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PR Firm Settles With FTC On Fake Game Reviews 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the amazing-summary-A-plus-plus-would-skim-again dept.
eldavojohn writes "So, you pay a PR firm like Reverb to generate some positive buzz for your new mobile game, and what do they do? Hire employees to post fake glowing reviews of your game wherever it's being distributed. The FTC says that's not okay due to regulations enacted last year requiring that paid reviews disclose they are paid reviews. Originally, the fear was that this regulation would target the small-time blogger, but this news of Reverb settling with the FTC over fake game reviews shows that the FTC is also targeting big PR firms. They said, 'We hope that this case will show advertisers that they have to be transparent in their practices and help guide other ad agencies.' The article says fake reviews like those alleged in the complaint (PDF) are pretty much the norm on iTunes. Reverb denies that this settlement is any acknowledgment of wrongdoing; rather, just a timesaver over a costly court battle. Will the FTC continue to make examples of big PR firms? Wait and see."
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PR Firm Settles With FTC On Fake Game Reviews

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  • by GuidedByVoices (1421045) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:14PM (#33394590) Homepage
    These fake reviews are common for businesses as well. Take a look at restaurants on Yelp sometime; many "boost" their review status by posting fakes. How is the FTC actually able to deduce which are from a firm and which are legit anyway?
    • by idontgno (624372) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:17PM (#33394622) Journal
      Well, if we're talking about game reviews, I think a safe assumption is that if it's glowingly positive, it's fake.
      • I'm guessing you've never seen a review written by rabid fans; even before release...
      • by T Murphy (1054674) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:29PM (#33394816) Journal
        The most obvious ones are where the section to list cons is just used to say more good things ("I have a hard time putting it down!").
        • The most obvious ones are where the section to list cons is just used to say more good things ("I have a hard time putting it down!").

          It's generally easy to pick out the fake reviews posted by either one of these companies or by over zealous users. However, how can the FTC differentiate the two? It's not like they can just walk up and demand a list of IP's whenever a product gets strangely glowing reviews. Sometimes people really do absolutely love utter crap (Dan Brown anyone?). It sounds like they just told Reverb to fess up when doing these reviews, but thats hardly a solution.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Well, if we're talking about game reviews, I think a safe assumption is that if it's glowingly positive, it's fake.

        Hold your horses there cowboy. Now I don't disagree that game reviews are flooded with terribly positive reviews but there is no reason to assume that because a review is positive that it's faked.

        Because every odd once in a while, a good game WILL be released and it goes from glowingly positive to explosively positive. I think Portal is one of the more recent/popular ones, so it makes a great example. Now, how many positive reviews have you read for that game? Well if you're anything like me, you heard the

        • I'm not a huge FPS fan (generally hate 'em, actually) but it had just enough MMO-likeness to drag me in, though I'm sure it's not everyone's bag.

          Original track or not, though, the song really fits. :)

      • Right, since there's never been a great game released, ever.
    • by dmonney (1647327) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:30PM (#33394838)
      Yelp was recently sued for extortion for modding down those who didn't pay though. Maybe that's what we are missing. We need to pay Apple!, oh wait that's already done by them making a "featured" secion.
      • Yelp was recently sued for extortion for modding down those who didn't pay though. Maybe that's what we are missing. We need to pay Apple!, oh wait that's already done by them making a "featured" secion.

        If I had mod points, I'd mod you up for mentioning Yelp being sued. I was totally unaware of that.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        The difference being that Yelp masqueraded as a community site, while the App Store is known to be rules by The Jobs with an iron mouse hand (with one finger.) I use the past tense of masquerade even though they are still operating because they now have absolutely zero credibility among people who give a shit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573)

      They do it on blogs too. Unfortunately for them they can't capitalize on my site's high ranking for their restaurants because I track them down and expose them for what they are. See here: http://www.lazylightning.org/astroturfing-poor-attempts-at-changing-opinion [lazylightning.org]

      If other sites were smart they'd be doing the same things. The actual userbase is far more pleased with the service you provide when you don't allow that sort of bullshit.

