People who pre-order games digitally on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been earning themselves an unadvertised and easily abused perk: the ability to rate, and sometimes review, video games that they have yet to play and aren’t even out yet. As a result, both online stores are full of star-ratings for games that haven’t been released. The Xbox One, which supports user reviews, displays dozens of user reviews written by people who haven’t played the games.
Online reviews are already difficult to trust, but when buyers can review without having played the game, the system is broken. Mr. Totilo isn’t pointing out a new loophole — the PlayStation and Xbox stores have been this way for a while — but it’s become more noticeable, particularly as more people start to preorder their digital content.
This an easy problem to fix, and Apple serves as a good example. Up until last summer, users running prerelease versions of iOS were allowed to download and review apps on the App Store. However, because apps are often incompatible with new operating system betas, users would encounter bugs or crashes, and proceed to leave negative reviews. This was obviously unfair to developers, because beta periods exist to help find bugs, not penalizing for their existence. With the iOS 9 beta, Apple addressed the issue by preventing reviews from iOS beta users.
Sony and Microsoft could easily copy this approach in their own online stores. Going forward, users should be unable to review or rate a game before the release date. This change wouldn’t prevent fake reviews after release, which is a separate and serious problem, but a review system that doesn’t try to elicit honesty wherever it can simply isn’t worth having at all.