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Microsoft Investigating Claims Of Ratings Manipulation In Xbox Live Indie Games
Microsoft Investigating Claims Of Ratings Manipulation In Xbox Live Indie Games
March 29, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

Microsoft is investigating charges of manipulation of the user ratings for Xbox Live's Indie Games Section in the wake of allegations that a group of users have been spamming the service with false ratings.

"We are investigating a possible misuse of ratings on XBLIG titles. We'll announce more information here as it develops," reads a recent tweet from the official XNACommunity twitter account.

Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games -- makers of Xbox Live indie RPG titles including Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World -- first noted the alleged manipulation last week, tying a surge of low ratings for many popular XBLIG titles to a March 24 post on the Facebook page for XBLIG game College Lacrosse: The Video Game.

The post urged fans to provide a 5-star rating to the recently released 2011 version of the title, and provided a link to the game's page, where anyone with a free account can provide a rating.

But Boyd alleges many of those fans went farther than that, providing the minimum 1-star rating to competing XBLIG titles to help improve the Lacrosse games' positions.

The Facebook post now includes a note for lacrosse fans to "please remember to not rate other games low to help CL11," which appears to have been added after the initial post was made.

Boyd says the influx of negative reviews immediately resulted in a four or five-position drop in the ratings chart position of Chtulhu Saves the World, with a further nine position drop coming with over 300 new rankings in the following days. The lower ranking makes the title less visible to potential consumers and has a direct effect on revenues, Boyd says.

While neither College Lacrosse's developer nor its fans seem to have broken any current Microsoft policies, the alleged manipulation raises the issue of whether XBLIG games should be ratable by members who haven't downloaded the title in question -- and may not even own an Xbox 360.

Apple's iOS and Mac App Stores only allows ratings from users who've purchased the app in question. Last April, Apple removed an iOS feature that prompted users to rate apps when they were deleted, saying the process caused overall ratings to skew more negative.

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Luke Quinn
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This is something we've been harassing Microsoft to change for ages; The way that the rating system is set up, the people who actually bought the game are LESS likely to rate it as they cannot do so from their games library and must venture back online and find the title on the service to do so.

Combining this with the fact that you do not even need to glance at the screenshots or read the blurb to be able to rate the game, it means that the people most likely to rate at all are either people who dislike a particular genre, series, or are just trolling, and people with an agenda (whether that to be Up voting to make the game more visible, or Down voting to be a douche).

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I read the title and expected some sort of exploitation of the actual system.

This seems completely fair to do. Really unsportsmanlike and deceitful but, well, we see boycotts all the time which do the same thing.

I think the proper response isnt to whitewash ratings but instead have public opinion dictate that people who do en masse spam mindless ratings are jerkfaces.

Now if they want to close off ratings to only accounts that purchased the content, i dont know if that would be better or not. I certainly know ive given xbl indies ratings after only playing the demo, and i wasnt trying to engineer some sort of outcome.

Luke Quinn
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Requiring purchase may be a bit much, but I'd like to see it be a requirement to have actually Downloaded the trial at least (and preferably fired it up at some point).

If you haven't played it, how can you rate it?

Christopher Enderle
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On PSN you can rate the demo (or anything) if you just downloaded it, but I think that's a better system than allowing anyone to rate anything willy nilly. No one's going to look at individual raters, they'll just look at the aggregate. Consumers won't wise up if they run into a string of highly rated games they don't like, they'll just quit visiting the store and find something more enjoyable to do.

Kumar Daryanani
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One solution to the problem would be to have the rating be done from inside the game itself. This would guarantee that the raters have downloaded the game and started it up, at the very least.

Robert Boyd
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I'm against requiring a purchase to rate since that skews the ratings. However, requiring the person to have at least played the trial would be a big improvement.

One suggestion that was offered was removing the ability to rate games on and only allowing ratings on the console itself. Much harder to create fake accounts to rate games that way.

Evan Combs
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I completely agree with you. Just leave it to only those who have downloaded the game, and only through an actual Xbox.

Will Ribaux
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How can you rate a game without playing it? And ratings off trials doesn't seem like a fair appraisal either.

Ian Fisch
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Seriously Microsoft how hard is this? You don't need a goddamn investigation. Just fix your damn system so you have to play a game before you rate it. This should have been done MONTHS ago.

E Zachary Knight
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Months ago? This should have been done when the games were allowed to be rated. That is years ago.

Will Ribaux
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How does WP7 handle the rating stuff?

Jamie Mann
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I'm somewhat surprised Microsoft haven't addressed this before, as XBLA is just as vulnerable - though there, the overall volume of voting is far higher, so a vote-bomb attack would have less of an impact.

Anyhoo, to quote my previous comment, what I'd suggest would be:

Instead, what I'd suggest would be to go for a hybrid system:

1) Restrict voting to people who have downloaded the game (demo or full version)

2) Allow unrestricted voting in the first X days after release (e.g. 14 days)

3) Limit the number of votes which can be cast per day after that; the most flexible system would seem to be by percentage (e.g. 10% of the number of existing votes for < 100 votes, 5% after that)

It's still not ideal, but by limiting the throughput of a vote-bomb attack, it should deter all but the most determined fanatics.

Oh, and can we have the ability to vote from our "downloaded titles" dashboard back, plz? I'd rate a lot more games if I didn't have to dive down through several layers of the Game Marketplace to do so...