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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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Dan Pearson