Shadow of Mordor’s dubious review code deal revealed by TotalBiscuit

By Erwin Murillo – 29th September 2014
Shadow of Mordor’s dubious review code deal revealed by TotalBiscuit

Amidst recent games industry controversy (i.e. #GamerGate, NotYourShield, and the like), one would think that many game publishers and developers would attempt to put a definite end to underhanded business practices, or, at the very least, try to keep them out of the limelight.

Unfortunately, that is not yet the case, and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment/Monolith Productions’ upcoming Lord of the Rings-inspired game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is not exempt from the proverbial hands of corporate business, as revealed by prominent gaming YouTube personality, TotalBiscuit, on Twitter.

Read more details after the break.

Shadow of Mordor Review Code Deal

Shadow of Mordor review code deal

According to TotalBiscuit, review code copies of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor were only being given to reviewers if they accepted a paid branding deal. He was offered the very same deal, and subsequently turned it down.

TotalBiscuit posted the following on his Twitter in regards to the situation:

“As an FYI, Shadow of Mordor on PC was given out early to a bunch of YouTube channels for brand deals. Expect lots of content on launch.”

See the rest of TotalBiscuit’s Shadow of Mordor tweets below:

Fortunately, TotalBiscuit was able to procure a copy of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor through other means, he said:

“Anyway, thankfully we have other people willing to help so we got it [Shadow of Mordor] with no strings attached. Please, no more of this nonsense, PR firms.”

Essentially, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review code was, supposedly, only being released to YouTube reviewers in return for paid branding on their respective YouTube channel.

While not inherently malicious in practice, reviewers accepting Shadow of Mordor‘s brand deal aren’t really receiving any benefits from the agreement.

However, associating review copies of games with any form of advertising makes it hard for individuals reading or watching reviews of a particular game to believe that the actual review is unbiased. This practice invites the assumption that the reviewer was paid to give the game (whatever it may be, Shadow of Mordor in this case) a positive review.

As TotalBiscuit said, the entire fiasco may simply be a communication breakdown. Yet, even the possibility of such a deal is disheartening to gamers, to say the least.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is set to release on September 30th, 2014 for XBO, PS4, and PC.

Shadow of Mordor review code deal

The last-generation versions of the game were originally set to release alongside the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions of Shadow of Mordor, however, the game is now slated to release for the PS3 and Xbox 360 on November 18th in the United States, and November 21st in Europe.

What are your thoughts on this situation? What do you think of Shadow of Mordor‘s paid brand deal? What about TotalBiscuit’s response?

Let us know in the comments section below! As always, stay tuned to for the latest in video game and technology news.

Source: TotalBiscuit’s Twitter

Erwin Murillo

Erwin Murillo is a graduate of Union University. He has a Bachelor's of Science degree (Summa Cum Laude) in Exercise Science and Wellness/Sports Medicine, and is currently enrolled at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center's Occupational Therapy Program. As buff as he is nerdy, you can find him either throwing around iron in the gym, or working on his latest video game article...sometimes both. Follow him on Twitter @DesertFoxJr or email him at [email protected].

  • Spencer

    Most people don’t use YouTube personalities for trustworthy reviews I don’t think, so I while this is disingenuous, it’s not too much of a problem. If IGN and Kotaku were doing this however.. I can see that being a big story.

  • Spencer

    Most people don’t use YouTube personalities for trustworthy reviews I don’t think, so I while this is disingenuous, it’s not too much of a problem. If IGN and Kotaku were doing this however.. I can see that being a big story.

    • That’s a fair point.

    • Ben Kuyt

      With all the GamerGate and stuff happening lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was found out that IGN and Kotaku (especially Kotaku) pulled this sort of deal.

    • Realkman666

      Because banner ads on websites don’t count at all?

      • Spencer

        No because that’s between the parent company of the website and the parent company of the game developer, the individual reviewer has no impact on that whatsoever.

        • Realkman666

          Ideally, that’s the case, but GerstmannGate was an example of what happens when ads are so important.

