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Report: TopWare interactive accused of PR manipulation

Monday, 21st February 2011 02:21 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Destructoid has compiled evidence alleging Two Worlds II publisher TopWare Interactive has made multiple attempts to influence review scores and game rankings.

A list of alleged dodgy practices include buying up European site advertising in return for guaranteed favourable reviews; IP masking to allow for artificially inflated page views on Two Worlds II coverage; pressuring sites to remove unfavourable reviews based on preview copy while favourable ones remained up; and accusing a negative reviewer of pirating a copy of the game.

Destructoid cited anonymous sources and leaked email, as well as non-specific comments from an ex-TopWare staffer.

“There is absolutely no correlation between review scores and ad buys,” TopWare managing director James Seaman said in response.

“We do not even have the budget for ad buys that people would even take that seriously. On top of that Topware does not handle PR in Europe. Zuxxez Entertainment, our parent company, does.

“Topware does not engage in any manipulation of media sites or customer sites, but we are happy that people like our game.”

Answering specific allegations, Seaman said the company had requested reviews based on German-language versions of the game be held until international release, and that accusations of pirated copy resulted from a miscommunication.

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35 Comments

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  1. xino

    sounds fishy man:/

    i wish TopWare do blacksite some piss of sh* sites, people take games for granted these days and do not know when they see a good looking game, and rate it a terrible score.

    Giving Two Worlds 2 5/10 is ridiculous! There are many trash games I’ve played in the pass that deserves that score. When a dev fails a game the first time, they’ll make sure they get the second one right.

    About PR in Europe, they are right because I haven’t seen much advert for the game therefore I’m not anticipating it! But videos I have seen of the game is quite impressive, especially the real time magic changing.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. UuBuU

    Can’t blame them for trying. The games industry is all about making big money these days and I’m pretty sure some of the big name publishers/developers with a bit more muscle influence reviews on a frequent basis; intentionally or not.

    Game reviews in general cannot be trusted these days. If you want an opinion on a game without playing the thing yourself then the only reliable way is to read user reviews.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Grimrita

    And this is new? This kind of practice has been going on for years – just look at the Gamespot/Kane and Lynch affair. Moral of the story is, NEVER believe a review score as they always tend to be full of shit.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Blerk

    Indeed. Much bigger, much richer companies most likely do this far better and get away with it all the time.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Blerk

    That doesn’t make it right, of course. Just unsurprising.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @3: There is still no proof to that whole conspiracy thing.

    Just saying: If you try to pick an example, take one that’s clear.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Grimrita

    Actually, I indeed sat right across from a PR guy at a publisher I used to work at, listening to how he wanted an extra 2 points on a review score, if they had an exclusive announcement on their next triple A title.

    It happens and judging by all the 9/10′s that now get handed out like candy – thats all the proof you need – The gamespot/kane and lynch affair is yet another example. Eidos paid big sums of cash to gamespot for ad space and once their game reviewed badly, threatened to withdraw that cash. Funny how the chap who reviewed it was ‘fired’ and the game was re-reviewed.

    Its a dark,seedy world and the sooner the playing/paying public stop believing these shit reviews, the sooner we can go back to real developing and innovation again in the market.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Robo_1

    It’s the reason I listen to forums first and review sites second.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. The_Red

    @8
    That’s another problem. One of the allegations is that TopWare employees would make unique and different accounts / user-names for different sites and forums and post positive comments about their game. From YouTube and mainstream sites to gaming forums…

    #9 3 years ago
  10. xino

    @9
    lol

    @8
    you listen to forum? full of fanboys who would do nothing but say sweet words about the game and force you to get it? Sorry but it’s no different to journalist getting paid to give high review scores.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Grimrita

    @9 – again, that is not uncommon. There are agencies out there who build that in to part of their plan by ‘directing’ a base of home users to post positive comments and a product. It pays well too

    #11 3 years ago
  12. YoungZer0

    @7: Again, if it’s still only a rumour, i wouldn’t recommend using it as an example. The whole Kane & Lynch Affair: Rumour. I think everybody knows this happens.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Suikoden Fan

    i just heard a rumor that the game is to be delayed again to march 18th any truh to it?

    #13 3 years ago
  14. DSB

    Like xino says, you’re just as fucked by listening to user reviews. It costs a company fuck all to tell its employees to go online and drop a few appealing words about their own product, and even if they don’t, there are bound to be some fanboys around with no critical sense what so ever.

    Fundamentally, the fact that the gaming press has that reputation is nobodys fault but the writers themselves. Journalistic integrity is pretty critical to the word journalism, especially if you propose to use the title without a qualifying education.

    At least Destructoid seem to make an effort to be the antithesis, for better or worse :P

    #14 3 years ago
  15. xino

    @13

    yea….their shipment got wrecked in the sea.

    Someone posted a picture of it.
    http://img220.imageshack.us/img220/7829/jrgow.jpg

    http://www.vg247.com/2011/02/02/uk-cargo-for-two-worlds-ii-wrecked/

    ahahahhahahah….I know it’s not funny. Imagine if the game you worked hard for and all lost at sea:/

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Michael O’Connor

    You know what the sad thing about all this is?

