Exclusive: Critics Admit to Lowering Scores for Attention

Guess which of these reviews would get the most clicks?

Guess which of these reviews would get the most clicks?

Update: It has come to our attention that people aren’t happy that we haven’t named sources or names. We apologize for not having that information available but we respect the privacy of the critics in question. They asked not to be identified and as several still have ties to the sites of which they speak, they understandably choose to remain silent.

We also didn’t realize that a fourth critic hadn’t opted to explain his situation, which would’ve validated the title. The title does imply that critics admitted to doing it, not just seeing it. The fourth person decided not to say anything at the last second and the original writer of this article didn’t change the previously agreed-upon headline. We’ll see if we can get him to come forward and go on record but it’s unlikely.

As for our anonymity, we’ve explained that in the past. It will remain this way for the express purpose of putting the spotlight on critics and game reviews, where it belongs. Thank you.

Original Story:

Most people already suspect (David Jaffe and Ready at Dawn touched on it)  but we’re here to expose it: There’s something rotten in the critic community, which has a direct impact on how games are perceived. But before we get into it, we’d like to make one thing perfectly clear: Most major sources have perfectly legitimate rules for approaching game reviews, and most critics do adhere to those rules. We are not talking about the clean majority; we’re talking here about the rotten minority.

And unfortunately, that minority typically involves small to mid-range sites that need the traffic. It also usually centers on those who are, let’s say, less than professional (i.e., just a gamer pretending to be a journalist with no real credentials). Given the way the Internet works, and the fact that anyone can post a review of anything, nobody should be too surprised.  Now, moving on.

As you can see on our About Us and Mission Statement pages, we are a group of current and former critics, most of whom have been involved in the industry for over a decade. We do this on a part-time voluntary basis; some of us have moved on to other things, and a few have done so because they wanted out of the industry. More on that below. The bottom line is that we started VGRHQ to give critics recognition they deserve but never get. We have no writing awards for our field and gamers typically just spend their time trashing and insulting reviewers. But we’re also here to give people a candid, inside view.

Things aren't so squeaky clean in the review community.

Things aren’t so squeaky clean in the review community.

After The Order: 1886‘s fiasco, some once again started to wonder: Will a critic give a game a lower overall score simply to get clicks for the website? Remember, these reviews are provided free of charge; it costs nothing to see these reviews and as such, all critics are at the whim of ad revenue. And as ads are driven purely by clicks, digital editors obviously encourage articles and reviews that would get the most attention. This has become a bigger and bigger problem in recent years, and it has led to purposely sensationalized reviews and scores. Three of our critics, who will remain anonymous and not disclose where they work or have worked, have stood up:

Critic 1:

“Back in the ’90s, none of this was an issue. The Internet has changed things, though. The only way any site survives and the only way anybody gets paid is via ad revenue. This is why the overwhelming majority of game journalists only receive what equates to part-time pay. I was always okay with that, until I was told how I’d be generating revenue. I had one editor tell me flat-out that the site needed a boost one month, and I needed to give a big-name release a low score.

He even said he’d post it before the embargo because as everyone knows, early reviews get a huge amount of attention. Plus, early reviews that have a low score for a super anticipated game get the most possible attention. For the record, I didn’t do it. But I do know that site still issues that directive to its writers whenever ad revenue is low.”

Critic 2:

“I got into reviewing games for some smaller sites in 2008. I’ve bounced around a bit and now I’m writing for what I suppose is a mid-size site. Before the new generation of systems arrived, many sites were hurting for revenue because gamers just seemed tired of the PS3/360/Wii era. We were pretty desperate and one of the editors proposed what he called a “legitimate attention-getting tactic” in the digital world. Basically, you just do your research as to what gets the most attention, and then do it. Just like any ad campaign, so-to-speak.

That’s why one of our writers was told to deliver a review for Killzone: Shadow Fall as early as possible, and with a score no higher than a 6. It would be posted ASAP and before the proper time. It happened and it worked. It’s not the last time I heard about such a “tactic,” either.”

If there is no money involved beyond ad revenue, these things are going to happen.

If there is no money involved beyond ad revenue, these things are going to happen.

Critic 3:

“I’m so tired of this sh**. You can’t have a review community you can trust when nobody is actually paid for their services. If they’re paid indirectly via ads, then what matters is attention, not the quality or integrity of the work. The bottom line is that gamers want dissension and argument, and nothing generates that faster than a low score for a hugely anticipated game. I knew people who were convinced that some sites like Destructoid benefited from such crap (remember the 4 they gave to Heavy Rain?). Personally, I like that site and I don’t believe the accusations in that particular case, but I know such a problem exists.

