A lot of industry reviewers within the game's bracket would love to jump to their own defense “Oh, we don't take money for reviews. This is not a widespread thing. That thing with Gerstmann was a one-off.” but then sometimes someone comes along and outs the wrongdoers for being wrong and one website wasn't afraid to list a few gaming sites that charge developers for review scores.
Now if you're hoping to see IGN or GameSpot on the list, keep dreaming. They don't partake in the sort of “expedited” review scandals the following sites meddle in. The list comes courtesy of blog AppyNation [via Pocket Gamer], who follows-through with an investigation that originated at Indie Gaming Mag, where it was brought to the public's attention that some sites have been engaging in the nefarious act of taking money to promote games for better page ranking and giving high review scores at a premium cost.
The list includes AppCarver, TapScape, Best 10 Apps, and The iPhone App Review. Appy Nation keeps it moderate and requests that if any of the site runners wish to come forward and discuss the situation, they're happy to do so.
There is also Hot Mac Apps that can be added to the list, one of the sites we covered in our own editorial about the subject matter of review sites being paid to boost the page rank of the game and offering reviews above a specific score to drive traffic and positive consumer impressions of the game.
It's a silly practice that was bound to get widespread attention eventually, especially after first gaining ire when the issue was originally broached by Techradar and Wired a few years back.
Now, I know some gamers think that the same thing happens for mainstream gaming, but that kind of “charge” is done in a much different way.
Big time gaming journalists covering AAA titles are periodically influenced by marketing swag to have a specific impression of a game. A free trip to Las Vegas, L.A., New York or some other luxurious getaway is the start. The trip usually involves heading to a party to play-test a game where there are drinks, pretty girls (or guys) and a generally spirited atmosphere. Even if the game is generic and ho-hum, the whole pageantry of the event is the influence itself.
Fast forward several more events like this, a rather robust showing at tradeshows and a few exclusive interviews, and even if generic AAA title #752 is just as generic and ho-hum as a mid-budget B title, the AAA title will receive a special review with giant ads plastered all over the page and usually a countdown and special features leading up to the review itself. It becomes an event.
It's no shock that all the marketing invested into a big site and its editors by a big-time publisher would expect nothing less than a 9/10 or a mention or two of “Game of the Year” at some point throughout the review. It's a tried and true method and it happens just about every time a big AAA mainstream title releases. Anything less than a 9 for some games could result in the publisher pulling ad funding or maybe not inviting the editors to the next lavish hotel party.
For smaller gaming sites covering big-name games, it's usually a time-factor: competing with all the other small and mid-tiers to control the Google listing or maybe get up a review in time so that a quote can be approved and used in a commercial or online ad. The quest for approval.
For mobile games it's a different beast, and the sites listed above by AppyNation give a clear indication of how next-to-nothing budgets for marketing can help a small developer potentially prosper with proper page ranks and maybe a few extra buys from the app store thanks to a $60 review with a 4/5 review score. It's more transparent and obvious for its extortion, but it's still extortion nonetheless.
Hopefully more developers will come forward to expose other sites running similar scams and maybe more users will be wary of places that give games “expedited” review scores even if the game doesn't rightfully deserve the score.