First post ever, but I think you'll find this interesting...
Checked out Metacritic for Dragon Age 2 reviews (after hearing about all the changes from Origins, was a bit skeptical). After seeing it got a generally favorable score, I checked out the user reviews, since they usually offer a more accurate portrayal of how a game actually plays.
Right off the bat, I notice there's something...off with the top user review (by 'Avanost'). It reads almost like a press release. I do not trust it:
"The immersion and combat of this game are unmatched! A truly moving and fun epic. Anything negative you'll see about this game is an overreaction of personal preference. For what it is, it is flawlessly executed and endlessly entertaining" (emphasis added).
Sketchy to say the least.
So I check Avanost's Metacritic profile (http://www.metacritic.com/user/Avanost - cache), and, whaddya know, he’s only ever written one review. On Dragon Age 2.
So I Google ‘Avanost’, because I’m starting to not trust this motherfucker. And a Plurk (WTF is Plurk) profile shows up (http://www.plurk.com/avanost), revealing a name.
So I Google the name, all the while cautioning myself that this could be a completely different Avanost, and not to jump to conclusions, and WHAT THE FUCK HE’S AN ENGINEER AT BIOWARE. (Linkedin profile)
I have to laugh, because this really borders on farce.
Despite reeking of impropriety (and the fact there has to be a rule against doing this in the Bioware employee handbook), ole Avanost has no problem writing a review with zero disclosure of his industry ties, as long as you pick up a copy of the “flawless” Dragon Age 2 at your nearest retailer.
(Disclosure: Sensationalist title to garner interest.)
EDIT 1: This is a matter of ethics and integrity. A consumer requires objective information in order to make an informed decision about purchasing a product. If the line between editorial article and product review is skewed, then the consumer is being deceived at the cost of their eventual trust and loyalty to the company responsible. This is why disclosure of industry ties is necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
EDIT 2: For those of you frothing at the mouth in the comments about how anyone who doesn't like Dragon Age 2 is retarded (including me), take a deep breath and relax: I like the game. I was checking out the reviews because I wanted to read what other people thought of it (I've since borrowed it from a friend; piracy at its finest). That does not mean I wanted to read reviews written by Bioware employees cloaked as genuine. That is not okay, under any circumstances, for any employee, of any company. (And for those saying it might not be the same guy...yes, I'm sure this is all one big coincidence. He just happens to respond to, and simultaneously dismiss, the most prevalent criticisms of Dragon Age 2 in one fell swoop.)
EDIT 3: So they're going into damage control mode, and the review has been deleted. (Cache). Thanks to SnakeLinkSonic: a breakdown of my 'investigation'.
EDIT 4: Okay, so now 4chan is just bombarding Metacritic with fake reviews again, so let's pretend I didn't compromise my integrity by referencing them earlier. (Also, TIL about 'astroturfing'.) If anyone finds another verifiable fake review from Bioware, feel free to post it.
EDIT 5: Russian Bioware forum. (Original.) - This is not an official site; apologies.
EDIT 6: Story picked up by CapsuleComputers, GamerTell, Pubvo, VividGamer, Nexus404, PixelApocolypse, TechSpotlight, VGChartz and Thumb-Culture (where my attempt at investigative journalism is referred to as "slightly stalkerish". Thanks to everyone sending me links, tough to keep up.
EDIT 7: Gamepro, Escapist, Kotaku (EA's Senior Public Relations Mananger responds).
EDIT 8: EA's response: "Of course" we did it, "that's how it works." Apparently their public relations manager is unable to grasp the distinction between voting for industry accolades (analogous to the Oscars or Grammy's), and manipulating review scores to influence consumer purchasing decisions (analogous to the example below from the FTC guide). So your fears have been realized. This is company policy at EA/Bioware, and further, they're not ashamed in the least. (Note the amount of downvotes this post has received since the story broke on Kotaku; another harmless coincidence from your friends at EA/Bioware.)
EDIT 9: Related thread.
EDIT 10: According to Escapist, Dragon Age Project Manager Benoit Houle is LupoTheButcher. Metacritic review, Twitter.
FTC Guide Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising: "§ 255.5. Example 8: An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices.
Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer’s product.
Knowledge of this poster’s employment likely would affect the weight or credibility of her endorsement. Therefore, the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her relationship to the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board" (emphasis added).
EDITED BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO USE REDDIT.