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High Voltage apologises after leaked email attacks reviewer

Internal missive calls for Amazon backlash after poor review for Conduit 2

An internal email from the servers of Conduit 2 developer High Voltage has revealed a conversation which seems to call for staff to lodge negative reviews of a book by a Joystiq journalist who awarded the studio's Wii shooter one star out of five.

T. Michael Murdock's scathing assessment of the game on Joystiq pulls no punches, calling the game "a half-rendered, poorly scripted, mysteriously voice-acted, first-person shooter for the Nintendo Wii."

A link at the bottom of that review leads directly to the purchasing page for the author's book, The Dragon Ruby, on Amazon. Shortly after the review was published, Murdock's novel was trashed by several aggressively negative user reviews.

Perhaps a certain degree of backlash from disgruntled fans is to be expected in such a situation, but a photograph of an email sent by an anonymous source to website Marooner's Rock shows High Voltage art director Matt Carso calling for employees to respond to Murdoch's review in kind by visiting the Amazon page of his book.

"I thought you might like to know that Joystiq reviewer Michael T Murdock (sic) has a book that he wrote available on Amazon," writes Carso. "It looks to have had decent reviews based on six reader's feedback."

"Michael was kind enough to recently provide us with a Conduit 2 review, and so in turn you all should 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."

A link to the book's page was also included.

The official response to Marooner's Rock's story, from High Voltage chief creative officer Eric Nofsinger, is that the email is entirely sincere, that Carso did indeed intend recipients to buy, read and honestly assess Murdock's book.

"Matt Corso did indeed write that internal email, however if you read the email he encourages folks to read Mike's book and then write their own review in a 'turn-about is fairplay' sort of way" wrote Nofsinger in an official explanation.

"The email went to 70+ people on the list contains nothing slanderous or inflammatory; I believe people took it as such (the fact that there aren't 70 negative reviews would support that assumption). 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. And for that, I apologise on behalf of High Voltage Software."

Carso himself was also prompted to respond by Nofsinger, eliciting the following reply:

"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."

In an aside to Wired, Nofsinger also points out that readers suggest spamming Murdock's book with negative comments elsewhere on the internet, including Joystiq's forums and IGN spin-off site GameFAQs. Nofsinger also told Wired that he believes Murdock's review to be "poor form and childish" but doesn't see any justification for an attack on the reputation of his work.

Murdock himself has responded to Wired's publication of the story, in an email which echoes the fiery nature of his review.

"They don't honestly care about what happened," writes Murdock. "They're trying to get their hands out of the cookie jar before they get smacked.

"They simply have no remorse for what they've done, and they think the industry and everyone else will just laugh it off. I hope that doesn't happen. A game company shouldn't just keep shooting themselves in the foot, hoping their limp goes away."

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Latest comments (23)

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 8 years ago
Oh dear. Overreactions all round then? Almost definitely comments from the fans of the series rather than the developers I think as I have seen the type of responses that entrenched Nintendo fans can give.

It would be interesting to see if Murdoch's review or the reviews of his book are actually justified. Isn't it a reasonable possibility that they are both rubbish?
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Gregory Keenan8 years ago
Seems abit of an overreaction to me. The email did not directly infer to give a bad review.
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It's a hard time at the moment, what what I can see your metacritic score has been affected.... the publisher you work with is bases alot of its decisions on the (average) scores metacritic calculates.... sad times.

So as a result you want to underscore the reviewers published book?
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Show all comments (23)
Sean Rogan Freelance Journalist 8 years ago
'Seems abit of an overreaction to me. The email did not directly infer to give a bad review.'

Do you seriously think something other than 'go and slam this guy for slamming our game' was implied in the email?
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Too much for nothing.
So, a guy sent a mail to his employees asking them to read and rate the book of the guy who reviewed their game. Whats the problem?
People these days want to see more than their eyes can. Its ridiculous.
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Axel Droxler Game Designer, Larian Studios8 years ago
I agree with Sean, it's pretty obvious when you read between the lines what the guy is suggesting.
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Nic Wechter Senior Designer, Black Tusk (MGS Vancouver)8 years ago
Seems to me that its an internal company email that should have remained as such, nobody likes getting shit reviews and it should be ok to privately vent about it among colleagues IMHO.

