BioWare Employee Busted in Dragon Age 2 Review Scandal - UPDATED

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BioWare Employee Busted in Dragon Age 2 Review Scandal - UPDATED

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BioWare is caught in the middle of a swirling controversy over a perfect Metacritic user review for Dragon Age 2 that was posted by its employees.

"The immersion and combat of this game are unmatched! A truly moving and fun epic," the Metacritic user known as Avanost wrote in his glowing review of Dragon Age 2, which he scored a perfect 10/10. "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."

Whether or not you agree with the accuracy of that assessment isn't particularly relevant. What has people up in arms is that it was apparently written by an applications engineer named Chris Hoban, who also happens to be a BioWare employee - and who made no mention of that fact in his review.

The situation first came to light when a Reddit user noticed that the top Dragon Age 2 user review on Metacritic, written by the aforementioned Avanost, came off "almost like a press release." He then noticed that Avanost's Dragon Age 2 review is the only one he's ever written. A quick Google led to a name, which led to a Linkedin profile and something called Plurk, which led to the conclusion that Hoban, whether acting in an official capacity or not, wasn't being entirely forthcoming.

It could be a coincidence or a case of mistaken identity, but Avanost's review has quietly been pulled from the site, which is usually a sign that some sort of shenanigans are afoot. [Fortunately, a cached version is still available.] There's also the matter of another one-off Dragon Age 2 reviewer who gave the game a perfect score by the name of LupoTheeButcher, which also just happens to be the forum name of Dragon Age Project Manager Benoit Houle. That link isn't nearly as well established as Hoban's but the "sound byte style" is very similar.

From a practical perspective, the two perfect review scores have no bearing on the game's performance whatsoever and have actually done more harm than good, as the predictable backlash has resulted in hundreds of Amazon-bomb-style negative reviews. But from an ethical perspective it's an entirely different matter. Hoban (and, perhaps, Houle) may genuinely think that Dragon Age 2 is all that and a bag of Doritos but the failure to disclose their obvious conflict of interest is a huge lapse in judgment at the very least, not to mention monumentally stupid. One Metacritic user review more or less isn't going to have any impact on the game's fortunes. But one BioWare employee busted while secretly shilling for his company and trying to artificially inflate a review score? That's the sort of PR disaster that people don't quickly forget.

UPDATE: Electronic Arts has apparently decided to balls it out with a statement to Kotaku that actually defends the review as no big deal. "Of course the people who make the game vote for their own game," a senior PR manager said. "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 course one might wonder why, if "that's how it works," Avanost's review disappeared from Metacritic so quickly and quietly. After all, if everything's cool, why not leave it there for the world to see?

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I'd be surprised if just about every other developer and publisher out there haven't done this at one point or another. Probably before realising how pointless it is since Metacritic reviews aren't exactly reliable as people tend to rate a game 0 for the slightest flaw.

UuuuUUUuuuhh... Looks like it could pay off to write perfect reviews using other peoples aliases...

Who to discredit who to discredit... Valve perhaps?

seems like bioware is having a shitstorm with da 2

what a coincidence. i swear, not 20 minutes ago, my buddy was linking me the metacritic site, talking about how it seemed like EA employees were throwing 10 reviews out there... man, what a crap game. so glad i didn't pay for it.

edit to clarify: yes, i have played the game, no i am not basing my judgement of the game solely on the actions illustrated in this article.

heh. There have been some boneheaded PR maneuvers lately, but this one is going to overshadow them all...

...well, at least until the next controversy rolls around. I bet those guys are going to be hitting the unemployment line shortly, however.

Yeah, Dragon Age II isn't doing so well in the user review department

Ooooh, busted!!!

Maybe this is BioWare trying to counter those several million 3/10 user review scores....

A bit of a failure there... Now the critics (mostly oldschool RPG purists) will claim all the positive reviews were biased like this.

InevitableFate:
I'd be surprised if just about every other developer and publisher out there haven't done this at one point or another. Probably before realising how pointless it is since Metacritic reviews aren't exactly reliable as people tend to rate a game 0 for the slightest flaw.