      • by jd (1658)

        Politicians pay bloggers these days, not only for fake positive opinions of themselves but for fake negative opinions of others. Companies routinely pay for positive articles in newspapers. Medical companies are currently under investigation for pressuring journals to only accept positive results from studies of their drugs (though it's unlikely the practice will change or be restricted). In the end, parasitic opinion pieces are a major problem in many, many different arenas. And that's just what these are

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      I don't know, because I'm too busy playing this new awesome game called "Kane and Lynch: Dead Men." The gameplay is so amazing and absorbing that I just can't tear myself away long enough to follow news stories. It's well-worth every penny of the $60 I paid for it and more. I would recommend it to everyone.
      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        I know the story but you could at least have pointed at the recently released sequel.

    • They don't have to police the review. They just have to read the sales pitch. The FTC can call a PR firm (based on tips, probably) and say "Hey, I'm at XYZ startup. Can you hook us up with some fake reviews, sans disclosure?" Only one answer to that is legal.

      What this will do is smash it as a money maker. Big, legit brands will avoid it. Mom-on-Pop's on Yelp will probably get away with it. The Yelp's of the world, who can make educated guesses about the profile of a fake reviewer (IP address, for one thing)

      • Uh, whoops. That's supposed to read Mom-and-Pops. Mom-on-Pops are an entirely different part of the internet.

    • I mean, does InfoWorld pay snydeq [bit.ly] to do anything else besides astroturf daily on Slashdot?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Here in Springfield we don't need no stinkin' reviews... we have the Illinois Times [illinoistimes.com] yearly "best of" poll. Businesses big and small who win the IT poll proudly post their plaques.

      The funny thing is, it's like a Chicago political vote: vote early, vote often. But somehow, the good places/things/people manage to win (WQNA, D'Arcy's Pint, Saputos...)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stephanruby (542433)

      How is the FTC actually able to deduce which are from a firm and which are legit anyway?

      I think they're going for the low hanging fruits first, many of which will be some of the worst offenders. Disgruntled former employees will be their primary source of information. And I'm guessing there will be a good number of them since this is not going to be a good job for anyone to have. The next ring down would be stupid PR firms that either brag/advertise what they're doing, or post suspect reviews from an ip address block that can easily be traced back to them.

      After that, I think it will be in th

  • Wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:19PM (#33394652)
    Why should I pay someone to post fake reviews when I can create false accounts and post fake reviews all by myself for free? Unless there is some foolproof method of positively establishing the identity of the poster, these reviews should be considered crap anyway.
    • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by butterflysrage (1066514) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:21PM (#33394686)

      volume... can you create hundreds, make sure none get taken down, repost the ones that do... day in and day out AND get your next game made?

      • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:38PM (#33394950) Journal

        Correctumundo!

        Why do people assume that just because something is free and trivial that you wouldn't pay someone to do it? Time is money, and its up to you to decide whether the money you save for posting your own fake reviews is worth the money you could be making doing something else - and whether the fake reviews are worth the money of paying someone else.

        I mean - I'll give the neighbourhood kid 10 bucks to mow my lawn, even though I have a lawn mower and could easily do it on a Saturday afternoon.

        • by jd (1658)

          Correctumundo!

          "There's a word I've never used before... and hopefully never will again." (The Doctor)

      • by Terrasque (796014)

        Nothing is impossible for ShellScriptMan! ;)

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        The point was, the fewer people involved in my astroturfing scheme, the less chance there is of the truth leaking out. These guys got in trouble because they were too lazy to do their own dirty work. Hundreds of other smarter businesses are still getting away with it.
    • Why should I pay someone to post fake reviews when I can create false accounts and post fake reviews all by myself for free?

      Unless your game is free and not funded by someone else, wouldn't those still be paid reviews?

    • are you asking why people hire PR firms? I think thats kinda implicit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations [wikipedia.org]
  • I'm suprised any example of it's actions were not in the complaint or article. Kinda wish I was able to find out who paid for good reviews.
  • Business as usual (Score:3, Insightful)

    by decipher_saint (72686) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:28PM (#33394800) Homepage

    Video game reviewing is probably one of the least credible forms of "journalism" out there. Back in the day it was magazine editors that were getting rewards for pushing reviews in perhaps more positive directions than they needed to be. Then it was game reviewing websites. Now it's a swarm of goobers who post "user" reviews to sites.

