"Telltale" Signs

Posted by Daeity On Monday, November 21, 2011

Last week, Gamespot made a post about Telltale Game employees feeding perfect 10 scores into Metacritic.

Quite a bold statement. So, what exactly was their investigative technique to confirm this with 100% reliability?

The reviews had above-average grammar, and their aliases (e.g. "TANTRAD") happened to match the aliases of Telltale employees. Yep, that was it.

Between the reviewers' constant lionizing of Telltale Games, complete sentences, proper punctuation, and paucity of spelling errors, we began to suspect that the user reviews were not the product of actual players, but of Telltale representatives. Sure enough, a cursory Google search on the reviewers' user names backed up our suspicions. One of the reviewers was a user interface artist at Telltale; another was a cinematic artist. According to their LinkedIn profiles, both were relatively new to the studio, but they should have more than enough experience in the industry to understand this was a bad idea.
(Funny.. I didn't see a ton of other gaming blogs attacking and scrutinizing them for their investigation process.)

I really liked this part of their article:
But if the goal was to drag those individuals over the coals, you'd see their names and LinkedIn profiles here.
They said this after they gave all of their readers the means to find it out themselves:

1. A link to the Metacritic page
2. Told everyone it was a perfect 10 score
3. Told everyone it's the oldest score on the page (Nov 15, 2011)
4. You can use Metacritic to sort of by date on the positive reviews
5. Grammar is above average
6. A cursory Google search of their alias and "Telltale"
7. On his LinkedIn profile he's new and a User Interface Artist

This actually reminds me of that Facebook investigation. I'm showing you how they probably came to that conclusion, or how they most likely investigated, and I'm probably right. Maybe I'll be scrutinized for this post.. "you're jumping to conclusions", "LinkedIn Profiles are unreliable, I can't believe you use them to confirm if they work for companies", "FAKE NEWS!!"

The Point

What's most scary about this whole thing is that Gamespot is probably 100% correct and that they came to the conclusion through a very simple investigation.

This is a point I've been trying to make for a long time.. there is a ton of information on the internet that most people think are unreliable or useless, but they're not. For the most part, people are very open, honest, and not very careful about what they type on the internet.

In cases like this, though, look at what happened. Gamespot went by on online alias (unable to confirm who actually owned the alias), posted it as undisputed evidence, caused rage, which resulted in a substantial number of negative reviews from users who never actually played the game but were just angry about the situation.

Can you see how both users and media organizations (or internet "journalists") could have been easily manipulated in this situation?

This is why I show as many sources as I do, and proof to backup every claim. I see what happens on these other sites (like Gamespot, who just made the claim and did not provide their sources and proof that the Metacritic alias was indeed used by the employee), and I want to show how I came to a conclusion so that people can come to their own.. I may be right or wrong, and sometimes there is no way to be 100% positive. I can only guess that this case is probably correct given the evidence, probability, and past trends.

Let's go back to how just Gamespot investigated the incident:

If I was a competitor, and I really wanted to ruin the reputation of a game, why not just create multiple aliases of employees and give it a glowing review? And then, give negative reviews for my own games?

It wouldn't take long for blog/gaming sites to pick up on these, investigate (reverse alias search on Google), put 2 and 2 together, and report incorrect information resulting in sympathy for my own company and negative reviews for my competitor. I wouldn't be surprised if something like this has already happened.

A disgruntled employee could even do it to their own company, or targeting another employee they don't like. A disgruntled fan could do it.. anyone can do this and it would be perfectly legal to use your own alias (even if it happens to be used by another person) and make a review, but it would be the news sites or blogs that create the rumor or make the libel post in the end.