Yeah, that evidence-less assumption totally makes this ok.

Metacritic user scores are valid when comparing to the user score to the user score of other games, since every game on Metacritic deals with the same disadvantages because they are all using the same user scoring system.

You know who else gave this game a 100% in its review?
The escapist.
I'm pretty sure Greg Tito wasn't paid for it, and doesn't work for bioware. Nonetheless his review is far more optimistic than the game deserves, while the preview from Rock, paper shotgun seems much more reliable...

This just makes me, a genuine fan of the game, look like a Bioware employee.

I can't say I blame the guy though, you would want to try and do something positive to balance out the negativity towards something you worked on. The best intentions, right?

uppitycracker:
what a coincidence. i swear, not 20 minutes ago, my buddy was linking me the metacritic site, talking about how it seemed like EA employees were throwing 10 reviews out there... man, what a crap game. so glad i didn't pay for it.

So... just to get this strait:
Do you hate it, even though you havenīt played it, or did you pirate it?

As for the review thing: Facepalm of the day.
If this really is by them, and not by some troll out to elaboratly discredit them, that was truly a stupid move...

I remember reading that review. I assumed it was just your garden-variety fanboy.

*sigh*

Damn it Bioware. Please stop this recent trend of being dicks.

I love your games. Even DA2 is alright. I don't think I would be very good at hating you. So please don't make me.

Crystalite:

uppitycracker:
what a coincidence. i swear, not 20 minutes ago, my buddy was linking me the metacritic site, talking about how it seemed like EA employees were throwing 10 reviews out there... man, what a crap game. so glad i didn't pay for it.

So... just to get this strait:
Do you hate it, even though you havenīt played it, or did you pirate it?

As for the review thing: Facepalm of the day.
If this really is by them, and not by some troll out to elaboratly discredit them, that was truly a stupid move...

i would never actually bash a game i haven't played.

Everyone says trolls brought the rating down, looks like it's the other way around

Why the hell do people all of a sudden care about Metacritic? Before this, all anyone did is dismiss it as stupid. Why now is everyone pointing to it as proof for DA2's shortcomings?

And once again another company under EA is shooting itself in the foot for all the good they have done. Bioware is still a good game maker, but their employees are another matter entirely.

ZeroDotZero:
This just makes me, a genuine fan of the game, look like a Bioware employee.

I can't say I blame the guy though, you would want to try and do something positive to balance out the negativity towards something you worked on. The best intentions, right?

You don't blame the guy for committing fraud? Yeah I would want to do it, but there are plenty of people I want to punch in the face too, but I know I shouldn't do it

They might as well of had The Bum review it.
"Oh My God, this the greatest game I've ever played in my life!"

Irridium:
Why the hell do people all of a sudden care about Metacritic? Before this, all anyone did is dismiss it as stupid. Why now is everyone pointing to it as proof for DA2's shortcomings?

This is not about the games shortcomings. This is about people who are biased trying to influence the voices heard concerning their product.
Not that it really should surprise anyone, it is not exactly a new idea.
But to do it and get caught is not a smart thing to do, simple as that.

Irridium:
Why the hell do people all of a sudden care about Metacritic? Before this, all anyone did is dismiss it as stupid. Why now is everyone pointing to it as proof for DA2's shortcomings?

Because it's strong evidence of DA2's shortcomings.

People can yell that Metacritic is flawed all they want, but that doesn't change the fact that every other Bioware game on Metacritic had to deal with the exact same set of flaws, and don't have a score like this one.

DUMBASS. Not exactly the best looking way to get a promotion now is it... dumbass.

Well, this sure isn't going to help my March Madness bracket where BioWare wins the whole thing...

Seriously, though, their PR for Dragon Age II has been an absolute nightmare. A vocal minority is non-stop bashing the game, that guy got banned from playing for saying that BioWare sold its soul to EA, and now this.

So they were astroturfing? That's seriously illegal shit in the EU. This could have major repercussions if it turns out they were ordered to post the reviews.

