Metacritic Catches Games Reviewers Taking Bribes

by Joseph Trotter, posted on 13 July 2011 / 18,426 Views

Metacritic, a leading games database website, have been quoted by CVG confirming that they have scored off certain websites for 'corrupt practises,' as well as claiming that certain reviewers 'can absolutely be bought.'

This of course raises further questions, namely how often is it done, how consistently, how wide, and to whom?

Strangely, publishers haven't exactly been falling over themselves to make comment on the issue when enquired upon, but it is hard to believe that there aren't a lot of instances of this happening. Many before have confirmed the importance of a system like Metacritic for software sales, whilst game reception obviously makes a big difference to sales; the difference between a 89% and a 90% score can result in thousands more units being sold.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that reviewers may be offered various incentives to increase their scores, whether it be directly financial or, as more often in the case of smaller sites, offers of review copies and a closer relationship.

Even when writing music reviews for the local student media in Glasgow, I was offered incentives at gigs and through contacts to be 'kinder' to certain labels and musicians. These ranged from things like free tickets, CDs etc to full blown offers of cash in hand. Although I did not take them (it's much more fun to slam a poor artist, and I would lose integrity in a close-knit scene), I know of those who did, and in other forms of media too.

As such, for such a thing to not be happening in a multi-billion dollar industry as cut throat as that of games is unlikely. Sure, there are subtle ways of doing it, and different ways to hide it, but next time you see a score which takes you aback, just remember it might not just be personal preference.


More Articles

43 Comments

Ssenkahdavic (on 13 July 2011)

Well damn. Maybe I should start writing reviews....


Luckyspunky (on 13 July 2011)

This isnt news =P


Bluyoshi (on 13 July 2011)

Took the words out of my mouth xD


  • 0
AaronSOLDIER (on 13 July 2011)

GTA4 was definitely one of them, I wouldn't even give it a 90/100 nevermind 98 or whatever it got.


Michelasso (on 17 July 2011)

Come on.. GTA IV has been a solid game with a great online experience. Well, initial bugs apart. The car racing is something. The hype was extreme, sure, but at the end it did deliver. And I tell you this as a no GTA fan.


  • -1
superchunk (on 13 July 2011)

This is why I largely ignore reviews of any media and simply make my own decision based on trailers, demos, etc.


naruball (on 13 July 2011)

@Grandia How many reviewers do you think Sony paid to get good reviews for Uncharted2? Do you think they also paid gamers too? Because all I see is threads on how great Uncharted 2 is. I personally think that Mario Galaxy is overrated, but since both most critics and gamers praise it all the time I realise that it is a good game, just not my cup of tea.


Jaos (on 13 July 2011)

Ok, now is official what a lot of us believed for a long time. Luckily I don't give a shit anymore on game review scores.


Jon-Erich (on 16 July 2011)

Wait, it's now official? I'm sorry, but EGM has been reporting on this issue on various occasions since the early 1990's. The only difference is back in 1993, they actually had the balls to say Capcom pulled ads from their magazine because they wouldn't give the millionth version of Street Fighter II a high score. About 10 years later, Dan Hsu made a controversial editorial talking about publishers offering bribes for good reviews and how publishers would go as far as sending televisions, stereo systems or cash in exchange for good reviews and magazine exclusives. He also talked about how EGM once turned down a major exclusive because of what they would have to do to get it only to have another major publication accept the offer under the same conditions. Dan unfortunately did not name names unlike his predecessor which is one reason why what he said was so controversial. But like I said this is nothing new and people have known about it for a long time. The reason you don't see more publications write about is because it is a taboo subject and talking about such a thing openly could get you a lot of unwanted attention.


  • 0
Chrizum (on 13 July 2011)

What's the big deal? This happens in every industry, everywhere. Sure, you shouldn't trust reviews, but only idiots claim otherwise.


Nebnosneh (on 14 July 2011)

So what are you saying? Because it happens in other industries that makes it ok? Two wrongs make a right do they?
The big deal is that it should not be too much to ask that journalists have integrity. ANY journalists, games included.


