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Metacritic Finds, Bans Group of Users Unfairly Scoring Games

Users gaming the system to target Bastion, Toy Soldiers: Cold War and others are gone.

When things go sideways on Metacritic, developers don't have many options for appeal.
When things go sideways on Metacritic, developers don't have many options for appeal.

Supergiant Games and Signal Studios were in awkward positions earlier this month, after the average user review score for each game plummeted overnight and seemingly without justification.

It was unclear who was responsible for the sudden change, and there are limited tools for those affected that don't come across as...weird.

The developers of Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War asked fans to submit reviews to Metacritic, which resulted in a slight bump for each but an average score ultimately much lower than it was previously.

After speaking to Supergiant and Signal, I ran a story earlier this week about the challenges the studios faced in addressing these issues.

Metacritic has since identified the users responsible, both banning the users themselves and removing their scores putting things out of balance.

The users were targeting certain games, and hitting them with zero scores without a written review, raising eyebrows.

"A publisher of a different game let us know that he noticed that his game had been 'bombed' by a bunch of zero ratings in an unusually short period of time," said Metacritic co-founder Marc Doyle in an email to me today. "While investigating those ratings, we noticed a group of user accounts and activities that were clearly illegitimate and violated our terms of use."

Doyle's team found a group of users had been coordinating similar attacks on other games within Metacritic's database, allowing Metacritic to fix the "bombings" that had been targeted at other games.

Metacritic is often used to determine royalty and bonus payouts for developers, though its exact use varies from publisher to publisher. I've never heard of a publisher leveraging user reviews as a metric for payment because of situations like this, but especially for small studios, perception is king, which is why user reviews remain very important.

Signal Studios president and creative director Douglas Robert Albright III had proposed a fix to the problem.

"The way to fix Metacritic user reviews is to simply require a written review and verify user accounts," he said. "If it was just some random blog I'd say whatever. But this is a major news review aggregator that should have better oversight and some standards."

Patrick Klepek on Google+