Timbydude:
Well, this sure isn't going to help my March Madness bracket where BioWare wins the whole thing...

Seriously, though, their PR for Dragon Age II has been an absolute nightmare. A vocal minority is non-stop bashing the game, that guy got banned from playing for saying that BioWare sold its soul to EA, and now this.

Vocal minority? This game's got the worst (professional) review scores of any bioware game in the last decade and near universal disappointment from one of the most loyal fanbases in the gaming industry.

If anything it's a vocal minority still heralding it a new masterpiece.

danpascooch:

Irridium:
Why the hell do people all of a sudden care about Metacritic? Before this, all anyone did is dismiss it as stupid. Why now is everyone pointing to it as proof for DA2's shortcomings?

Because it's strong evidence of DA2's shortcomings.

People can yell that Metacritic is flawed all they want, but that doesn't change the fact that every other Bioware game on Metacritic had to deal with the exact same set of flaws, and don't have a score like this one.

One could argue that it's stronger evidence of Metacritic's flaws.

This doesn't seem like the kind of thing everyone should get uppity about. It's so easy it has almost definitely been done before. Just stupid to get caught.

danpascooch:

Irridium:
Why the hell do people all of a sudden care about Metacritic? Before this, all anyone did is dismiss it as stupid. Why now is everyone pointing to it as proof for DA2's shortcomings?

Because it's strong evidence of DA2's shortcomings.

People can yell that Metacritic is flawed all they want, but that doesn't change the fact that every other Bioware game on Metacritic had to deal with the exact same set of flaws, and don't have a score like this one.

So then why hasn't anyone used Metacritic to show a game's good points?

vivaldiscool:
So they were astroturfing? That's seriously illegal shit in the EU. This could have major repercussions if it turns out they were ordered to post the reviews.

I donīt think it will ever, simply because it can not be proven. Even if the names are linked somehow, nothing would be stopping me from creating an account with that name (provided Iīm quick enough) and post with it.
But I thank you for my new word of the day, astroturfing. It was new to me.

Because one Metacritic user score really matters right? God forbid an employee likes a game from the company they work for. I don't consider this a big deal at all.

danpascooch:
...You don't blame the guy for committing fraud...

while it's not a very ethical thing to do, this isn't fraud.

I'm still looking forward to playing this..but that's just weak. :(

vrbtny:
Ooooh, busted!!!

Maybe this is BioWare trying to counter those several million 3/10 user review scores....

It probably isn't bioware, if it was, why would an engineer and a designer be doing it in thier actual forum names instead of some PR guy with an anonymous name. To me, it makes a lot more sense that the two offenders felt jilted by the criticality of the reveiws of a project that they worked very hard on. It also doesn't seem like they're trying to be deceptive because they are using thier real names.

Doesn't this show how unsecure even Bioware employees are about their product? I mean look at Dragon Age: Origins. It was universally acclaimed as being one of the best RPG's of the year, if not decade. There was no controversy sorrounding it. At least no controversy worth nothing. Here comes Dragon Age 2 and not only is is poorly received by players but you've got Bioware employees attempting to inflate the score. I think Bioware's losing it. Or is it EA who's losing it? I don't know, but what I do know for sure is that Bioware was better off as an independent studio.

Ouch. Bioware is having a tough month with the "sold your solds to EA " thing and now this.
If this is true, they are losing a lot of fan cred. A shame, since i still think their games are good (though i have to admit i didnt play DA2 yet). Will March Madness be affected by this?

GrandmaFunk:

danpascooch:
...You don't blame the guy for committing fraud...

while it's not a very ethical thing to do, this isn't fraud.

Is there an ethical distinction between a misleading truth and a lie?(No idea btw, I think it depends on if you're lawful or chaotic)

I just came to realise what DA2 is missing the most, and that's the D&D aspect of the game. The first game to me felt like a D&D campaign, with that overhead chess-piece style gameplay, mana, elves blah blah, and most importantly, you could play in most of the 9 areas of morality.

Now you have "Good","Evil","Dick", and they're not even properly fleshed out.

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