    The game is good enough in its own regards to not even require this sort of manipulation.

    As a professional journalist myself, I utterly condone these sort of practises. TopWare has lost itself at least one customer with this. One who was actually intending to buy the game.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. OlderGamer

    Exactly, stuff like this happens all of the time.

    Thats why I laugh when someoen toss in a MetaCritic score like it means something.

    Some me video. Give me a demo. Let gamers do the reviews themself.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. StolenGlory

    @16

    Surely you mean “Condemn” in lieu of “Condone”?

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Michael O’Connor

    @18 Whoops. Yes. Damn predictive typing on my phone.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. DSB

    You don’t need gamers to do reviews, personally I think that’s why we’re in this mess. We started taking gamers out of their basements with little understanding of what journalism entails, and they fucked it up by letting themselves get seduced by the industry.

    Really, you just need an editor with a bit of spine that’s able to say “Fuck you – We don’t need an advanced review copy, a sitewrap, a few months of banner ads, preview or interview access, we’ll buy our own copy and mark it whatever we like”.

    You’d never be first with a story, but I think gamers appreciate being told the truth after the fact, rather than being fed bullshit a week before release. Making a living might be the tricky part, but if you’re able to capture an audience, capital will inevitably follow.

    The problem is that so many press people have already established a less than ethical precedent, so today it’s practically impossible for the press to demand anything of the industry. Which is pretty stupid, because the press holds all the cards.

    It’s the cheapest possible advertising available to developers and publishers, whether it gets bad marks or not.

    I don’t know how hard it is to get access to review code as a games writer, but I really appreciate how easy it is to get access to new music. Pretty much every publisher is just dying to hand out advance copies to magazines big and small, as long as they’re watermarked or otherwise traceable so they can destroy your life if you’re stupid enough to put it on a torrent site.

    A lot of labels have started making closed press accounts that require absolutely no contact with the label at all, except for maybe a newsletter saying that x album is available to be reviewed. It’s outstanding in terms of ensuring integrity.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. mathare92

    @20 Really, you just need an editor with a bit of spine that’s able to say “Fuck you – We don’t need an advanced review copy, a sitewrap, a few months of banner ads, preview or interview access, we’ll buy our own copy and mark it whatever we like”.

    Crecente on Kotaku’s a bit like that. On one of their podcasts, I remember him challenging the whole point of review events, and threatening not to attend the Halo Reach one – which he didn’t if remember correct.

    Just an example.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. OlderGamer

    DSB, moral highground don’t pay the bills.

    Never forget that the games industry is still a business.

    And by gamers doing reviews – I don’t mean journalist. I mean give me a break Journalists? Game coverage isn’t exactly on par with CNN.

    You have to have a bit of perspective really.

    What I was refearing to was the actual gamers relating how they actualy feel about a game. Go visit Gamefly.com and look at the reviews from gamers that have actualy rented/played each game.

    Sure there are a few worthless reviews, but in general you get to read about stuff that actualy matters from actual gamers.

    I often visit there to get a sense of a game I am thinking about.

    Like all of us, I think a demo is worth a thousand words. Video of gameplay is also nice.

    Telling me how amazing a game is, while plastering a banner across your website/print pages from the games publisher is not something I can trust. That is not even close to being a journalist aproach. It has more in common with storewindow advertising at my local gamestop.

    Real journalist are not trying to sell you a product. Or anything related to the product. CNN isn’t gonna try and sell you an iteam based on the headline they just ran.

    I am sorry but Music, Movies, and Games can not be grouped in the same standing as news media. Samewould be said for most entertainment industry. the “news” and “jounalist” involved are simply vehichles used and manipulated to stimulate sales.

    Take this site for example. Pat had some Rift banners around. I just finished Rift Beta, and have my copy preordered, and have 6months subscription ready to go. Headstart starts on the 24th of Feb. I would not have even known the game exsisted had I not seen that banner.

    So the banner has run. This site has carried a few stories on the game. A few interviews of staffers that made the game has run too. So I ask you … is any of that “News”?

    I think it is just part of the bigger process that is the games industry. And its goal was met. I bought and subscribed to the game. Samething happens on almost everygame site on the web. From MS adds to Sony ones. Halo games to LBP ones. Look at the frenzy over 3DS/PSP2, samethings.

    Game jounalisim amounts to one part informantion and three parts advertising/sales.

    And I don’t blame them one bit. They don’t need “spines”. Infact they would fail the game if they tried changinging the rules. They would stop getting a lot more then advance copies of unreleased games. The game media needs the game publishers prolly even more then the publishers need the game media.

    You and I are still going to go the game store and buy games weather we are flooded with prelaunch info/hype or not. But without that info/news/advertising websites simply wouldn’t exsist.

    All, 100%, about money.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. DSB

    You make a good point OG, but my point is that there are plenty of other industry-related press that manage to turn a profit without ever being a bitch to the industries they’re covering. It’s being accomplished, and it was being accomplished long before there even was a gaming press.

    The people who forged this whole scene just threw it on the floor early on by getting people who might not know the first thing about journalism, but had played a lot of games, and wanted to extend that into writing. That doesn’t prepare you very well for the questions of ethics you’re going to face, like a degree in journalism would.