I’ve been playing games since the late ’70s and I was a critic on and off for multiple publications (digital and otherwise) between 1989 and 2010. That’s a long time. But I started seeing that in a world where traffic dictates everything, and the causes of that traffic have nothing to do with the tenets of criticism, sh** was going sideways. Have I heard of sites directing reviewers to issue lower scores for the sake of attention? Um, yeah. Happens all the time. Most of the bigger sources aren’t in the discussion, however, because they’re not entirely dependent on clicks for one particular review. But a small site can earn a month’s worth of revenue with just one article or review that hits big.

So yeah, I had to get out. I don’t want any part of it anymore.”


We would like to thank these critics for standing up. The video game critic community needs some recognition for doing good work, but we also need to point out the flaws in the system.

31 thoughts on “Exclusive: Critics Admit to Lowering Scores for Attention”

I’m sorry, but who’s shocked about this? I knew it all along…….I think every gamer with a brain did. It’s why I don’t trust most reviews anymore.

Yeah, that’s too bad. I always figured some smaller sites would do this to get attention. I think it’s important that people don’t freak out about this, though, and note what it says in the article about no bigger sites being involved.

Well, it said that most bigger sites don’t have a reason to do this…doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I mean, Polygon doesn’t need the hits but that 5.5 review of The Order was a joke, and the IGN review wasn’t really any better. I think this is happening a LOT more than people believe.

I’m sorry but when you write a story about journalistic integrity and don’t have any sources.

I’m sorry but you very well could have just written this up on your own. In fact, might as well have.

No one will be surprised by this information. It’s not like this is some expose. So why not wait until you have people willing to go on record.

Otherwise this is no different that me and my friends discussing ‘what probably goes on’

…uh, you can’t name sources if your sources aren’t willing to disclose names. This entire site is anonymous, if you hadn’t noticed.

Hell, half the exclusive stories I read in papers are based on sources who are unwilling to give names of people and companies.

And there are real critics here who just said what they’ve come across. You can choose not to believe it all you want. but to say it doesn’t have “sources” is retarded…the sources are right here. You just don’t know their names.

Wait a moment here.

So this story has no author. It’s written anonymously.

It contains quotes from 3 sources who all want to remain anonymous.

Not only that, but the 3 sources in question all “work”* for this site?

With all that being said, how can you expect this article to have any credibility? I don’t even see an editor listed.

This just seems like bush-league journalism. Seriously this wouldn’t fly in any reputable institution.

I mean these are real things that really happen. I think most people in the community fully believe that. Right now though, you have added nothing to the conversation. This article here, is just as much click-bait as the reviews you are calling out.

Also, “retarded?” lets bring the level of decorum up just a little here.

*I don’t know if anyone gets paid here or if it’s volenteer

“Decorum?” This is like your first post here, isn’t it? Who are you to come in here and tell everyone how to act?

You’ve never read a newspaper in your life, have you? MOST sources when it comes to something negative are anonymous. And did you ever think for two seconds that these critics still work for the sites in question, and it would be BAD if they named names or sources?

Gamers have to be the most entitled group on the planet. “Give us this, tell us this, do this, do that” or I’ll just believe what I want to believe. Fine, you do that.

I totally get why they wouldn’t want to name, names.

Talking shit about your employer is a great way to get fired.

It doesn’t stop it from happening. That is why we call them whistle-blowers.

As is. This story does nothing. It doesn’t tell us something we didn’t already know. It doesn’t add any weight (sources.) It doesn’t call out any of the bad actors (sites who do this.) The piece itself doesn’t even attach an author. As is, this is the very click-bait that is being called out.

You call me entitled? Why, because I came here and expected to read about some critics admitting to foul play? I came here expecting some new information? This site comes out with a misleading headline, with anonymous sources, written by an anonymous author, calling out anonymous websites for a practice that should make gamers angry.

And so I get angry, why, because if what this article claims is true, is. That is bad. Websites who do this should be shamed and shuttered. Instead we have nothing. This site has provided no new actionable information.

So I come here, I ask for more. I call it out on not going far enough. Now I’m being called entitled? Not just me, but the audience this site caters to. WE are entitled?

As for TRSlayer, my spelling? Really, this isn’t some back-room forum on IMDB, are you really calling me out on that? I’m not dropping vowels or adding numbers to my words here. I’d like to think this isn’t dropping to the level of 12 year old’s on FB.

Dude, you obviously know nothing about any “reputable institution” of news. If you did, none of this would come across as surprising. Just in the world of entitled gamers where they think they’re owed something.