    I'm fairly confident in saying that video game reviews, for the most part, are useless (or perhaps to be taken for entertainment purposes only).

    • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:49PM (#33395086)
      It's not all bad, you just need to ignore both

      a) Big-name publications. As you say, they're pretty much factories which output wonderful reviews for the sake of early-access and other perks.

      b) Individual commenters and nobodies with blogs. They're either paid shills or, more commonly, frothing fanboys who don't meet any standards of objectivity.

      There are reliable sources, though, when you look outside of these categories. Sites like Ars Technica are pretty good, although since gaming is just one of several things they do, there's never any guarantee that they'll review the game you're interested in. Penny Arcade is of course the gold standard: Tycho (or Jerry, or whatever) is a great writer, and you can be damn sure that if he gives a game a thumbs-up, he's not doing it as a favor to some PR man. As long as you stick to established good sources you don't have to worry about scams like this.
      • The key difference with someone like Tycho is that he has built up credibility. We may not see eye to eye on a lot of things but at least I can "trust" what he says to be his genuine perspective.

        Sadly, game reviewing seems to be one of those wells that is all too easy to poison...

      • by radish (98371)

        I would add Joystiq to that list, I'm sure someone will laugh or mod me down but as far as I'm concerned they have more cred than pretty much anyone in the industry (e.g. refusing any paid trips, giving away review copies once they're done with them, etc).

    • You'd be surprised how often it happens for novels as well. "The Losers' Club" by Richard Perez is a fairly well known example of review poisoning. Hundreds of reviews, "Best of Lists" on Amazon, etc; all fabricated by the author and his friends. Review Journalism is often questionable, regardless of the medium being reviewed; it's just more visible with video games at the moment. 10 years ago it was PC Mag.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      Somehow I rarely find them informative either, which is maybe a bigger problem with videogame journalism overall. Not that other kinds of reviews are always great, but I do sometimes learn things about a book, film, or album by reading a review---sometimes from both positive and negative reviews, and sometimes the review even adds an interesting perspective and background information for things I've actually already read/watched/listened-to. I very rarely get that feeling from game reviews.

      Of course, this m

    • Re:Business as usual (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cgenman (325138) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:18PM (#33395510) Homepage

      I feel like there is a quality scale in gaming, and a tickle-your-fancy factor. Borderlands is a reasonable quality game, but it never quite tickled my fancy. Some reviews were strongly positive (decent quality, very much of interest to the reviewer), while others just went "meh" (decent quality, not of interest to the reviewer). By comparison, I loved that terrible Burger King Pocket Bike Racer game. It wasn't amazing or terrible, but it happened to strike a sweet spot in my personal brain between a love of bikes, a love of kart racers, and a love of really, really short racing games. Similarly, I'm a fan of DeathSmiles. It is of moderate to high quality. But the appeal is on a razor edge of gothic bullet hell players. No matter the quality level, I can't think of a single friend that would enjoy playing the game.

      I find it's most useful to skim the reviews to get a sense for the overall build quality of the game. And if the soul of the game also genuinely appeals, go for it.

      Full disclosure: I work in gaming.

    • And what video game companies (and companies in many other industries as well) fail to realize is that fake reviews that uniformly tout what's "wonderful" about new products cause people to stop paying attention to reviews at all. I used to use reviews to decide which of several games to spend my money on. I did this because I had bought several games that the game company description made sound like the sort of game I enjoy and they turned out to not be to my taste at all (and not very well done either). W
  • On the bright side, they've added the "believable" tomatometer to itunes movie reviews,
    but it's pretty obvious from the vacuous generic positive platitudes that many of the "user"
    reviews are bought and paid for.

  • "EA Sports doesn't want you to know that the characters in their so-called 'wrestling' games are really just actors, spitting chicken blood and stomping their feet to simulate impacts.

    If they really cared about gamers, why would they pull this trick on innocent people?

    Call EA Sports and tell them: no more jumping off of ladders onto balsa wood tables.

    I'm THQ UFC Undisputed, and I approve this message."

  • Now if they only started actually enforcing the payola laws.
    • by swb (14022)

      You're telling me payola, and not a word class set of tits, is what's behind Katy Perry's success?