    The real problem with outlets like CNN or major newspapers covering games is really the polar opposite. It’s no use hiring a games journalist if the editor in charge wouldn’t know his ass from his elbows when it comes to games, he’s simply not competent enough to edit that section, nor to judge the journalist he’s hiring.

    It could be an amazing outlet for games coverage though, since they have a broader portfolio of advertisers than your average games site.

    The “is it news” argument is an entirely different one. I think the fact that the games industry moves as slowly as it does (with 2 year production cycles and restricting massive launches to certain days of the calendar year) means that if you want to profit from a daily updated medium, you have to lower the bar considerably on what constitutes newsworthy stories.

    I don’t like gossip without investigation, and I don’t like how increasingly little developers have to work to get a post on a site like this (ie DICE’s recent “I got a secret, but I have nothing to say about it” – Which is about as big of a non-story as you’re likely to get) but ultimately I’d say stories on an ambitious game like Rift are relevant, no matter what wrap you have on the site.

    For the record I don’t see the wraps, though. Chrome + AdBlock :P

    #23 3 years ago
  24. OlderGamer

    I am glad I saw the banner, I love that game!

    Also I wasn’t suggesting that CNN cover games. I can see the motivation, they cover showbiz and such. But they would have to hire someone like Pat that actualy knows games and understands the biz.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. DSB

    Also I think you’re flat wrong in your enterpretation of what journalism is. It’s completely unrestricted, encompassing any topic, as long as there’s a story worth investigating. The ultimate job of journalism is to inform, and you can inform people about whatever you like.

    You can always argue whether reviews are proper journalism. Personally I most certainly think they are, and so do most aknowledged schools of journalism, where reviews are a part of the curriculum and/or acceptance test.

    An album, a game, or a movie can easily be viewed as a story onto itself.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. OlderGamer

    “Also I think you’re flat wrong in your enterpretation of what journalism is. It’s completely unrestricted, encompassing any topic, as long as there’s a story worth investigating. The ultimate job of journalism is to inform, and you can inform people about whatever you like.”

    You are entitled to your opinion.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. DSB

    Considering the ammount of professionals who subscribe to that notion, it’s more appropriate to say that “we’re” entitled to “our” opinion.

    You’re certainly entitled to your own enterpretation of the craft, though.

    I could’ve been more precise with the last sentence though. Obviously you can’t inform people about “whatever you like”, but you can certainly cover any topic you might want to, within journalism.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. Hunam

    enterpretation is not a word btw.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. DSB

    That completely voids everything I’ve written. Thanks Hunam.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. Syrok

    Enterpretation – Noun – A form of entertainment derived from false interpretation.

    #30 3 years ago
  31. DSB

    Lawl.

    Let’s milk it, shall we? :P

    #31 3 years ago
  32. LOLshock94

    bet it was gametrailers who got caught since there inbreds of game reviews

    #32 3 years ago
  33. mathare92

    @OG Have you read this yet? http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-02-21-the-boy-who-stole-half-life-2-article

    If that’s not journalism, I don’t know what is.

    Though I have to admit, articles like that are quite rare :)

    #33 3 years ago
  34. OlderGamer

    I am not saying that journalist don’t exsist inside the game media. I am also not saying that their isn’t planety of cases of journalistic integerty.

    All I am saying is that I don’t believe the case of PR manipulation is limited to this story/case. Not by a long shot. I believe it is common practice and wide spread.

    And I think that claiming there is some moral high ground, beleiveing in pure integerity is foolsih. To think that way one would lose site that that this is a biz. From game reviews, to game previews, to interviews, its all part of the machine. You need to keep in mind who is driving that machine.

    It isn’t the lowly and single writter with a mission.

    I mean it can be. Look at the endless sea of bloggers/writters that cover the game industry. But the big boys and heavy hitters don’t operate that way.

    They do things like you read about in this piece.

    The big boys aren’t just some fanboy in his bedroom, blogging about his new game. You show me someone at the top and I will show you someone that comprimised to get there.

    #34 3 years ago
  35. DSB

    You’re making it sound like it’s a natural order though, when the opposite is true.

    Obviously there’d be no gaming press without a gaming industry to cover, but if you look at any other branch of topical journalism, integrity is still very much at the center of the craft, and businesses and lawmakers have no choice but to accept that.

    Journalism has always been a case of the tail wagging the dog, because of its principles of coverage over cooperation. The industry might not rely on a writer to exist, but it relies on a writer to be as succesful as it can be, and as such, that leaves the writer at a constant advantage.

    The problem with gaming journalism is that games writers gave up that advantage long ago, not realizing their position of power, and it’s nigh impossible to take it back, because to do that, you’d have to regain those principles and unite against the industry, which is now so far embedded into all the various outlets.

    It’s not about moral highground, it’s about preserving integrity. The ethics involved with that can be perfectly brutal. But you’re absolutely right apart from that, I think the problem is commonplace, which is why smaller publishers like Topware get called out in favor of perhaps more powerful players.

    #35 3 years ago