Spirittea publisher says it “feels weird and icky” to pay YouTubers, and the internet explodes

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Mike Rose, head of Spirittea publisher No More Robots, refused to pay YouTubers to promote the game. “I just don’t want to do that,” he said.

The head of publisher No More Robots, Mike Rose, has come in for criticism after saying that he didn’t want to pay YouTubers to promote the company’s latest game, Spirittea (which Ryan described as “Stardew Valley meets Spirited Away” in his preview last year).

Unlike many publishers, which tend to be secretive about things like revenue and marketing, Rose has always been refreshingly transparent when it comes to sharing detailed figures and insights for each release from No More Robots, which has also published games like Hypnospace Outlaw and Descenders. He wrote a typical post-release Twitter-thread round-up on Spirittea on 20th November, noting that the game had reached $1m in sales in its first week. But one part in particular got some people fuming.

“A hugely noticeable thing that happened during this launch, was that we got absolutely zero YouTube coverage *at all*,” wrote Rose in a tweet that at the time of writing had been viewed more than 2.4 million times. “Go search Spirittea on YouTube, and you’ll see there’s just a couple of big videos. Nearly every YouTuber who got back to us, wanted money to make a video.”

He followed this up by saying: “Now look, I get it – that’s just how this works now. YouTubers want you to pay them to cover your games. Alright, sure. But I just don’t want to do that. It feels weird and icky and disingenuous, and I just can’t do it. So I guess our games won’t get covered on YouTube anymore!”

The tweet generated hundreds of replies and quote tweets, with many people outraged at Rose’s statement. “Omg, they asked to be PAID for their WORK? Outrageous”, read one reply. “The disrespect you’ve shown to smaller content creators here,” read another. “God forbid content creators want to get paid for their time covering a title,” read yet another. One common theme among the replies was the expectation that publishers should pay YouTubers to make videos about their game.

Meanwhile, online and print gaming journalists looked on at the situation with bemusement, the Gamergate years still fresh in their mind, when they were accused of accepting bribes from publishers to publish positive reviews.

“As somebody who edited a major website through Gamergate, seeing the outrage from some YouTubers around this suggestion that a dev might not want to pay for their reviews is *wild*,” said Andy Robinson, editor of VGC.

“The responses to this are fascinating from the point of view of a games journo who was extremely online in 2014,” wrote Alice Bell, deputy editor of Rock Paper Shotgun.

“But remember, games journalists are the ethically dodgy ones and the big YouTubers are the ones you can trust because they’re just honest, normal people,” said VGC’s features editor, Chris Scullion.

Meanwhile, others pointed to the figures for YouTube advertising revenue, noting that it would be impossible for YouTubers to make a living without paid promotions. Twitch streamer TorNis shared some graphs demonstrating advertising income from YouTube for three videos, which showed income as low as $7.24 for 8,200 views.

The fierce debate sparked in the wake of Rose’s tweet has highlighted how many YouTubers rely on paid promotions, since advertising rates can be too low to pay for the many hours it takes to craft a professional video. Not only that, it shows that there’s an expecation to be paid from publishers – the opposite of what’s expected in traditional gaming journalism.

Rose, himself a former gaming journalist, has since apologised for his tweet, saying: “Hey everyone, I’ve really fucked up here, and I’m massively sorry. I’ve been reading your comments and replies, and it’s clear that I’ve completely missed the mark.”

“I absolutely value the work that YouTubers and content creators do, and my words didn’t reflect that at all. I’m going to be reading loads more on all this, and get better educated so I can be less of a dickhead in the future.”

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