  • 0
Chrizum (on 14 July 2011)

That is exactly what I'm saying. It's the way of all things. Sure, you might resent it, but it doesn't change anything. Some journalists have integrity, others don't. Everybody's different. You should just know better. Don't trust reviews: problem solved.


  • 0
Heavenly_King (on 14 July 2011)

this isnt news; it is obvious that some companies do that.....maybe even vgchartz ¬_¬


Pjams (on 14 July 2011)

Sounds like CVG's review of Crysis 2.


ryuzaki57 (on 13 July 2011)

I don't trust game journalism anyway... reviewers are persons just like me, who might have radically different tastes so they obviously don't enjoy some games the same way I do


krizalidzero (on 13 July 2011)

Again: This is what makes Halo so big, lol.


usrevenge (on 13 July 2011)

this is why only morons judge a game by review. i read a review or 2 to see the basic idea for a game, not the opinion of the person,


IceHedge (on 14 July 2011)

As long as you can distinguish between the opinion of the reviewer from factual bits of info(example: is there co-op, is there local multiplayer, is there a higher difficulty to tackle, etc), then I'd say you're safe.

I don't mind if a reviewer is opinionated, in fact, I encourage it. What I find irritating is when the reviewer attempts to tell the majority of their readers/viewers what they want to hear, breaking the fourth wall and uttering, "You'll like this if.. you'll prefer this over.." when I have -never- been able to relate to any of it.

I'd rather a reviewer speak his or her mind, explain more in-depth what he/she finds enjoyable or frustrating, and skip the final score altogether, but hey, people keep buying Game Informer, so that'll never happen.


  • 0
Killiana1a (on 13 July 2011)

Even the big sites like GameSpot and IGN take "incentives." How do you think they get insider access for game previews? They don't review an atrocious title, like Far Cry 2, laden with game breaking bugs corrupting saves less than an 80. As a result, they keep their insider status. Games like Far Cry 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4 (vastly overrated) are why many gamers, including myself, simply do not trust in anything which has the arrogance to call itself or merely appear as "video game journalism." It ain't about dollars and cents, it is about being an "insider" and if you are too honest like the Giant Bomb website, then your little website can only hope to rival Kotaku and Joystiq, not GameSpot or IGN.


angelsaremyplaything (on 16 July 2011)

I've noticed that reviews of highly hyped games are often 2 to 3 points higher out of 10 then they should be, in rare cases it goes to 4, so well yes they won't give a 4 game a 8 they will give a 6 game a 8.5 or maybe even 9


  • 0
MorganLeFay (on 13 July 2011)

Looking back at certain game review scores, I think Metacritic must have dropped the most obvious offender. Oh wait, Escapist's score for DA2 was 100 and PC Gamer's was 94 and they are still listed on Metacritic... now I'm confused. :P


Heavenly_King (on 14 July 2011)

Dragon Age 2 is better than DA:O in the gameplay department; but not in story.


  • +1
MorganLeFay (on 15 July 2011)

Well, if you consider enemies spawning from thin air and dropping into the scene or the predictable waves of baddies an improvement then by all means you are right. :)


  • 0
GamingHUD (on 15 July 2011)

This has been going on for years, as early as 2004 if memory serves (or at least when I started becoming more aware of such activities). So in that respect, it's hardly 'new' news. It's also why I founded my own site and have spent the better part of 6 years avoiding the sites in question in favour of reviews up on peoples' personal blogs.


Alby_da_Wolf (on 14 July 2011)

It took an awful lot of time for Metacritic to acknowledge the obvious... :-P


djneibarger (on 14 July 2011)

that explains the couple good reviews that Duke Nukem Forever got :)


Pjams (on 14 July 2011)

Sounds like CVG's review of Crysis 2.


binary solo (on 14 July 2011)

Interesting that barring maybe a few abberations Metacritic scores still seem to roughly reflect the merits of a game. Sure a "bought" game might score 90 on metacritic when it would have got an 87 if left to its own devices, but I can't think of a game that's sub-70 worthy which has got a 90+. So between Metacritic weeding out the more corrupt reviewers and there being enough honest reviewers the impact on Metascore is probably minimal. Find yourself a reviewer who's tastes align with yours and listen to them. The lads here at VGC seem to do a reasonable job even if I don't always agree.


fauzman (on 14 July 2011)

Isnt there some kind of anti-fraud department that can investigate and prosecute such dodgyness? These people should be named and shamed so as not to ever do this again.


