We first heard rumours and accusations of this last week but without anything solid to base it on, we decided to give the story time to develop. As it has transpired, it was all true but certainly worth taking a more complete look at the story now it has had time to develop.
A user, going by the name of Avanost, posted a glowing user review for Dragon Age II on MetaCritic. Amid the flurry of extremely negative user reviews that were being posted there around the release date, it looked out of place. This prompted an investigation from Reddit user, GatoFiasco who was concerned with the ethics of the situation.
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.
Meanwhile, a senior Public Relations Representative for EA (BioWare’s parent company) has defended the move, likening it to a politician who votes for themselves on election day.
We’re slightly torn on this issue. On the one hand, GatoFiasco is perfectly correct, it is imperative that a system exists to provide consumers with as objective as possible information regarding a product. Is that best done with a user rating system so easily open to orchestrated abuse in its early stages? Certainly not. That’s not to say that Metacritic’s user rating system is at fault, it’s not, simply that all user ratings systems are open to abuse until there is substantial data to be counted.
It’s clear that there were a large number of Dragon Age fans that were disgruntled with the changes made to the series, the Metacritic user rating was below three well before the game was actually released, presumably based on nothing but feature points from published previews and press releases. Is that an objective way for anyone to rate a game? No but it does effectively demonstrate a group’s desire to show their frustration at quoted changes, perhaps even without playing the game for themselves. Isn’t that an actual abuse of the system?
The question of whether a BioWare employee should be allowed to enter his own opinion into the user rating system is also a strange one. If you’re going to champion an open, collective user rating system then surely it has to be open? Why should we expect anyone to be excluded. Surely that’s the down side to user ratings: they are easily tampered with and manipulated, at least until there is a massive weight of collected data. Should we somehow restrict that system so that it is only allowed to be manipulated by people who aren’t involved in the games industry? Surely would yield less objective results than allowing all opinions to be counted?
It’s a tricky question to navigate and, as ever, we’re keen to hear the thoughts of our own users on the subject.
You can read our completely independent review of Dragon Age II here.