Facebook and YouTube Clamped Down on a Game About Selling Weed

The makers of 'Weedcraft Inc.,' a game about selling weed in the age of legalization, couldn't buy ads on Facebook, and YouTube videos featuring the game were demonetized.

|
Apr 12 2019, 3:14pm

Screengrab: Weedcraft Inc/Devolver Digital

Weedcraft Inc. is a new management simulation game from publisher Devolver Digital where players grow a marijuana business from startup to empire in the age of legalization. Devolver Digital released the game on Thursday, and the publisher reported having trouble getting the word out on social media. YouTube demonetized videos of YouTubers playing the game and Facebook wouldn’t let Devolver Digital run ads.

Even before the game’s release, Devolver Digital was being hamstrung on Facebook thanks to the site’s restrictive policies around drug-related content, the developers say.

“Facebook changed the game's page to 'restricted' which is next to being banned, since no one that hasn't liked the page is going to have it show up in their streams,” Devolver Digital founder Mike Wilson told me in an email. “We had already hit a wall in trying to advertise the game on there, regardless of wording or imagery, but this was just the icing on the cake.”

Facebook has since relented, although videos related to the game remain demonetized on YouTube. Devolver Digital’s experience shows that globally enforcing rules related to a drug that is now recreationally legal in many states and in all of Canada remains a messy issue for social media companies.

Weedcraft Inc. has multiple scenarios that reflect the complicated nature of marijuana prohibition, and burgeoning legalization, in America.

In one scenario, gamers play a black drug dealer released from prison who resumes his trade in a world where weed is newly legal. His new business is legitimate, mostly. He has to manage medical vs. recreational tax laws, comply with advertising regulations, and deal with a black market that’s always eating into profits. He keeps the business legal, but has to break laws when he ships his product state to state. In another scenario, players do business as a white dude with a business degree who gets into the “gray market” pot trade after he saw how marijuana eased his father’s chronic illness before his death.

It’s complicated. Almost as complicated as YouTube and Facebook’s advertising policies. And according to YouTubers and Devolver Digital, neither Facebook nor YouTube wanted to advertise the game.

Facebook’s policy regarding marijuana-related advertising is pretty clear—”Ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs.” Similarly, YouTube policies say “video content that promotes or features the sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs, regulated drugs or substances, or other dangerous products is not suitable for advertising.”

The platforms’ enforcement regarding Weedcraft Inc. has been inconsistent. YouTuber ChristopherOdd has posted seven videos of the game to his channel, but YouTube only flagged the first video.

“If I had to venture a guess it's based on the title ‘The Devil's Lettuce’ as the other videos aren't getting flagged based on ‘Weedcraft Inc,’” Odd told me in an email. “The trouble is that after submitting for a manual review, you can't appeal anymore and they don't give you any other avenues to explore. I could try changing the title, but I can't submit for another review, so I don't think that would matter.”

YouTuber Dan Field said his Weedcraft Inc. playthrough video was flagged during processing,d before it was even posted. “It was flagged as adult content with age gate,” Fields told me in an email. “And as such ‘not appropriate for most advertisers,’ which means basically no ads.” Like Odd, Fields manually contested the video but YouTube rejected his appeal.

Weedcraft inc
Screengrab via Devolver Digital

A Facebook Spokesperson told Motherboard that the restrictions were an error and they’re trying to find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We re-reviewed ads from this game and determined they don't violate our policies,” the spokesperson told me in an email. “We review each ad individually and have strict policies around drug sales, which have led to errors in this case. We'll are always working to improve our enforcement in these areas.”

As for YouTube, a spokesperson reiterated the site’s policies around content that features the sale of drugs—both illegal and regulated—when reached for comment.

“We have clear policies that govern what videos may show ads, and content that features the sale or use of illegal drugs or regulated drugs or substances is not suitable for advertising,” a spokesperson for YouTube told me in an email. “If we find a video that violate our policies, we remove ads."

Despite the advertising hit, Devolver Digital told me that Weedcraft Inc. is selling well at the moment.

“It's really hard to say how the game will be affected,” Wilson told me. “A lot depends on how much [digital marketplaces] Steam and GOG continue to support its visibility and how many people share the story. All we can do is try to make a conversation happen around the industry and with gamers about this insanity and try to make changes. “

Wilson also pointed out that both YouTube and Facebook run ads for hyper-violent video games. Assault is illegal pretty much everywhere, whereas recreational weed use is legal in many states, such as California, Colorado, and all of Canada.

“We all know that violence/murder is A-OK, and that sex or drugs are not, even when presented in a thoughtful way to an audience with an average age of 40, but we’ve all known that for far too long,” he said.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

Stories