      • Are we talking about the same Katy Perry? The one that remade "I wear sunglasses at night" into a pop song (again), about lipstick lesbians? Because if we are, I'm pretty sure it's not the tits. It certainly isn't talent. That pretty much just leaves the payola.
  • Originally, the fear was that this regulation would target the small-time blogger, but this news of Reverb settling with the FTC over fake game reviews shows that the FTC is also targeting big PR firms.

    "Also" targeting big PR firms? Where has the FTC been "targetting" "small-time" bloggers?

    Something tells me the FTC has zero interest in enforcement for individuals, unless they're misleading a LOT of people.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:42PM (#33395010)

    I would make it illegal to settle a lawsuit without admitting wrongdoing.

    If you're innocent, then it's wrong for the plaintiff to get a dime from you. And if you're liable, then the results of discovery should be available to any other would-be plaintiff.

    Settlements basically set up a shakedown system.

    • by DavidD_CA (750156)

      Except that in a settlement, both parties agree to the resolution.

      If either one doesn't like the proposed settlement, they have every right to say "Um, no. We're going to court."

      The terms of the settlement COULD be to admit wrong doing, should the other party insist on it and the accused party agree to it.

      I think if both parties are willing to come to an agreement, without wasting any more tax dollars, then that's a great thing.

      And if you don't like it, but felt that you too were damaged by the outcome, th

  • Are these (Score:2, Funny)

    by SnarfQuest (469614)

    Are these bloggers typical slashdot bloggers?

    Duke Nukem Forever is the wonderfulest game ever gone and played. It is more better than the other one. I dont no of any gooder game available for the xbox windows. It wood only gets betterer if they cud have included Natalie Portman as a playable character.

  • Since American corporations now have pay for votes, Fox News, which is a self-described news organization and which contains vast amounts of astroturfing of current events, should be treated as false advertising as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Compare the number of political operatives from the Democratic Party who now work for MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC to the number of political operatives from the Republican Party who now work for Fox News (by political operative I mean someone who once held an elective office or worked in the government answerable directly to someone who held an elective office). I think you will find that each of the other networks have at least as many Democratic operatives (former?) working for them as Fox News has Repub
      • by blair1q (305137)

        Fox News was founded by Reagan apparatchiks. It's owned by Rupert Murdoch. It donated money to the RNC.

        I wouldn't even know where to go to get the employee records needed to make the counts you imply someone's made.

        As for "comments I have seen online", I used the word "astroturfing" in my OP. And I don't know how you get an impression about a propaganda organization by not watching it.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Guess you don't watch msnbc, abc, cbs or npr. I could cover a football stadium by the amount of astroturf they pump out.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        You need to look up astroturf. Those outlets are reporting the facts. If anything, they're failing to properly deal with the facts about Fox News.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          You need to look up astroturf. Those outlets are reporting the facts. If anything, they're failing to properly deal with the facts about Fox News.

          Actually perhaps you should get out of your comfort zone, and try doing some research. The only facts they present half the time is that they happily manufacture news, or report news that has no needed basis in reality. Manufacturing news is not reporting the facts, and they've been going hog-board-wild with it for the last 10 years.

          • by blair1q (305137)

            I haven't been in my comfort zone since the plutocracy got the Gingrich nazis elected in the 90s.

            And I can't tell who you're ranting against, since Fox News is the one manufacturing stories and ignoring the news.

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              Well lets roll up with this one. You state you haven't been in your comfort zone. Then you call individuals nazi's with no factual proof. That first sentence implies that you base your information off of specific talking points. Your second point states that fox manufactures stories and ignores the news.

              How about some of the more recent news of the day.
              Cole prosecution dropped(or postponed), members of ABC news inciting, and attempting to manufacture false 'racism' at anti-mosque rallies. Failing to in

      • by hal2814 (725639)

        "Guess you don't watch msnbc, abc, cbs or npr."

        Given those networks' viewing and listening figures these days, that's a safe assumption.

      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        Privately run TV stations are worthless for news, the only thing they get done is show some decent movies and even then they stuff them so full of advertising that watching them is no fun.

