Leaked documents suggest that a video game marketing company called Machinima has started a promotion in which video bloggers tout Xbox One-based gameplay footage and mention that it's from Microsoft's console. What's not clear is whether the promotion originated with Microsoft or with the marketing firm, though news reports universally suggest that Microsoft is behind this campaign, despite a complete lack of evidence.
"Machinima is happy to offer YOU a $3 CPM bonus when you participate in our continued promotion for the Xbox One!" one leaked email message reads. Aimed at "influencers," this message notes that, to qualify, the recipient must create a video that includes at least 30 seconds of gameplay or footage of any Xbox One game and verbally mention in the video that the gameplay is from the Xbox One.
More problematic, a leaked legal agreement states that the video cannot "say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One, or any of its games."
A quick scan of the appropriately tagged videos on YouTube—which is become increasingly hard to do, since there are so many outrage videos popping up deriding this campaign—suggests another problem. None of the video bloggers are mentioning that they're being paid to promote Xbox One. In fact, that legal agreement states they can't admit to being paid. So these influencers are influencing others inappropriately.
And possibly illegally.
An Ars Technica report raises the question of FTC violation, since an endorser must disclose when there is "a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement."
The big question, of course, is whether Microsoft implicitly or explicitly OK'd the terms of this campaign or whether the company simply hired Machinima to promote Xbox One online generally and were unaware of the details. The agreement that video bloggers accepted is with Machinima, not Microsoft, however. (Indeed, the word "Microsoft" doesn't appear anywhere in that agreement.) So while this activity might be repellant and potentially illegal, it's not clear yet whether Microsoft should shoulder any of the blame.