Also, IMO its pretty unprofessional to plonk advertisements for your own book at the end of an unrelated piece of writing.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nic Wechter on 23rd May 2011 3:43pm

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Gregory Keenan8 years ago
"Do you seriously think something other than 'go and slam this guy for slamming our game' was implied in the email?" - Implied task vs specified task

I agree with you, but still think this is a tabloid news story frankly. "Person X flames person Y - Person Y responds: Shocker of the century!"
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
The email is nothing. The content of it was pleasant and respectful.

The review was self advertising, intentionally scathing for the purpose of driving hits and fails to provide readers with an honest and just view of the game in the context of professional criticism.

I read the review and honestly felt ashamed for being a reviewer myself. And angered at Joystiq for publishing something so flagrantly improper all for the sake of generating hits (revenue), advertising the authors book and knowing full well the impact such a review and score would have on HVS and Sega. And it's not as though the publication is known for being harsh in their reviews so this game was specifically selected. Likely because of the level of controversy it would incite.

Crossing the lines of ethics and morality should never be accepted. The email did not do this. The review most certainly did.
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Cori Myers CEO/Owner, Gameinatrix.com8 years ago
It's all a matter of bad perception here, but as a reviewer who has had developers literally stalk us because we didn't give their game a good review, I think some Devs need to expect that not everyone is going to think your game is great. This doesn't mean it won't sell or that everyone will hate it. WE just didn't like it.

Accept bad reviews with grace. You don't see Lady Gaga harassing fans who don't like a certain song she makes. She simply goes back to the studio and makes something different.
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Jonathan Cole Studying Engineering, University of Central Florida8 years ago
The most surprising thing to rise out of this whole thing is the number of people questioning the integrity of Murdock's review. I have to say, HVS's little pissy fit actually worked if some people are considering whether or not the Conduit 2 review is "justified" or for "self-promotion". Every reviewer has the same right to review from their own unique perspective. If their experience with a game wasn't positive, they don't need to objectively prove every single one of their points to legitimize the review. This backlash to the backlash is really embarrassing for the industry, because I can't even begin to imagine seeing prolific film journalists and reviewers questioning the integrity of their peer's reviews without any particular evidence of such.
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Frankie Kang Producer / Consultant, First Post LLC8 years ago
Lady Gaga writing new songs costs a #2 pencil, a notepad, and a few days. Game Developers making new games requires millions of dollars, a publisher, and several years of hard work.

Not the greatest comparison IMHO.
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"Every reviewer has the same right to review from their own unique perspective." You're right, but why no one else can review Murdock's book? Why hes so untouchable? Why no one can complain about the review of his game? When it was prohibited?
Murdock was paid to review Conduit2, and he did it, but it certainly wasnt made with his best intentions. He claimed that he did not played the multiplayer portion of this game (fairly the best portion), and even he said its bad. He said that the gameplay is bad, even being 100% customizable. He said that the graphics are horrible, even being one of the best graphics on Wii (and claimed that Perfect Dark has best graphics). He said almost nothing about sound, only the dubbing (and it is bad)...
Its clear for me that the reviewer made the review much worst than it is.
Anyway, as some people said before me: This is an internal mail, and SHOULD be remained internal.
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Jonathan Cole Studying Engineering, University of Central Florida8 years ago
"You're right, but why no one else can review Murdock's book? Why hes so untouchable? Why no one can complain about the review of his game? When it was prohibited?"

Who are you trying to address? I never made any claim that he's untouchable or his book couldn't be reviewed. As far as the actual response from HVS is concerned, there's no evidence that the Amazon reviews were made by them so they can't really be held responsible for the subsequent Amazonbombing after the Conduit 2 review. But they can be held responsible for clearly suggesting that negative Amazon reviews be made as retaliation, which is petty at best.

