either because they think they can more easily influence them, or because they think they’re less likely to be heard if they blow the whistle.
We obviously have to be very careful with what we say, but at the very least, Greg and I can both say this is the first time we’ve ever seen anything like this. Never once have I or any site I’ve worked for ever been offered compensation by a developer, publisher, or marketing firm to write a review. We’ve been given review copies, as have many sites, but never before have I ever been offered financial incentive to provide any kind of editorial content. It’s unheard of to us, and beyond the pale.