And learn how to spell. Jesus.

Also, “Critics Admit To Lowering Scores For Attention” is your title.

None of your “critics” admitted to doing it. They all claimed to have seen it done.

In fact 2 flat out said he didn’t and the 3rd didn’t say one way or another if he/she had participated.

In response to what you wrote above: Yeah, you’re entitled. And this is the biggest telling point of all and WHY this site probably exists in the first place:

“It doesn’t tell us something we didn’t already know.”

This is an insanely cynical viewpoint that we DON’T already know for fact. This is just standard gamer elitism that says “all critics are just paid-off douchebags who know less than I do.”

I agree that we need names and sources for something to be “actionable.” But that’s not what this is about. This is simply proving – beyond your own selfish, cynical beliefs that have no basis in reality – that yes, sensationalist review scores exist. Point me toward anywhere online that shows critics admitting seeing this.

You think this doesn’t matter just because there are no names. That’s just beyond stupid. It brings to light something from an inside viewpoint, whether you choose to believe it or not. It’s someone from the INDUSTRY side confirming something bad that gamers only THINK they know.

One of these days, gamers like you are going to have to admit that you don’t know everything about the industry. That you don’t know everything there is to know about critics and how different sources approach this whole process. The day we admit we don’t know more than every critic alive is the day the gaming community might finally start to grow up.

So I go to read an article entitled “Exclusive: Critics Admit To Lowering Scores For Attention.” Silly me expecting to read about critics admitting to lowering scores for attention.

That isn’t what this article was about at all. This is about anonymous critics accusing anonymous websites of doing that.

Yet I’m “entitled”, “Elitist”, “Retarded”, “selfish” for calling the site out on this bait and switch.

I don’t know if you are this defensive because this is your article (how could I know) or maybe you work for this site, or maybe I’m just big of a piece of shit.

I don’t know, but I do know you make a lot of assumptions. You call me out for a lot of things, yet somehow I can’t do the same when it comes to this article.

I fully admit to not knowing everything. You on the other hand sure seem to have me pegged.

I created an account on this site specifically to call it out for it’s lacking. Not to troll or cause a fuss for the lulz, but because I think this is an important topic and should get coverage. As much as any stories about getting paid for better numbers, this is important. I’m sorry for getting upset when I see it treated this way.

You’re right though, this might be the first article “from inside the industry”. But we can’t tell. US, lowly, entitled gamers. We have no idea who anyone is in this article. Not even an author to vouch for the sources.

Maybe you need to stop assuming you know everything about your audience. Maybe we can grow up and expect some more from our gaming news outlets.

anthro: Don’t act all righteous and high-and-mighty. The only reason you came here was to troll. What you’re asking for is completely irrelevant; this brings attention to a particular subject and just because it doesn’t name a particular critic or source, you think it means nothing.

You’re entitled to think that if you want. And I also agree that the title is misleading. But you’re a representation of the problem. You came in, assuming that all of this was “fact” in the first place, when of course, this has never been proven as fact. To my knowledge, no critic or source in the industry has ever admitted to such goings-on. GAMERS think it because they know more than every critic and journalist who ever lived, obviously (as if critics and journalists aren’t gamers themselves, which is the biggest load of hypocrisy I’ve ever heard).

You’re the only one who has made assumptions. You. You’re the one who says sensationalist reviews is “fact.” You’re the one who demanded evidence, assuming that such information was necessary to bring attention to a problem. You don’t even know anything about this site or what it tries to do. I don’t agree with all the reviews they’ve selected to honor, nor do I agree with all the sources they’ve selected to honor.

But it’s nice to get away from YOUR kind of sh** for once. It’s nice to see hard-working journalists in this industry rewarded by SOMEONE for everything they do. Crap-ass pay, stupid hours, zero recognition from mainstream media, and to top it all off, a community who only bashes them at every turn. A community that calls every negative conspiracy theory about critics (paid to give good reviews, for example) “fact.”

“…or maybe I’m just big of a piece of shit.”

Yeah. That.

I’m not surprised these guys would want to remain anonymous. That’s a pretty serious implication. Seriously I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised if this was happening all over the web. Maybe not on great big sites that are getting picked up left and right by conglomerates but the smaller relatively unknown places and maybe even a little higher up? Sure, we’ve all seen ridiculous review scores. Completely inaccurate BS reviews where the critic clearly hasn’t even spent more than ten minutes and bashes it for something subjective. The fact that we were reading the review in the first place gives credence that it was engineered that way, to get you to click. It gets traffic, it gets people to read it and I think that this might be a more widespread activity than you’d think at first blush. When the next Uncharted comes out somebody will find a way to give it a two and then watch the clicks flood in. (Chances are UC will be worth more than 2. I for one hope so!)

