Planted reviews have been around for as long as people have bought and sold goods and services. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the practice affects the games industry, but it is disturbing nonetheless. Yesterday, GameSpot UK discovered that several early "user" reviews of Jurassic Park: The Game on Metacritic were written by Telltale Games employees.
GameSpot UK reported the news Wednesday after noting that, although no professional Jurassic Park reviews had been posted, four user reviews scored the game a perfect 10. While not damning evidence by itself, GameSpot UK decided to look into the matter further and discovered that two of the four reviews were in fact penned by Telltale employees -- a cinematic artist and a user interface artist. Both worked on the game, and neither disclosed the information. While both employees are relatively new to the company, one would think that common sense would tell them it was not a good idea to do this.
Consumers use Metacritic to find unbiased opinions from trusted sources. User reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt. Still, one would think that if the reader knew the review's author worked on the game in question, the description that Jurassic Park: The Game is as "if Steven Spielberg decided to direct Heavy Rain" would probably carry less weight, considering the biased source.
Telltale Games did respond to the issue in a statement.
"Telltale Games do not censor or muzzle its employees in what they post on the internet. However, it is being communicated internally that anyone who posts in an industry forum will acknowledge that they are a Telltale employee. In this instance, two people who were proud of the game they worked on, posted positively on Metacritic under recognizable online forum and XBLA account names."
It is reasonable that those who work on games might want to offer their opinions, but a little disclosure should have been forthcoming. This omission on the parts of the two employees shows simple poor judgment. In a day and age where there is so much information out there to take in and study, it can be very difficult to discern the good sources from the bad. Shame on the Telltale employees who pulled this stunt.
Fix The Jeep?
In a somewhat related story, Kevin Henry, who owns a Jurassic Park-themed Jeep Wrangler, arranged a deal with Telltale Games to use his vehicle for promotion at this past September's PAX, where the studio was showing attendees its (then) upcoming Jurassic Park game. What transpired afterwards is comical, mystifying, puzzling, and downright crazy.
Henry alleged that his jeep was damaged either in transit by the shipping company or by Telltale themselves, but was assured that he'd be compensated for the damages. Telltale allegedly went silent on him after several exchanges in the weeks following PAX. An uproar erupted on Reddit over the issue and also on Telltale's Facebook page -- even bleeding to topics not related to Jurassic Park. Posts were littered with hundreds of comments, most only three words: "FIX THE JEEP!"
Telltale Games CEO Kevin Bruner took to Reddit himself to tell his side of the story and try to set the record straight, letting consumers know that Telltale was not negligent in the handling of the Jeep, and offered to cover all damaged personally.
"Since Telltale didn't actually do anything negligent, we've been using the insurance we purchased to cover this, but it has been time consuming. Apparently too time consuming. To expedite this, I'll be writing a personal check to cover what we understand the damages to be - this way we won't need to hash this out publicly any longer. Some people seem to think that Telltale has grown into some giant corporation that doesn't care about people anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth."
The worst that erupted from Henry's initial tirade was his public naming of the ex-Telltale employee he worked with, leading complete strangers to target her via phone and email for the Jeep damages. This ex-Telltale employee called out Henry in the ensuing flame war for making false accusations, lying about many details during the initial process, and basically trying to ruin her life with hateful emails after September's PAX.
What everyone should take away from this is that there are always several sides to every story, and nameless, faceless internet people jumping to conclusions and harassing a woman who was just doing her job is completely reprehensible. Shame on Henry for publicly naming her as well; there is no room for that. However, considering the matter is concluded and Henry is pacified with the end result, it's best to put this sordid tale behind us, unless you want to buy this shirt.
People will try to make a buck off anything, right?
Jurassic Park: The Game is now available for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow me on Twitter @mattrowland1