Never in a million years would I call developers ‘stupid’. Nor would I try and create such a blanket term; tar everyone with the same brush and suggest one ill-conceived action somehow has massive repercussions on our perception of this particular creative sector as a whole. Heck, game artists/developers/designers have proven themselves to be a lot smarter than I am, even if I too spend a majority of my time in front of a computer screen. Unfortunately there comes a time, sadly, when a developer — or perhaps certain members on the team — makes a decision, be it immoral, unethical or outright foolish, that leaves me groaning. Groaning to the point it brings back all sorts of paranoia-ridden ideas on where the industry has found itself in the neo-tennies (as I’m calling it; feel free to laugh).
It was only last week that Harmonix, the developers behind the recently-released Rock Band 4, were caught fiddling with the game’s customer approval rating via the Amazon store page by leaving five-star reviews. “Rock Band 4 is a perfect introduction to video games,” one review mentions; “I am so psyched to finally have Rock Band 4 on my Xbox One” another proclaims — a platform many reviews seemed to share. “You can still rock in America. Aw yeeah. Aw right.” While some were more than happy to supply their names — in the latter case, Matthew Nordhaus was willing not to hide behind the wall of internet anonymity — others were not so transparent — instead choosing to appear as regular, everyday customers simply keen to offer some feedback on their most recent purchase.
The review was quickly updated with a disclosure, stating the comments in question were ‘half in jest’ and to Nordhaus’ credit, he didn’t come out guns blazing and/or throw wild accusations at those questioning such authenticity. Even so, his reasoning — disclaimer included — holds as much sway as me making multiple accounts, going to a game I don’t particular have high fondness for and calling it “a piece of crap” before proclaiming “oh it was just a joke guys, therefore that makes it OK.” I digress, Harmonix’s shady plan to unconventionally promote their latest work hasn’t been the worst offender of creators speaking a little too much within public domain.
It was only earlier this year, following Ready At Dawn’s release of PS4-exclusive The Order 1886 — and its subsequent not-so-desirable reaction from critics — that sparked them to respond on Twitter with some, let’s say, scrutinizing statements. Not only that, we had another member on the R.A.D. team have a go at the Let’s Play-style of game promotion, proclaiming the game as being anything other than great. It wasn’t what Ready At Dawn or the game itself needed, given all the controversy and accusations thrown at the developers beforehand for how they were approaching the project — and indeed what they were saying in interviews — but admittedly, Harmonix’s situation isn’t nearly as convoluted or as disconnected from consumer reaction as Ready At Dawn’s was.
Still, this reasserts the problem with modern day aggregate systems and how they are so easily influenced by a vocal minority, developers and consumers alike. No one will deny Metacritic’s user scoring system has become a joke with 0s and 10s drowning out the more genuine, thought-out responses that aren’t there simply to distort perception (for the lulz, haha). It makes no difference how invested the gaming community is in the Rock Band franchise, or whether its developers are open about being on the team. If that’s the case, why push for a perfect score? Why insist on making sure your game gets as many five-star ratings as it can? At the end of the day you’re still exploiting what is an already unenforced, unregulated (unregulated in the sense one can’t outright dictate the right to an opinion) system of persuasion and influence.
It’s sad that amid this ominously-connected social age, companies — or be it, certain employees within said company — have to go that extra mile in ensuring some mind-set of positivity exists, genuine or not. Yes, any form of negative reaction/opinion will always resonate more, and sometimes people will latch onto negativity for as much the same reasons, to force through a state of mind as being that of the norm. But a positive spike in an otherwise disenchanted sea of consumer doubt, at the same time, will most often than not raise an eyebrow. Let’s not forget BioWare, not once, but twice tried to make out two 10/10 user scores were just that: plain, ordinary members of the gaming public. And not, as it quickly came to light, employees affiliated with said company whom refused to disclose their glaring bias.
Hence, this leads me to my closing statement and to bring to light why such incidents run the risk of testing community patience. The truth is, we’ve played this drama out already — once alone was too many and we’ve wound up repeating the cycle over and over. It’s time developers realize the consumer base, be it the enthusiasts, the investigative types or simply those who care where their money goes, are not stupid. We’re not blind and certainly not dumb (well, ninety percent of us anyway). Every post, input and contribution will leave a digital fingerprint and so long as the web continues to thrive and stand as vocally abundant as it is, there will be those who make it their duty to sniff out the truth. Lil’ bit of advice Harmonix and co: please don’t treat us like fools.