Reddit user GatoFiasco felt there was something fishy about the perfect ten highlighted user review that appeared on popular review aggregator Metacritic yesterday. It was written a little too well, sounding more like a press release than something written by an ordinary member of the gaming public. Sure enough, his investigations lead him to discover that the person behind the Metacritic handle Avanost is actually an engineer at BioWare.
Someone from BioWare went to a public forum that allows anyone to post a review of a video game, and posted a glowing review of a product he was directly involved with. People were shocked. I'd imagine even more people were shocked that people were shocked.
In the Reddit entry, GatoFiasco argues that this is a matter of ethics and integrity. See for yourself:
This is a matter of ethics and integrity. 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.
It seems like a valid concern, but have you looked at the user reviews on Metacritic? This is not a place to get a fair and balanced idea of how good or bad a game is. Those upset with the slightest flaw in a title will rate it zero out of ten. Then folks defending the game from those people will give it a ten out of ten. It's more like a war than any sort of organized system.
But still, people have a right to be outraged. If they feel something shady is going on, it's up to the company involved to explain the situation. To that point, Kotaku turned to EA, whose senior public relations manager offered us the following statement:
"Of course the people who make the game vote for their own game. 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."
I was under the impression that presidents voted for their opponents as some sort of point of honour, but then I might just be suffering under the same sort of delusion as people who think that game developers don't go out of their way to hype their own games.
Is it unethical? Is it dirty? Personally I feel that it's one thing if a marketing team spends time and resources seeding the usual places with shining reviews. It's another thing if someone that worked hard on a product for several years goes onto a public forum and lets his or her pride over what they've accomplished shine through.
Either way, is this really a surprise to anyone? Show of hands?