It looks like game developer BioWare’s been caught out posting Metacritic reviews of its own game, just-released roleplaying sequel Dragon Age II. Not only that, game publisher Electronic Arts essentially owned up to the deed, trying to write it off by telling 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.”
Of all the hypothetical responses, that one’s perhaps the least dubious (yeah, I’m surprising myself, typing that). Should publishers or developers not be allowed to vote for their own games? I’d personally rather they didn’t, because it’s one more reason not to trust the system, but is it actually unethical?
It depends what you expect from a system like Metacritic, right? Do you trust user reviews? I know you want to, but do you? Do you think developers, publishers, or others affiliated in some way with Metacritic’s rated books, films, and games have never posted to the site–and site’s like it–anonymously before? That bitter enemies (or ex-employees) don’t go after each others’ products incognito?
I suppose it calls into question the veracity of pretty much any user-ratings system. We sort of muddle along, quietly assuming the scores we’re seeing on Amazon or Lowes or Best Buy are mostly dependable, but anonymity taints the system. These aren’t your friends down the street or even the people in your neighborhood–they’re people from anywhere you’ve never met, and probably never will.
And then we get a story like this, where the interested party–the one that stands to benefit most, I mean–is caught with its hand in the voting booth. Or box. Or till. Or [insert your favorite conflict-of-interest metaphor].
I guess I’d like to think a company like BioWare (or EA) would make–as company policy–employee reviews of games verboten. It’s tough enough sorting the well-written critic reviews from the not-so-well-written ones, when all we want to know is “Is this game worth $60?”
Do we really want to have to sift through industry-endorsed “inside baseball” too?
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