Teo (on 13 July 2011)

Demon's Souls > every other game on metacritic with a 90+ which makes metacritic a complete joke and irrelevant as much as every game reviewer. It's pathetic that people still buy games based on these meaningless numbers.


Michelasso (on 17 July 2011)

Well, it still got an 89. Even if a 95 was much more appropriate. Then who cares. DS is exactly the example of a game getting successfull thanks to the word of mouth. I didn't know much about it but I knew I HAD to buy it!! And not I already preordered Dark Souls.


  • 0
Kenology (on 13 July 2011)

So ultimately, Metacritic is completely irrelevant in discerning the quality of a game. Certain people have been saying this since late 2006.


nightp00l (on 13 July 2011)

I work in the biz and..YEP! When I first started I was a bit surprised, more so with which sites do it. Most wont even review your game unless you pay for face time.


MessiaH (on 13 July 2011)

Hope they publicly list them. O.W.T.H!!! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!!!


Imphamis (on 20 July 2011)

I don't care about someone's opinion enough to manipulate my decisions, even if it's labeled in statistics. I will play what I want, and whether it's "good" or "bad" will be my own perception of it at the end of the day.


angelsaremyplaything (on 16 July 2011)

one of the many reasons I trust user reviews over professional ones these days and text over numbers


Seece (on 16 July 2011)

LOL @ Ssenkahdavic


Seece (on 16 July 2011)

Oh dear ...


Justp94 (on 16 July 2011)

IGN.com is definitely one of those Reviewers.


XanderZane (on 14 July 2011)

Well, I used to write reviews and I never took any money for higher reviews. I was never offered it for one. Getting all the free games to review was payment enough for me. Yeah. GTA IV's 100% scores was definitely one of them were a few critics got paid. MGS IV was probably another. I wouldn't have given either of these games 10's or 100% scores. This shouldn't be happening, but it does. I remember being flown to Idaho to review Pygnosis golf game (Pro 18: World Tour Golf). We got a chance to play the game and play on the Coeur d'Alene golf course that was in the game. All expenses paid. It was awesome, but the game sucked when it was released. I ended up giving it a 6 score if I remember correctly. Even though they treated us great, it never effected the score I gave them. [url]http://www.gamespot.com/ps/sports/pro18worldtourgolf/review.html?tag=tabs%3Breviews[/url]


GamingHUD (on 16 July 2011)

Spot on, in that the free stuff should be reward enough. Now to get my own place big enough to get the free stuff :P


  • 0
angelsaremyplaything (on 16 July 2011)

6 out of 10 is above average, you gave a game that sucked a decent score, I'm guessing if they didn't do the all expenses paid thing you would have given it a 4


  • 0
angelsaremyplaything (on 16 July 2011)

6 out of 10 is above average, you gave a game that sucked a decent score, I'm guessing if they didn't do the all expenses paid thing you would have given it a 4


  • 0
UnknownFact (on 14 July 2011)

I don't care about these review scores, they've disappointed me many times.


GhaudePhaede010 (on 14 July 2011)

I also believe review tampering happens. A company gives incentives to, "slander" another companines release. But people have known this for years. Not exactly breaking information although it would be nice to gain some knowledge of who has done what exactly. That would make for good reading.


mouse_clicker (on 14 July 2011)

The worst part is if you're a writing for a gaming site that's struggling to make ends meet, and a publisher threatens to cut you off if you give a game a bad score, which could seriously hurt your readership, you might have to think about whether you want to retain your integrity or pay your bills. The publishers are the root of the problem, and they need to STOP putting such ridiculous stock in Metacritic scores. Movie studios don't rely so heavily on RottenTomatoes, do they? I'm hoping articles like this bring light to the rather common practice and help bring it to an end, or at least curb its influence.


