The developer of Castle Defense Bribing Players for Five Star Reviews

When gamers are vetting their options for new games, the guiding factor common in the decision making process is how much value a game offers. In seeking an answer to the question of whether or not a game offers a great value, reviews are often a useful metric. User reviews in particular have increased in popularity over the years, so much so that no popular online platform is without a section devoted to consumer feedback for products and services. Consequently, this means that word of mouth diffuses expeditiously and can adversely affect public reception of a product very early on. Content producers are very aware of this fact and many have been caught engaging in all manner of unethical behavior, from deleting negative comments about their products, to banning users from games and services.

Today, Elite Games, the developers behind Castle Defense, may be added to the list of unscrupulous content producers. Elite Games has been bribing its users with in-game currency in exchange for five star reviews on the Google Play Store. In a turn of events that can only be described as invoking the essence of Scooby Doo, Elite Games might have gotten away with it, if not for the honesty of their users. The review section for Castle Defense is littered with five star reviews, many of which are blank or offer single sentence proclamations of enjoyment. However, among the bevy of undeserved praises are a few reviews in which users admit to providing positive feedback because five star reviews earn in-game rewards.

As of this writing, Castle Defense sits at roughly four out of five stars with some three hundred thousand reviews on record. Though I was unwilling to parse through that many individual reviews, I did go as far back as May of this year and found users making the same assertion about being bribed for writing an effuse review. Even if left unsaid, one could easily understand the danger of such practices. Had none of the aforementioned users opted to be transparent about their review decision, many consumers would have downloaded Elite Game’s title under the assumption that its starred status has been hard earned and well deserved. Such a breach of trust only serves to widen the growing rift between the consumer side of the industry and the professional side of the industry.

This entire scenario harkens back to the Gamespot/Jeff Gertsmann debacle in which the former fired the latter because of his negative review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Man. At the time, Gamespot had sold a great deal of advertising space to the game’s publisher. When Gertsmann’s less than amiable review was made public, the publisher flipped out. Rather than uphold journalistic integrity, Gamespot terminated Gertsmann’s contract because of his refusal to revise his review to suit the interests of the client.

That debacle was the beginning of consumer distrust for professional reviews in gaming, and by my estimate, contributed to the rising popularity of user reviews. With Elite Games paying off users for positive feedback, a toxic trend is being established by which consumers are at risk of having no trust worthy resource to evaluate the quality of a title they are interested in.

Consumer trust is everything in this industry, and it is appalling that Elite Games would participate in the profligate expenditure of consumer good will for the sake of positive press. So long as we have consumer trust, this industry will thrive. The moment that the professional side of the industry succumbs to the desire to lie and bribe is the moment that consumers are sent the message that their relationship to this industry is one that is adversarial rather than mutually beneficial, and that is a relationship dynamic that should never be fostered within this community.

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