  • So tell me ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:54PM (#33395166) Homepage

    What is a review that isn't "fake" or paid for? Where do you find such a thing? Certainly not on the Internet.

    There are two reasons for anyone to write something: they personally feel so strongly that they have to tell other people and they are getting paid to do it. The former is pretty much restricted to people with negative comments. So I guess that means any review that is positive is paid for.

    Similarly, negative reviews about your competition are an extremely powerful tool if you assume that people are still reading fake, misleading reviews about anything. So that means a good portion of the negative reviews can be assumed to be put their by people trying to make their competition look bad.

    So why would anyone believe a review on the Internet? Near as I can tell they are all fake or paid for.

    • About the only reviews I've given credit to in the last few years have been satirical reviews from people like Spoony or some of the other YouTube vloggers. However, even these can be hard to detect as fake (such as the e-cigarette reviewers who genuinely seem legit - Actors, they make all the difference).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LatencyKills (1213908)
      There's a third group of people you missed in your post - those who review games because they genuinely love playing them and want others to find the good ones and avoid the bad ones, and maybe even in some Darwinian fashion improve gaming as a whole. I've been doing online game reviews for almost a decade - companies send me games, some ask for me to review them specifically - and I've always posted my honest opinion of them without dilution or pressure from my agent. I've had companies send me games tha
      • by e4g4 (533831)

        if you're reading a game review with a banner ad for that game across the top of it, it's probably not a real review

        For once, an argument _against_ running AdBlock in Firefox.

      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        I've seen cases where a review was surrounded by ads for its game and completely tore that apart. Especially smaller sites tend to grab advertising packs where they just get money per X views and the agency they're getting the pack from decides what goes in there (also leads to cases where ads distribute malware without the knowledge of the site owner), the site and the maker of the advertised product never meet on advertising. Review copies also seem to be given out like candy even for games that will obvi

    • by Trufagus (1803250)

      All the law requires is a basic degree of honesty: don't pretend that the review is simply your opinion if you are actually being paid to take a certain position. There was a /. article this week about this same problem in political blogging. In all cases the consumer can make a better evaluation of any review (or political opinion) if they know whether the author was paid for the position they are taking.

      What I don't get is this part:
      > Originally, the fear was that this regulation would target the sma

      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        I guess the fear was that it'd be used as a tripping stone for amateurs that don't pay much attention to new laws and could easily be attacked on some technicality.

    • by Gaffod (939100)

      There's a difference between being paid to express your opinion, and being paid to adopt an opinion and then express it. It's called a conflict of interest.

      It would be pretty nice if reviewers had to disclose those, now that I think of it. Having a note saying "CoI: I was paid by the developer to write a positive review." under a pile of baloney (and knowing that there is legislation ensuring that you can trust that note) would change things quite a bit. It would probably make review magazines/sites more ex

  • yes (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:37PM (#33395758) Journal

    Will the FTC continue to make examples of big PR firms?

    It is the modus operandi of the FTC to go after big firms and hope that the smaller guys will play along. They suggest that if you notice a small business not obeying rules, you should report them to the BBB, report them to local authorities, or sue them yourself. Presumably they don't have enough resources to chase everyone, but for whatever reason, if you are a small blog, you have nothing to worry about from the FTC.

  • It's all around us (Score:2, Informative)

    by ProfanityHead (198878)

    Newegg, Amazon, any online reseller has reviews for each item where in some cases I'd guess 50% of them are fake.

    At least on Amazon you can reply to a comment and challenge the person's authenticity.

    I wouldn't see a reason why game reviews would be any different.

  • We've all seen obviously fake reviews, on all our favorite internet stores. However, you've probably also seen very nice, balanced user reviews (I sometimes leave these on Amazon whether I liked or disliked whatever it is... I don't think I've ever reviewed a game on there, though).

    So how hard would it be to pay people to write reviews that aren't so obviously fake? Provide your fake reviewers with mostly positive points about the game - not "It's great! I can't stop playing it!!!" nonsense, but actual aspe

  • Video game reviewing is probably one of the least credible forms of "journalism" out there. Back in the day it was magazine editors that were getting rewards for pushing reviews in perhaps more positive directions than they needed to be..... http://globetv.co.uk/ [globetv.co.uk]

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