from the rock-out-with-your-sockpuppets-out dept
It's something we probably all assume happens to some degree some of the time. A new video game comes out, it's put up on various consumer sites that allow for user reviews, and we assume at least some of the truly gushingly positive reviews are from people connected with the game trying to gin up positive feelings for their game. The problem, of course, is that if this is occurring, those perpetrating the mischief are smart enough to create new profiles and handles for their efforts, so as to hide their identities. Thus, we assume, but cannot verify.
Harmonix, a video game maker which recently released Rock Band 4, has happily come by to assist us with this problem by having employees too lazy to create these sock-puppet accounts while posting insanely positive Amazon.com reviews for the game. As discovered by an enterprising Reddit user:
Harmonix employees seem to have taken to Amazon to post their own favorable reviews of the game. At first I thought it was a rogue employee or two but then I dug around for about a half hour and found 7 of them and so it appears to be more of an initiative. I'm sure there's more than that. I don't know the legality of this but it's highly unethical and extremely disappointing. No excuses. Companies are not supposed to reviewing their own products, PERIOD.
Real names were found by clicking on the wish list of the reviewer https://imgur.com/OPRiEln
This is good sleuthing if I ever saw it. So, a handful of Harmonix employees have been caught red-handed astroturfing reviews for their own game. While doing so, they apparently went so far as to invent brand new personas for themselves, cosplaying as "new fans" to the genre and as members who are "looking forward to seeing what's next" from Harmonix, when they likely damn well know because they are Harmonix. Questions of legality aside, everyone is likely to agree how distasteful this is and what a vacuum of trust this will leave with gamers. Given the current climate of things, trust deficits are no way to position a game company.
Which is what makes the following statement Harmonix provided to Kotaku so perplexing:
Harmonix has clarified its internal policy about posting reviews of our own products on retail sites, and we’ve asked that existing reviews be edited to identify Harmonix employees or be removed entirely. While we believe the reviews posted by a few employees were sincere and without ill intentions, as a studio we don’t believe these are appropriate actions. We appreciate the feedback from the community, and take our relationship with our fans seriously.There's a roughly zero chance of anyone taking that non-apology from Harmonix seriously. When employees are going to drop Amazon reviews making up personas as people who have never played a game in the genre, everyone has to know that there are ill-intentions there. It's lying, at the very least. But, worse, it's lying directly to potential customers in a manner designed to claw money out of their pockets. Expect this to get to the point in which Harmonix has to offer a second apology-apology before this dies down.