    • John’s Property

      I strictly use youtube personalities to help me decide on a game. Mainly LP’s as opposed to reviews, but nonetheless

    • Steve Payne

      Youtubers are quickly becoming the primary source for reviews and really, game advertisement in general… Want your game to sell, get a famous Youtuber to feature it on their channel.. As for the reviews themselves, it’s a far more accurate way to decide whether or not a product is worth buying, as you learn the general likes and dislikes of the personality in question. Generally, it grants you the opportunity as well to watch gameplay while they discuss positive and negative elements of the game. All reviews are mostly subjective and having an understanding of the personality and taste of the person doing the reviews is important. I don’t trust sites like IGN -at all- when it comes to reviews. Intelligent consumers are learning they’re best not to..

    • Actually more people use youtube personalities for trustworthy reviews. Best example is TotalBiscuit. He is the #1 curator on steam, he has more followers than next 5 curators together.

      Gaming news sites are losing their audience and lately (with all this women and sexual oppression w/e) i am surprised how do they still exist. I highly doubt anyone trusts IGN reviews anymore.

      If you want an honest review, Youtubers like TotalBiscuit and AngryJoe are the place to go.

      • Spencer

        More people use Internet personalities? No, I’m sorry, that’s not even close to true. IGN gets way, way more individual views on their reviews than Total Biscuit does.

        • And how many people believe or trust that review? It’s easy to get higher number of views when you have a channel with 5+ million subscribers, while totalbiscuit has only 1.7 million.

          Just look at their destiny review. 7.8 yet everyone is saying how the game was a huge letdown. The only website that i somewhat trust is polygon, which gave destiny a 6/10, much like 90% of youtube personalities. And yes, 7.8 is a lot compared to 6. 6 tells you that the game is “ok”, it could be better but its not shit. 7.8 tells you that the game is great and has couple of flaws, and destiny definitely isn’t a great game.

          • Spencer

            So that’s good, you found a reviewer that you trust and is close to your tastes. Stick with it. None of that means that A) most people use YouTube personalities for reviews nor B) that the YouTube reviews are any more valid than those from IGN, Polygon, etc.

            I personally trust Gameinformer and IGN for my reviews, and anyone else is free to trust anyone else. But saying “most people use YouTube personalities now” is wrong. IGN has 50 million+ readers.

    • Mr0303

      Well for Watch Dogs they had a demo session for the press, where everybody who attended got a free tablet. There may not be money under the table, but there are definitely financial links between the publishers and the media. Reviews can not be trusted.

      • Spencer

        Why? Where was all the money Activision was supposed to throw at destiny just like they supposedly do for Call of Duty? Why didn’t it get glowing reviews?

        The logic behind this “can’t trust gaming journalist” thing is severely lacking.

        • Mr0303

          So you have no amount of skepticism towards a press that has exclusive access to games and goods way before release? I envy your optimism.

          Lacking how? The sites have financial ties to the industry via ads, opinion pieces and press time, so it is not just about reviews.

          • Spencer

            The SITE has financial ties to the developer, NOT the journalist. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to make that distinction.

            Why would I have skepticism toward the press who gets the game early? Of course they do, how else would they get a review out on the day of release?

          • Mr0303

            Journalists that are employed by the SITE.

            Please have a look at the Gamespot review for Kane and Lynch. The reviewer was fired for giving the game a low score.

            Plus a review is noting more than an opinion piece and I approach these with a dose of doubt and my own critical filter.

            There is also the issue that in some cases the reviewers know the people that created the game. The danger of conflicts of interest is present.

          • Spencer

            People who work in the industry know people in the industry, that’s literally unavoidable. It doesn’t make their opinion any less valid. If one review gives it glowing scores and the rest tear it to pieces, you’re more likely going to believe the majority. They are nothing but opinions so use your own discretion, if you don’t do that and trust one single review with all your heart then you’re an idiot.

            The guy who was fired after the Kane and Lynch review could have been fired for anything. Saying it’s because of the review is pure conjecture.

          • Mr0303

            Yes he was. Jeff Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot and then he moved on to create Giant Bomb. Years later in 2007 he in an interview said he was removed from his editorial position due to publisher feedback. If you don’t believe me check the facts above.

            Their opinion is as valid as ever. Just like my opinion that my mom is the best cook in the world. Knowing this possibility of nepotism we do have every right to be suspicious. Trust reviews if you will, but don’t tell us there is no reason to doubt them. A critical mind puts everything to the test of reason. For me gameplay previews and interviews with the developer are much more useful when making a buying decision.