Too vague. I’ll assume this never happens in the industry because no names or publications were given.

I think an article like this was written just as its own form of clickbait, because you need ad revenue and have gotten off to a slow start.

By all means, assume it never happens. Ignorance is always bliss, isn’t it?

Guys, ignore the N4G invaders. Seriously. This article is #1 over there so that’s where this junk is coming from.

Look, there is no article in the history of the world that hasn’t been bashed endlessly over there. Everyone who writes an opinion piece is just a “fanboy,” any critic whose score is too high or too low for their tastes is either paid-off or stupid, everything they keep clicking on is just “clickbait,” etc.

This site tries to do something positive for the industry. Whether they agree with all the articles or honored reviews or whatever is irrelevant; they should be focusing on what’s good for the industry. But instead, they continue to give us all a bad name by acting like a bunch of whiny, egotistical, hostile losers.

Helps us all out a great deal, doesn’t it? :rolling eyes:

I wasn’t able to continue in thread so I will just start here.


“You came in, assuming that all of this was “fact” in the first place, when of course, this has never been proven as fact. ”

I came here knowing that fishy things go on with gaming reviews. When I see a negative review from a no name website that hits completely off base. One that deviates so much from the pack, that yes, I use my brain and think something must be up.

When I see an article claiming (exclusively) to have to have knowledge of foul play. Only to have this.

This isn’t me “knowing more than critics” I turn to game critics for the simple fact that they know more than I do about whatever it is they are writing about. I’m looking for informed opinions.

I’m here calling out this article because it doesn’t deliver.

I like how you attack me for calling this article out. You who don’t think I know what I’m talking about. Me and my “shit” me the “elitist”, me the “entitled” You think I go around trolling game critics? You think I’m being entitled when I ask for this sort of article to have some integrity? If you knew anything about me you would know I’m the last person to go around crapping on someone for no reason.

If this article is true. Then the only reason this stuff goes on is because we let it go on. Because the people who know, stay quiet, refuse to name names. I get that they have their jobs to worry about. Their family to feed, but we can do better than this.

I like how I get to be the bad guy because I have standards? I didn’t know wanting to know the “who” in a story was that much.

Dude, just stop. If you want to enforce your will, this is the wrong place to do it. Nobody is going to get caught up in your crap; this isn’t the hellhole that is N4G.

The sources in question chose to remain anonymous. The people who run this site choose to remain anonymous. That doesn’t make this information posted here null and void, no matter how much you want to scream about it.

You “know” something is fishy, huh? Yeah, everyone seems to “know.” Funny how there’s still no actual evidence. First you say you understand why people won’t name names, then you demand they name names. That’s just an amazing piece of hypocrisy there, my friend.

At any rate, what I said before stands. You came here to troll (I’ll make that judgment simply based on where you came from) and that’s what you’re doing. You’re not trying to be any sort of valuable member to the community; I notice you haven’t commented on a single other article. Yeah, that’s a troll.

You can respond all you want. I’m done with you.

I didn’t come here to troll, if you choose to think that, that’s your prerogative. I appreciate you generalizing based on “where I come from”. N4G is a gaming news aggregate, so because I was linked to from there I’m a troll? Or are you assuming I’m from some N4G trolling community? Because I most certainly am not.

Not only that but this article has a completely misleading headline. An untrue headline that is only there to get clicks.

I do understand why they might not want to, but if they wont back up their statements with either their name or the name of the bad actors, then what is the point of writing this article. The fact that the sources work for the site itself, is just so much bad journalism.

I don’t see how calling that out makes me a troll. I appreciate your want to attack me because you somehow feel me unworthy to question the veracity of this article.

I have never seen a reputable website post an article with no author, no named sources, who call out anonymous actors posted with such a misleading title. You don’t see Reuters articles written by anonymous journalists, who quote anonymous sources who claim that some anonymous government is up to no good.

So excuse me for expecting a little bit more. When an article claims to have, people admitting to doing something wrong. I somehow expect to know who is admitting to it. Or who is being accused of doing it. Or something.

You don’t even address the points made and you keep repeating everything you already said.

You can’t say you understand why people don’t want to give names, then you blather about the need for names. You said the article is worthless because of the lack of names, which is untrue and NOBODY would agree.

The sources don’t “work” for the site, as I understand it. It’s just a bunch of volunteers who occasionally contribute. At least, I think that’s how they explained it in the past. But you’ve done nothing to learn more about this site and how they do things. And that’s precisely because you believe you have to enforce your will, and make sure everyone hears you.

