Despite Microsoft's fixes to the ratings system going forward, indie developers are still seeing less sales due to the abuse.
A month ago, Robert Boyd - developer of Xbox Live Indie game Cthulhu Saves The World - noticed that his previously high-rated title was inexplicably dropping in popularity. Not content to believe that people suddenly started hating his game, he dug a little deeper and found that some people had been downvoting Cthulhu in order to promote College Lacrosse. Boyd made a kerfuffle by posting his discovery on Microsoft's forums, and the powers that be in Redmond finally listened, announcing a change to the ratings system yesterday. You now must have an Xbox Live Gold membership to rate games through the xbox.com website, a big step up from just creating a free account. Boyd is generally happy with the change, but he's still upset that the suspicious votes were not able to be overturned.
"Microsoft doing nothing to fix the fake ratings that have already been given is highly disappointing," Boyd said.
Boyd believes that the ratings abuse has affected sales by games that were previously highly visible suddenly getting less exposure through the fake ratings. He told Edge that Cthulhu has dropped to rank 33 after being in the top ten for months, and that another game by Boyd Breath Of Death was pushed out of the top five through the manipulation.
"Sales for both titles have definitely dropped beyond the normal drop we would expect with the simple passage of time, no doubt due to the decreased exposure from being lower on the Top Rated lists," he said. "Some other developers have been hit even harder than we have - for example, Xona Games had a couple of quality shoot-'em-ups high up in the top rated lists that are completely buried now."
It sucks that developers like Zeboyd Games and Xona Games were hit so hard by what should have been an easy policy to design. Public ratings systems are already susceptible to manipulation - Amazon I'm looking at you - but being able to create dummy accounts so easily without even owning an Xbox is pretty silly. With the data available to Microsoft, the company should consider further limiting the ability to rate games that the customer has actually purchased.
Otherwise, I could just log into my Xbox Live account and give Cthulhu Saves The World five stars for shits and giggles. Hmm, I might just do that anyway.