The Federal Trade Commission passed down a ruling today that could have some impact on the way video game reviews sites and bloggers do business.
The FTC, in a 4-0 ruling, said that "material connections" between advertisers and endorsers (such as payments or free products) "must be disclosed."
The hook seems to be the phrasing that "connections that consumers would not expect." Hardcore video game readers tend to be a jaded lot, and think that many sites are on the take for good reviews any way, whether they are or not. Most understand that sites get free games to review. But the general consumer may not know this.
The ruling also broadened the existing guidelines to cover bloggers:
[The new rules] address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
The FTC did not rule that bloggers or companies must disclose any conflicts of interest.
There has always been a blurred line when sites accept advertising from game publishers and then review their products. Those same sites get free games and swag as part of review packages from publishers. Some sites do disclose this information, but most don't.
GamePolitics has contacted the FTC to see if these new rules extend to the video game arena. We'll update with a response when we get it.