For as long as publications that rely on advertising video games have reviewed those very video games, there have been accusations of bribery, and bought reviews. In days of yore, magazines were accused of taking cash in return for positive news and reviews. Since the dawn of the internet, the same sort of thing has perpetuated – and I’m sure you’re all familiar with a certain animated Gif (that’s a hard G, by the way – always and forever) involving the flow of cash from a large publisher to a large website.
In recent times, I’ve taken to looking askance at user reviews, because whiny, vocal gamers on the internet will do all they can to make things seem worse than they are, or give unnecessarily high praise because of their own fandom – but they’re still an important, and often useful metric. Which makes it pretty sad to see that they can be bought.
PCGamesN has done a good bit of investigation in to the shady world of bought Steam user reviews – where sites like Fiverr (a sort of Gumtree, but for services instead pf products) allow budding developers and publishers to get buy glowing reviews for $5 and a Steam key.
You really should head over to PCGamesN to read the whole thing – but they’ve been in contact with both the people selling their reviewing services, and those who seem to be paying for them. There appears to be an unspoken agreement that bought reviews will come with thumbs-up attached to them.
Not all review “sellers” seem to be quite so unethical. Of the 13 reviewers polled, only one said they’d not guarantee a positive review.
“I guarantee only that my review will be honest,” he replied. “If you’re looking for those kinds of fake reviews, there are plenty on Fiverr who provide such a service. However, I would suggest that you take great care because while in the short term such schemes may make your product look good, it usually ends up doing more harm in the long run.”
Others, who do promise positive coverage, don’t seem to think this is unethical in any way.
“No, there is nothing misleading or unethical about the reviews,” said one seller. “The review will be positive and will make other people satisfied about buying the game.”
It’s worth noting that none of the games dug up in the investigation are big titles, so the effect on the industry as a whole seems to be minimal. It is, however, both very interesting, and terribly disconcerting – because it’s impossible to really tell the scale of it all. Fiverr is just one of the many sites that offer services for a song.
User reviews exist for those who don’t trust the media’s critique, and also offer more insight to games post-launch. That they can be bought is a little unsettling.
Last Updated: March 3, 2016