March 30, 2011 9:52 AM | Michael Rose
Microsoft is investigating charges of manipulation of the user ratings for Xbox Live's Indie Games Section in the wake of allegations that a group of Xbox.com users have been spamming the service with false ratings.
"We are investigating a possible misuse of ratings on XBLIG titles. We'll announce more information here as it develops," reads a recent tweet from the official XNACommunity twitter account.
Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games -- makers of Xbox Live indie RPG titles including Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World -- first noted the alleged manipulation last week, tying a surge of low ratings for many popular XBLIG titles to a March 24 post on the Facebook page for XBLIG game College Lacrosse: The Video Game.
The post urged fans to provide a 5-star rating to the recently released 2011 version of the title, and provided a link to the game's Xbox.com page, where anyone with a free Xbox.com account can provide a rating.
But Boyd alleges many of those fans went farther than that, providing the minimum 1-star rating to competing XBLIG titles to help improve the Lacrosse games' positions.
The Facebook post now includes a note for lacrosse fans to "please remember to not rate other games low to help CL11," which appears to have been added after the initial post was made.
Boyd says the influx of negative reviews immediately resulted in a four or five-position drop in the ratings chart position of Chtulhu Saves the World, with a further nine position drop coming with over 300 new rankings in the following days. The lower ranking makes the title less visible to potential consumers and has a direct effect on revenues, Boyd says.
While neither College Lacrosse's developer nor its fans seem to have broken any current Microsoft policies, the alleged manipulation raises the issue of whether XBLIG games should be ratable by Xbox.com members who haven't downloaded the title in question -- and may not even own an Xbox 360.
Apple's iOS and Mac App Stores only allows ratings from users who've purchased the app in question. Last April, Apple removed an iOS feature that prompted users to rate apps when they were deleted, saying the process caused overall ratings to skew more negative.