Reviewer slams Conduit 2, developer retaliates with negative Amazon book reviews

Conduit 2 was hardly beloved by reviewers, but T. Michael Murdock, who reviewed the Wii shooter for Joystiq, really hated it. His review's headline reads, "more like Con-don't-do-it 2," a line he suggests matches the creativity of the entire game, which he goes on to call "lackadaisical trash" and "appalling."

Words like that can hurt, and developer High Voltage was understandably offended by Murdock's ruthless criticism. However, rather than directing a snide remark at the reviewer, which might have been considered unprofessional, but not unethical, an ill-planned e-mail has brought the full force of the internet's stern head-shaking down on the company.

"Michael was kind enough to recently provide us with a Conduit 2 review," wrote Creative Director Matt Corso in an e-mail to at least one department at High Voltage. "And so in turn you should all feel at liberty to (of course read it first) and then return the favor by writing a reader review for Michael's book for him."

The book Corso referred to is Murdock's The Dragon Ruby, which, prior to Corso's e-mail, had received only a few reviews on Amazon, all positive. After his Conduit 2 review, however, Murdock's novel (which is promoted in the footer of his review) became "just plain embarrassing" and "below fan-fiction garbage."

The small number of bad Amazon reviews, which appeared just after Murdock's review was posted, may not have been a severe attack on the author's livelihood,and are only technically tied to the developer through (a great deal of) circumstantial evidence, but it would be hard to argue that they didn't originate from High Voltage, or that the employees who acted on Corso's e-mail honestly read the novel before retaliating. At least Murdock played their game.

Howdo we know this? Eric Nofsinger of High Voltage acknowledged the existence of Corso's e-mail in a response to The Escapist, andcasually defended the aside as a "tongue-in-cheek jibe" and non-issue.

"Sure, it's a tad unprofessional but if you knew Matt personally as I do, you would know it was nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek jibe at most," said Nosfinger. "And for that, I apologize on behalf of High Voltage Software."

"When this 'news' flared up this morning, I informed Matt about what was going on. He apologized and went on to say, 'My mind really wasn't in that dark of a place when I wrote that. In fact I seriously considered buying the book myself. I wanted to know how good it really was that this guy felt so in the right to trash our game and give away the ending like he did. And then post a plug to his book at the end, implying that we suck and he is totally great. Then I forgot about it, and got busy with other stuff. But I can see why some people might try to read more into this. But I did mention that people should read the book before giving a review.'"

Murdock is not amused, and hasresponded to the developer, writing, "The issue is not that it's a cute back and forth between a major video game developer and a lowly reviewer, but moreso that a major company attacked the livelihood of the reviewer because they didn't like the review, and they're acting like that's ok. Even the email response they sent to The Escapist condones what they did, and admits it. Then they wryly continue saying that kind of behavior is respectable, warranted and, most of all, above reproach."

What do you think? Does a developer encouraging staff to rebuke the work of a reviewer constitute "news" in quotes, or is it news, and was itan attack onMurdock's livelihood? For us, the words "childish" and "irresponsible" come to mind, and not because we're playing Scrabble and drew too many letters. We can understand why a scorned developer would smirk at the thought of returning a reviewer the favor,but that employees apparently followed through with Corso's "tongue-in-cheek jibe" is awfully, awfullypoor form.

[Source: The Escapist]

May 20, 2011

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer