Bioware / EA Employees Posting Positive Dragon Age 2 Metacritic Reviews
An enterprising Reddit user has unearthed some dirty doings by Bioware and EA. GatoFiasco, slightly apprehensive of the changes made to Dragon Age 2 from Origins decided to check out user reviews on Metacritic and saw the following posted by user Avanost:
“The immersion and combat of this game are unmatched! A truly moving and fun epic. 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.”
Justly setting off his PR bullshit-ometer, GatoFiasco engaged in some Google Matlockery. He found that Avanost had only posted one review for Dragon Age 2, and through a profile created on a different website, discovered his real name. This also so happens to be the name of a Bioware Engineer. That review has since been deleted, but a new one from “LupoTheeButcher” has taken its place, which is also the name of a Bioware Forum Moderator.
Circumstantial, to be sure, but then EA implicitly confirmed the practice by issuing the following statement to Kotaku:
“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.”
So the situation is that Bioware employees are trying to tell the Internet that their game is good. That in itself isn’t a crime, or even unethical, but the problem here is in the implicit deception. User reviews on Metacritic are assumed to have no conflict of interest, which Bioware employees obviously do.
FTC regulations are even involved. As a member of a media company, I have to label my opinions as my own and independent of my company’s. Essentially, if I say that hot dogs suck, people have to know that I’m not making a statement of policy for Machinima (even though I do like hot dogs).
However, the important thing is that I declare my connection so that it is known when I state opinion. The problem here is that none of these user reviews declare the connection. They probably (rightly) assume that it would completely invalidate the effect of the user review. And you know what? It should.
GatoFiasco found the following example in an FTC guide which mirrors this situation exactly:
§ 255.5. Example 8: An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices.
Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer’s product.
Knowledge of this poster’s employment likely would affect the weight or credibility of her endorsement. Therefore, the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her relationship to the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.
Does Bioware have the right and moral ability to positively review their own product? Sure they do, but they must also acknowledge their employment by Bioware. These user reviews are a lie by omission, and have thus damaged the credibility of all user reviews.
Of course, the Internet doesn’t take such high-brow responses. 4chan and other Internet mobs have started bombing the Metacritic board with negative user reviews for the game, which as of writing stands at 4.2. Juvenile, but poetic, as Bioware’s intention was obviously to fluff the user review portion of Metacritic.
But you know what, it may even be unfair to involve EA and Bioware in this matter at all. It’s likely that the posters were not mandated by either company to post positive user reviews, and did so of their own volition. You could say that EA / Bioware shares some culpability for not informing their employees about FTC best practices (which hopefully they are doing now), but that makes the whole situation much less menacing.