What's worse: a gaming site giving a cruddy, just-released title a favorable review based on gifts and donations by publishers, or an employee of the game's developer secretly posing as a mere consumer and writing perfect-ten review?
Unfortunately, both scenarios are prime examples of how the gaming industry unsuspectingly slithers into your wallet.
While we've heard all about the former scenario of reviewers putting on a positive spin thanks to publisher promises, threats, gifts and whatnot, the latter scenario—developers posing as consumers and writing prefect reviews-- popped up over the last few days. The game in question is Dragon Age 2, published by EA and developed by BioWare.
According to a keen eye spilling the beans on Reddit, the game received a perfect 10/10 non-press review by Metacritic user Avanost. "The immersion and combat of this game are unmatched! A truly moving and fun epic," the review reads, offering up no indication of the author's true identity. "Anything negative you'll see about this game is an overreaction of personal preference. For what it is, it is flawlessly executed and endlessly entertaining."
This was also the only review written by this specific Metacritic user. Ever.
As Reddit user GatoFiasco pointed out, the review was "almost like a press release," dripping with promotional slogans aimed to sell potential buyers with the idea that they can't live without this game. Suspicious, GatoFiasco researched author Avanost and discovered him to be an employee of BioWare who was directly involved with the development of Dragon Age 2. Avanost's real identity is Chris Hoban, an applications engineer from BioWare.
But that wasn't the only "planted" review. "Forget about the trolls / haters," reads the brief user review from LupoTheeButcher. "This is a very immersive game and a great entertainment product. You won't be disappointed. [Fast paced] combat, great companions and engaging story line." This is supposedly written by Dragon Age Project Manager Benoit Houle who goes by the same alias on the BioWare forums.
To make the entire situation even more sketchy, an EA representative seemingly waved off any concerns that BioWare employees were artificially inflating the overall Dragon Age 2 review score. In fact, EA's comment was rather alarming. "Of course the people who make the game vote for their own game," the EA rep supposedly stated to Kotaku. "That's how it works in the Oscars, that's how it works in the Grammy's and why I'm betting that Barack Obama voted for himself in the last election."
Granted that two, paragraph-long reviews won't change the overall score of Dragon Age 2 when all is said and done, it's a "matter of ethics and integrity" as Reddit user GatoFiasco stated in his original complaint. "A consumer requires objective information in order to make an informed decision about purchasing a product. If the line between editorial article and product review is skewed, then the consumer is being deceived at the cost of their eventual trust and loyalty to the company responsible. This is why disclosure of industry ties is necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
Gamers would be surprised by the great lengths at which publishers and developers will go to in promoting their products as the next holy grail while discrediting anyone who speaks in a negative light. That, unfortunately, is a story for another day...