A couple of popular YouTubers, whose subscribers are largely kids, are coming under criticism for partnering with and promoting a site that entices users to gamble by spending money to open a digital “mystery box”.
Jake Paul (17.7 million subscribers) and Bryan “RiceGum” Le (10.7 million subscribers) both have recently promoted MysteryBrand.net, a website in which customers pay a fee to open online “boxes” with a variety of pre-selected potential items. Critics say it amounts to gambling, at best, and a scam, at worst.
“Whoever made this website or created this, bro, you’re a freaking genius,” Paul says in his YouTube video as he opens boxes of shoes, an Apple watch and an iPhone that he supposedly won on Mystery Brand. The video, which has more than 2 million views, has come under criticism because many of his subscribers are children.
The same goes for Le, who opens digital box after digital box of shoes, hoodies, and gadgets, at one point saying, “I’m just gonna go for it, man. Like, this is actually super thrilling cuz I don’t know what I’m gonna get,” before opening a $100 box and getting what appears to be a towel. He later describes his strategy this way: “I kinda got a method going on; Like, I try a few boxes, it don’t go well, I try another one.”
Guava Juice, a kids’ YouTube channel with 12.8 million subscribers and its own line of toys, also reportedly posted a promotional video about Mystery Brand. That video appears to have been removed.
The Daily Beast’s tech reporter, Will Sommer, dove into Mystery Brand’s terms of service to get a handle on how—and where—the company operates:
Mystery Brand’s terms of service appear to say that underage users are ineligible to receive prizes, or even their money back, as the site will “invalidate all the operations that were carried out by a person who has not attained the age of majority and to refuse to issue a winning product without any refund of spend value.”
Mystery Brand users might not even receive the items they believed they have won, according to another part of the terms of service.
“During using the services of the website You may encounter circumstances in which Your won items will not be received,” the document reads.
It’s not clear who owns Mystery Brand or where it’s based, although the site’s terms of service say it’s “subject to the laws and jurisdiction of Poland.”
A few days after posting his promotional video about Mystery Brand—and receiving backlash from other popular YouTubers for it—Le, whose channel is largely aimed at kids, posted an explanation on YouTube. In the video, he implies that he received more than $US100 ($140),000 for the partnership, admits he is “somewhat in the wrong,” and says this:
People keep saying that the website is sketch and all this stuff, and it’s like, you guys can form your own opinions and do your research. But my experience on it, you know, I would spend $100 and at times I would get, like, a fidget spinner and then I would spend $100 and at times I would get, like, a good item. It was basically you win some, you lose some, and that’s, like, the definition of gambling.
Mystery Brand appears to be capitalising off the “mystery box” trend in which YouTubers purchase boxes with unknown contents from sites like eBay and open them on camera. According to online video curator Tubefilter, the practice has “been compared to loot boxes in video games—for which gamers can spend in-game currency (or, in some cases, actual money) to crack open a virtual box that can contain a variety of goods.”
Tim Perk, a representative for Mystery Brand, has responded to the backlash, acknowledging to The Verge via email that the company doesn’t actually own some of the prizes offered on the site.
“We do not need to physically own these cars or houses to include them as prizes in the box,” Perk said. “If the user were to win such a prize, we would either offer them the exact money value of the prize, or our representatives would personally fly in to the city of the winner and help them with the purchase of a car or house.”
Prizes like a $264 million mansion are extremely rare, according to Perk, who added that Mystery Brand’s team can “afford to personally attend to the winner” in the event that someone were to win. None of this is listed anywhere on Mystery Brand’s website, including within the terms of service or FAQ page. There isn’t any hint that Mystery Brand doesn’t own the items it’s selling.
Reddit users have been debating whether or not the site is legitimate, with some saying they received their items in the mail and others saying they waited weeks or months, never received their items or received an item that wasn’t branded as advertised.