To address the rest of what you said, what you thought about the game is irrelevant. Murdock is only accountable for his own experience, so if he thinks the plot, graphics, and gameplay are poor, he's entitled to that. Again, the way he reviewed the game isn't the issue here, it's the fact that reviewers are exposed to personal attacks when they're just doing their jobs.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Jonathan, it's blatantly obvious his review of Conduit 2 was done in a manner that would draw controversy, advertise his book, gain the publisher ad revenue, etc.... He is completely entitled to his opinion and you state that is what is being contested but it's not. It's the publication at fault here. Joystiq published the review knowing full well the review is overtly controversial and not drafted for the purpose of being an honest and fair review. It belongs in the editorial section, not as a valid review. It's a disservice to their readers.
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Tim Ryan Producer, Fire Muse Consulting8 years ago
It's a hilarious opportunity to give reviewers a little bit of their own medicine. These critics often unfairly review games and cost our industry revenue and jobs.
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Jonathan, sorry, I didnt mean that. I quoted that phrase because what you said is UNDENIABLE. The reviewer has the right to do it by his own unique perspective, but this cant be denied to other people too. People are complaining about being at least 'strange' that someone in HVS are pissed off because of that review. Seriously, who are we to condemn them? This kind of harsh review can destroy a lot of careers easily, but even knowing this, they didnt chased a vengeance.

I didnt put any of my thought about the game in my post. Its just what it IS. Graphics are better than the 1°, sound, gameplay... Well, you got it.

Again, I'm sorry. Hope you understand.
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Joakim Månsson Senior texture Artist, Ubisoft Massive8 years ago
nothing wrong, the E-mail doesn´t say anything that put him in a corner.
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Nicola Searle Senior Knowledge Exchange Associate, University of Abertay Dundee8 years ago
I have to say I'm really surprised at the overall tone of the comments here. While the e-mail at face value doesn't read as a call to action to trash Murdock's book, the implication is fairly clear. If the review system is to work, reviewers have to been seen as independent. Retaliation by the recipients of poor reviews will seriously compromise the system and pressures reviewers to write positive reviews.

If the review system is not viewed as reasonably independent, and instead is overly positive, it loses its effectiveness. That means that reviews, good and bad, won't affect the sale of a game.

Also, the linking to other works by an author is fairly commonplace (e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/charli...
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Nicole, if you claim that a developers underlying intentions to bully up better review scores is bad than is not the blatant publication of a review with the underlying intention to smear the name of a developer and their product just as bad?
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Nicola Searle Senior Knowledge Exchange Associate, University of Abertay Dundee8 years ago
The review is negative but there is nothing to suggest that Murdock was doing anything but his job as a reviewer.
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Nic Wechter Senior Designer, Black Tusk (MGS Vancouver)8 years ago
Its important to remember that the email was never meant to be public. I think its pretty natural for most people after receiving a negative review to feel frustrated and to privately make comments to the effect that the reviewer is an idiot.

Remember the High Voltage team have probably labored over the game for a long time and none of them would have wanted to make a sub-par game. I think a degree of resentment to the author of a extremely negative review expressed privately among colleagues is completely reasonable.

The problem is that the email was publicly released.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nic Wechter on 24th May 2011 4:54pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Nicola, I wish I could agree with that assessment but I can't. I run a publication myself and from experience I know that you don't not hand out review assignments to anyone that obviously has serious angst against a platform, developer, publisher, series, etc... Usually content like that is left to the editorial team...they are hit drivers. Controversy for the sake of pissing people off to get the riled up and talking about your site, linking to it, putting it up on News4Gamers, etc... Makes your ad partners happy....or sometimes it's to make up for reduced traffic and your ad vendors are threatening to pull content.

In statistics, his review would be known as an outlier. A bit of data so extreme from the data set that it gets pulled completely from the data and ignored in calculations.

Anecdotally, everyone of my colleagues at other publications agree that his review was far more of a hit job than a genuine review.
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