Mordred11 (on 14 July 2011)

That explains the recent stellar reviews for DH2!... Heh,just joking..


Tammi (on 14 July 2011)

Wow. I hope most reviewers don't start taking incentives. I pay a lot of attention to reviews as I usually find them to be pretty accurate for me...


angelsaremyplaything (on 16 July 2011)

they already do, don't put too much faith in professional reviewers, they always unfairly favor more hyped games


  • 0
XCWarrior (on 14 July 2011)

Ah, this explains most of IGNs, Game Informer's and 1Ups reviews.


Nebnosneh (on 13 July 2011)

I think game journalists lost the respect of gamers years ago without this 'revelation'


sethnintendo (on 13 July 2011)

Doesn't surprise me. Like many have said it happens in a lot of industries. I remember when Sony was busted giving bribes to Clear Channel employees to play songs from their musicians more. It is easy to bribe with small gifts and expect bigger profits in return. One should always read a few reviews to see if there are any game breaking issues, bugs, glitches, etc. Then they should watch actual game-play videos, play demos, etc.. before deciding to buy or not. Usually, I don't even read reviews for Nintendo games. I know they are well polished and I will enjoy them.


richardhutnik (on 13 July 2011)

Ok, I should maybe reconsider my thread I posted before that one isn't compensated for being a partisan in the videogame business.


SxyxS (on 14 July 2011)

really amazing an so new:corruption is the most impotant weapon and it is a lot easier to buy a reviewer than a politician or a rating agency. There has been so much Hype in the past years for games that were just good but they were rated great(especially short shooters)-this hasn"t happened by accident. Or take a look at GTA4-I like this game,but San Andreas and Vice City are better. BTW:I"m pretty sure most of us know how the next shooter ratings will be:(MW3-97%,Gears 3 98%,Halo 4 97%)


halil23 (on 14 July 2011)

halo anyone?


Kantor (on 14 July 2011)

I don't think this is as big as most people seem to think. Generally, when we give a higher score than you think is fair to a game, it is genuinely because we liked it more than you did and/or we have horrible taste.


Comments below voting threshold

Grandia (on 13 July 2011)

I never had doubts that publishers like Sony, EA or Rockstar payed millions that a Game like Uncharted 2 get this extremely high Review Scores. Uncharted 2 or GTA4 are extremly overrated because of this bribes. After big disappointments like Uncharted2, GTA4 and Modern Warfare2 wich are all extrem overrated, I really get how this industry works and since than I only trust my own senses and don't count on metacritics.


Dgc1808 (on 13 July 2011)

Explain SOCOM, Motorstorm Apoc, Eyepet, White Knight Chronicles, and MAG's review scores to me, bro...


  • +1
Dgc1808 (on 13 July 2011)

And believe me, there's more.


  • +1
d0nni3 (on 13 July 2011)

why the attack on uncharted 2?? might not have been your thing but to call it overrated in the eyes of the majority is alittle bit rich


  • -1
demonfox13 (on 13 July 2011)

ROFL I realized this was stupid outright trolling the moment you mentioned Uncharted 2. The critical reception was far and wide and it was mainly due to the gamers themselves (I personally loved it). Sony's games tend to get mediocre scores because it seems they aren't bribing enough so your statement is absolutely flawed on that side. As for GTA4, MW2 I agree.


  • -2
realsubzero (on 14 July 2011)

I used to do reviews for a smaller Irish Games Website. It was big in Ireland but not really anywhere else. I can 100% confirm this is going on, and for quite a while too. I remember Microsoft going absolutley crazy when i gave Blinx a bad review, it was supposed to be their Mario Killer. They werent happy and threatened to pull all review code from the site unless it was changed. We didnt change it, and they never stopped the review code, but they did threaten it.

Also Sega, the opposite. Our site gave toe jam and earl on xbox 360 a decent review. I liked it. 7/10 i think was the score at the time, but they were thrilled as the game was getting an absolute hammering. They sent me free teddys and a few copies of the game as a thank you. ( THEY DID NOT ASK FOR A GREAT REVIEW). They were just happy and gave free stuff.


  • +1