          • Cocosoy

            Well said, and the Jeff Gerstmann story is really interesting. I will check it out later.

    • Weisse

      More fool you if you think a big number of gamers don’t pay attention to YouTube personalities. The fact that some have more consistent and biggusers than major sites and publications, as well as being asked to promote certain titles shows how much gravitas they have. I get better critics and reviews from TB, Angry Joe and Jim Sterling than they Kotaku or IGN.

      • Spencer

        Using yourself and anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove me wrong. I said most people don’t use YouTube as their review source, and most don’t. Some do, and that’s fine, but I don’t even think YouTube reviewers are recognized on metacritic.

        • Djorge

          You haven’t proved yourself right either to be fair. What proof do you have that most people don’t use YouTube as their review source?

          • Spencer

            IGN has 50 million+ readers, most of which come for the reviews and blow up their ratings on them.

            Total Biscuit would be lucky to get a fraction of that per video, and at that the view counts are inflated on YouTube because it doesn’t track unique viewers, it covers repeats too.

          • Cocosoy

            Correct, I agree that IGN’s review has stronger influences than the various YouTube channels. However, that doesn’t mean YouTube reviews are not influential. In fact, there are plenty of players who follow various YouTube reviews. Main media and YouTube are not exclusive of each other.

            And if we are talking about majority(everyone who buys a game). Most people don’t even read reviews before buying games. I know it sounds shocking, but a lot of people just picks a game based on how the game case looks.

        • Weisse

          Right because you clearly know all the Youtube personalities I likes and visit. I have never used myself to prove something, I don’t have such a big ego to do so, I compare and talk about things I know about have an interest in.

          Ok, lets compare the timespan how long popular youtube personalities have been around vs sites like IGN and how fast in popularity they have risen. If you fail to see that they are becoming bigger and bigger because they are attracting gamers.

          IGN has 50+ million readers, yeah, but please tell of how many of those 50+ million are active? Let me test your magic number theory here, so shadow of mordor came out recently, so on the IGN review page out of your 50 million readers I would expect a bigger number of people to at least comment about the game, yet only 14700 people are talking about the game on the site as of writing, I would expect the number to be higher with a 50 million reader count. A critic video, not even a review from TB has pulled in over 677 000 views. Those are not small numbers. Also a lot of youtube personalities are part of networks, such as Polaris/Maker studio, which happens to be owned by Disney. You know a multi billion dollar company!

  • mrhertz

    wanna play the virgin… go for it. everybody does that. it´s not the best practice OF COURSE, and kudos to totalbiscuit for not taking that bribe. but in terms of advertisement, this doesn´t weight. worse things are done… this is nothing.

  • sciencemile

    You know at a certain point the money spent on Marketing is gonna get diminishing returns…especially since the best marketing you can have for a game is for it to be genuinely good, and every dollar spent on PR to make things look good is a dollar not spent making them actually good.

    • HueyLouis

      Tell that to EA.

  • zillk242

    The thing that gets me is that TB seems to be the only youtuber who told his audience about this upfront even though we know the Shadow of Mordor guys reached out to a lot of people. It is just a big red flag saying the majority of youtube personalities are at least lending silent approval to these backroom deals.

    • ArmaGetItOn

      Honestly, I used to hate TB and I still kind of do because I disagree with him on a lot of things. That said, I have respect for the guy.

      I think it’s awesome that TB is using his position as the most popular YT personality on gaming to tackle this issue. He’s doing it because he can, because he already has a strong following that will listen to him and this reveal will only strengthen that bond between him and his followers.

      You can see TB’s popularity in Steam’s new Curator feature, where he’s currently leading in the number of followers by a large margin.

  • HueyLouis

    You should never trust one review for a game ever. I generally use metacritic user reviews or steam user reviews over official stuff or even youtubers. Consensus of reviews is better than a few. I actually use that system for everything, not just games. Any site that has user reviews I’m more likely to buy from that one that doesn’t.

    There has been a trend where youtubers who review or cover games are being paid to not say anything negative about games. When you get a lot of people saying positive things about a game you get a false impression about it. Look at bf4 and EA Ronku.