Big dramas in the world of downloadable Xbox 360 development today, with the news that MS is launching an official investigation into a vote-rigging corruption that has seen one dev boost its game's popularity on XBLA past that of its rivals in a supiciously short period of time. The thing is, by the sounds of it, Microsoft really needs to prioritise investigating it's own system, which sounds pretty broken given the details of the story.
The issue centres around College Lacross 2011, a downloadable indie game from Triple B Games. Following a Facebook post on March the 24th, which provided players with a link to Xbox.com where they could upvote the game in XBLA's rankings, the game's rating shot up.
Nothing particularly wrong there, but then a little while later Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games - maker of XBLA indie hits Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII - noticed that his games' ratings were dropping drastically. Cthulhu dropped from the number six ranking spot to number eleven in under a week, over roughly the same period that College Lacross shot from the mid top-twenty to the top five. Another six days later, Cthulhu Saves the World was down to number twenty.
A 14-place drop in not very long at all. Tomfoolery, he suspected, was afoot. And that tomfoolery, Boyd feels, is happening by way of Triple B's fans actually downvoting successful rival titles. It's all remarkably coincidental timing if not, and it's perhaps telling that Triple B's Facebook page now contains a note asking people not to downvote. You know. Just in case they were thinking of doing.
Microsoft is now investigating the issue, but the real problem as I see it seems to be with the way Microsoft runs this stuff. The rapid increase in voting was possible because Triple B linked its audience to College Lacross' page on Xbox.com, which allows anyone to set up a free account and vote on games. You don't need to have bought the game or played the demo to vote on it. You don't even need to own an Xbox 360. The system, clearly, is a bit broken and wide open to scamming.
Who's to blame here, if Boyd's allegations are accurate? Not Triple B, I'd say. All they did was try to rally their community to support their own game. The downvoters? Yeah, I'd say those guys deserve a fairly hard slap. After all, the idea of giving a humble indie title some benevolent nurturing support by smashing down another humble indie title is just idiotic, and really rather disgusting. But more than anyone else, I'd say Microsoft really needs to sort its shit out. The internet is full of people, and people are idiots. You can't trust them not to be idiots, so the very least you have to do is create mechanisms that limit their options. So do it.
March 30th, 2011