We get it. Now freaking shut the hell up.

I keep repeating the same things over and over because no one seems to have any standards around here.

This article would never, ever, get published at any news website with any standards. You cannot have this sort of article written anonymously, with anonymous sources, calling out anonymous bodies. Especially with a misleading title.

Does no one around here have any standards.

I know it’s a fairly small community. I know not a lot of people post in the comments, but are you saying that you guys don’t care about this?

All I’m asking is for the lowest possible bar to be met.

I get what the site does, and while I can appreciate wanting to call out some of the good that is going on, I feel it’s a little misguided. I understand why they want to be anonymous so as not to show and conflict or bias. At the same time, it’s kind of seedy. I totally believe that they are trying to do the write(this was a typo, not a pun) thing, but even in their goal for this site there is a lot of room for abuse.

That being said, that really does pale in comparison to why this article gets my goat.

I’m just trying to say, this does not meet the minimum journalistic bar for what is acceptable in any kind of reporting.

anthro: You haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about. None.

First of all, compared to the wide variety of absolute drivel that gets posted at video game websites these days, this is like a prize-winning piece. I read stuff from authors who can’t spell, can’t form a complete sentence, and write the most useless, inane, sensationalistic piles of crap on the Internet. And you’re coming down on THIS? It’s just laughable.

And my friend, I have written for a couple newspapers. I don’t do it anymore because I don’t feel like starving to death but I’ve done it. You think this is the kind of thing that would never get published? As I say, clueless. The only difference is that it would have an author name, but articles with anonymous sources get printed constantly. All the time. The article title was misleading and wouldn’t have printed with that but if you hadn’t noticed, this article has already been updated with an explanation as to why, along with an apology.

And yet, here you are again, repeating the same nonsense that isn’t even remotely true, ESPECIALLY in regards to the standards of this industry. Everyone else was right: You’re here to enforce your will, which is sad, because you’re not right to begin with. You’re here to troll. You have no interest in anything this site does or stand for, and yeah, you can’t spell, either.

In short, GTFO.

I’m totally grateful that they added the update, which was not there at my last commenting and yes it does go to explain the title. So thank you very much.

I also appreciate your comments which touch on my other concern.

“The only difference is that it would have an author name, ”

Thank you, finally, someone gets it.

You’re right. You can have anonymous sources. So long as not everyone involved isn’t anonymous.

Without an author (or at least editor) you have no idea who is vetting these sources. Journalism is about credibility. Is the author of this article credible? Do I believe what they are saying? Do I believe what their sources, especially the unnamed ones, are saying? When you have an author you know, one you trust, that adds credibility to their sources. You know there is someone responsible for where these came from.

My will? My will, is to have some basic standards.

As you say, they have added an update about the title. I can’t go back and take that out of my earlier posts, but as I say here I do appreciate.

As you say again, the difference with this article is that it doesn’t have any author.

You ask why I come down on this, but you explained it in the same sentence.

“I read stuff from authors who can’t spell, can’t form a complete sentence, and write the most useless, inane, sensationalistic piles of crap on the Internet. ”

This IS different. This COULD add to the discourse. It just has to be brought up to the journalistic norms when it comes to standards.

So, I appreciate all the personal attacks that have been laid against me here, I really do. But so far, they have agreed that with the missing 4th critic, the title is misleading. You have agreed that, having written for a couple newspapers, an article would at least have an author.

And yet I’m still a troll?

“make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.”

I’m not trying to be provocative I’m just trying to raise the level of discourse.

I think the websites normal standards for being anon while highlighting great work in the field is admirable. For something like this though, something outside their main parameters, I think they need to make an exception to help put some weight behind it.


Your ego ran amok from the moment you walked in here. You really think that’s “raising the level of discourse?” Seriously?

Nobody gives a crap who wrote the article. You would have no idea who it is, as most gamers have no idea who the hell writes most articles for video game websites. It would’ve made no difference whatsoever to know that name. Zero. It’s just a bunch of people coming forward with their experiences and they all obviously know each other. What’s there to be “vetted?”

You’ve made a mountain out of a molehill long enough, haven’t you? All of this, from your very first word, is about YOUR EGO, not about “standards.” Every single person here sees it but you. Can you PLEASE go away now?

You’re right, this is totally about me and my ego. I just feel this need to go around and prove how superior I am to everyone. That is my sole purpose in this.

I’m entitled, hypocritical, full of shit, egomaniac troll.

I appreciate your thoughts.

Oh wait, add sarcastic to that list.

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