In today's society it's not uncommon to come across all sorts of corruption. It happens so often and so much that most people read about it or see it and go "Meh, I've seen worse." One place where we usually don't expect to see nefarious activity found in other sectors is the gaming industry. No, we usually don't expect to encounter the same kind of villainy in gaming that you would in the oil business, the gambling business or even food commodities...yet here we are, reporting on reviewers extorting developers for good review scores.
A recent editorial over at the Indie Gaming Mag breaks down a trend that actually isn't all too new. In fact, this has been going on for years: mobile app sites charging for "expedited" reviews of games for $60. What's worse is that these paid reviews won't score a game below a certain number in order to ensure efficacy.
Originally TechRadar and Wired briefly covered the issue a few years ago back when mobile apps were still gaining traction and sites like Appcraver and HotMacApps were aiming to cash in on the growing trend with "expedited" reviews. Well, additional sites have been joining in on the trend, using their "Google positioning" to leverage "sales" of reviews to developers to help get their games exposed.
Both TechRadar and Wired's writers expressed concerned over this trend, because the actual process includes a developer contacting the site (or in some cases, the site contacting the developer) and choosing a "pay method" or "package" which includes basic promotion of the app for a $39.99 flat fee, social media syndication that can go up to $79.99 or the most common of the packages, an "Expedited Review" for only $59.99, as indicated on the website the iPhoneAppReview.com.
The purpose of an expedited review is to put the product ahead of other review queues, so the developer has their product jettisoned to the front of the pack. I'm not really sure why there needs to be payment involved for this kind of thing, and it also calls into question how well-versed the reviewer is with the product when they're hurriedly trying to churn out a review for that $59.99 price tag.
So how exactly does charging for reviews become extortion? Well, for the most part these sites are promising developers great exposure for their mobile apps as well as a potential spot on the App store rankings and a nice page rank on Google due to their "web ranking" and search engine optimized promotional techniques. They're basically using their status and influence to goad developers into paying for services that directly influence sales.
What's more is that reviews of games that rank under two stars are eligible to be "refunded". In result, this means that developers who pay the fee are practically always going to have their games receive three stars or higher on the website. And get this, out of the first 25 games you'll encounter on The iPhone App Review site, none of them dip down into the three star territory.
So what's so dangerous about this? I mean, reviewers make money having developers pay them for good scores, and developers get their game on the first page of Google...assuming anyone actually Googles the game. However, what about the consumer? Are we really supposed to believe that they're getting an honest review from a site that was literally paid by the developer to review the product? And these "Expedited Reviews" for $60 is way more than the actual cost of these apps. I mean, what reviewer wouldn't say nice things about the product with that kind of income from most apps they review?
Even though the FTC had ruled that product reviews are supposed to state if there was some form of compensation involved with the review (which is something these sites at least adhere to), it doesn't really stop this trend from being a rather distasteful blight on the gaming industry as a whole. It completely throws review integrity out of the window.
Reviewers being paid directly by the developers is the very thing consumers need to be wary of when trying to get a gauge of whether the product is worth buying or not.
You can read up more on this issue by paying a visit to the Indie Game Mag, which discusses the disconcerting circumstance a bit more in depth.