People who pre-order games digitally on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been earning themselves an unadvertised and easily abused perk: The ability to rate, and sometimes review, video games that they have yet to play and aren't even out yet. As a result, both online stores are full of star-ratings for games that haven't been released. The Xbox One, which supports user reviews, displays dozens of user reviews written by people who haven't played the games.
A check of upcoming games on both stores reveals a lot of premature ratings and reviews. On Xbox One, for example, there are thousands of star ratings on the store page for next week's Final Fantasy XV.
The Xbox One store page for February's Resident Evil VII shows the game earning a perfect 5.0 user rating. A user review for next year's South Park: The Fractured But Whole claims the writer was "ripped off". Next year's Halo Wars 2 already has 901 five-star ratings. A four-star review of that game states, "I shall pass judgement." A November 15 user review for next year's Ghost Recon Wildlands already declares the game "better than [The] [D]ivision".
Over on PS4, December's The Last Guardian is already listed as a four-star game.
This isn't supposed to happen. The Xbox One and PS4 stores ostensibly block users from reviewing games they haven't played by checking whether they have downloaded the games or not. If the user hasn't, the page for a game listed on the Xbox One's store will include the sentence: "You are unable to rate and review as you do not own this app." On PS4, people who haven't downloaded the game won't see an option to "rate" the game. Buying a game digitally unlocks the systems' review and ratings options. That's reasonable.
But simply pre-ordering an upcoming game digitally on either console also unlocks the ability to rate and review games. The pre-order loophole allows for piles of user reviews and star ratings for Xbox One games that haven't come out yet. On PS4, which doesn't support user reviews, pre-release games still have lots of star ratings.
I tried the pre-order loophole on both systems and was able to easily exploit it.
On Xbox One, I used a game called Energy Cycle to test things out. The puzzle game isn't supposed to come out until December 7 but is available for pre-order now for just $US2.99 ($4).
Before pre-ordering the game, I was blocked from rating or reviewing it:
After I pre-ordered the game, my options changed. I obtained the ability to rate and review it:
I can't play Energy Cycle yet. It's not available. But I went ahead and reviewed it:
And then I logged into the Xbox One using a colleague's account, just to make sure my review really did go through. It did!
Over on PS4, I was unable to rate the puzzle game Gnog without pre-ordering it. In the shot below, you'll see no option to apply a star rating:
Once I pre-ordered Gnog, however, I was able to rate it:
Pre-release reviews don't seem to get scrubbed away once a game comes out. Watch Dogs 2<, for example, was released on November 15, but its Xbox One store page contains reviews written well before that date:
All these test were done in the US stores, but a quick search of the Australian stores reveals starred ratings for Final Fantasy XV, which will be released next week.
I've reached out to representatives for Xbox and PlayStation to see what they make of this loophole and whether their companies plan to close it. I haven't heard back yet.
It's unclear how much users of either system make their purchasing decisions based on user ratings and user reviews, but it doesn't seem helpful to gamers to allow people who are in the anticipatory throes of pre-ordering a game to assess that game's quality using only their imagination.