Investigation: EA Floods Social Media Accounts with Bots, Fake Praise
Posted on Thursday, October 2 2014 @ 10:10:44 Eastern
Disclaimer: I posted this piece back in March of 2013, as an investigative piece on the now defunct website Blistered Thumbs. While the information may be old, the reason for the repost is due to the fact that I don't want the story to be lost in the ether of the internet. I am re-editing the first paragraph of the article because of pointed out facts in the original piece were incorrect, and the paragraph before the main image of the piece, because the image is difficult to post normally here. I will supply a link however.
During the SimCity debacle of the last few weeks, there was one story that seemed to be swept under the rug by the gaming press at large. The story pertains to the use of social media, which publishers have been utilizing more frequently to advertise their products. This increased usage of sites like Facebook and Twitter is no doubt part of the plan to connect with more of their audience, but where is the line between leveraging a service and abusing it? Electronic Arts, for example, has been recently caught flooding Facebook with numerous bot accounts in praise of SimCity.
This is far from the only recent incident, however.
If you’ll recall, EA recently held their Full Spectrum event to talk with industry insiders about promoting sexual orientation tolerance and diversity in video games and the workplace. There is no doubt in my mind that EA means well in this message, and is actively pushing for a change of attitude in the industry. In fact, their previous actions regarding sexual orientation, both internally and externally, have shown a commitment to such change, even if it serves as a positive public relations stance at the same time.
But the sad truth is that social media has pushed the Full Spectrum conference, and their goals, into the realm of a callous publicity stunts. I am of course talking about the social media campaign of transplanting bots to promote the message of change. Several screencaps showcased the same, canned messages, word for word in most cases, being typed by people from "around the world" in support of the Full Spectrum conference. What makes it worse is that the collection of replies, which have since been taken down, are often incomplete or contain error messages, which highlights the usage of dummy bot accounts further.
All of these messages, including the broken links, were done by an advertising group designed to promote the conference for EA. The mistake shown above is that someone did not diversify their message or stagger the release of these empty words of praise for the cause, instead releasing them all at the same time on the forum these messages were collected in. It would be easy to hand wave this as breaking the rules for the right cause, but even in the case of promoting the Full Spectrum event and diversity in gaming, EA simultaneously cheapens their message by implanting fear and doubt into the consumer base.
Of course, I suspect that is the last thing EA wanted to do, but such is the case for abusing social media this way. Many game companies already farm out such actions to expert firms to do the busy work for them. One such group is known as Ayzenberg, an advertising agency that is pushing social media interaction. The Ayzenberg Group has an impressive client list, one containing EA, Activision, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Konami, and other game publishers, as well as a broad spectrum of non-gaming corporations.
With such an impressive client list, the Ayzenberg Group is no doubt an example of being a leader in the social media push. The Ayzenberg website features Electronic Arts as one of their case studies, stating the following:
“Electronic Arts recognized the growing importance that social plays in the success of their brands and came to Ayzenberg’s social team with a challenge: Help them grow and manage a social community for one of their biggest games ever, Battlefield 3. Today, as part of a successful program, we initiate an average of 15,000 points of conversation daily across several titles. This continual interaction drives real brand engagement, and that in turn leads to increased sharing, referral, and ultimately sales.
Our community experts, who understand both personal communications and the subject matter (in this case, video games), worked tirelessly with EA to establish a voice that could be carried across the entire team consistently. This commonality ensures that issues and concerns are addressed in a cohesive manner, always based on approved messaging yet without sounding robotic or manufactured. This practice also encourages community engagement and game adoption throughout the pre-release, beta, launch and post launch phases.”
The program currently leverages Ayzenberg’s 50+ person social media staff, a team of community operatives (agents with their hands on keyboards), social strategists, and analytics and statistical experts. This team has worked to not only engage, manage and grow the community, but also to provide in-depth statistical analysis of the data collected for daily, weekly and ad hoc reporting. This adds value and action to the brand, in terms of delivering ongoing content, game updates and messaging that resonates with the community and stakeholders such as the publisher and the development team.
Across many of EA’s titles, we’re now engaging and growing a fan base of 40 million people."
To be clear, I am not accusing the Ayzenberg Group of abusing social media. There is no evidence that they are the firm behind the bots for EA, and it would be libelous to make such an accusation. However, it does beg the simple question of why publishers employ firms to disingenuously engage fans, when such practices inevitably lead to fake accounts and astroturfing. Perhaps more importantly, it raises the question of how widespread the practice really is.
Last year, Facebook estimated that roughly 8.7% of over 955 million monthly active users are dummy accounts. That is a staggering 83 million Facebook users that don’t exist. What’s worse, around 14 million of those 83 million accounts are used for spamming on Facebook. Interestingly enough, despite Facebook attempting to crack down on such accounts since 2012, the practice still continues, even perpetuated, by established, corporate accounts such as EA.
Facebook is not the only social media outlet attempting to combat false accounts. Google+ has been vocally opposed to multiple accounts per user, and was under fire for limited accounts to the users real name. This has not stopped the social media push though. In October of 2012, an SEO firm that was attempting to fake information on Google+ local was caught falsifying reviews by well respected SEO veterans, simply by creating fake accounts for over 60 people. The accounts were shut down immediately, however, with Google purging the fake reviews from their system.
Both The Ayzenberg Group and Google+ were contacted for a comment, but did not reply back to our inquiries.
Regardless, this throws even more suspicion on the shaky bond of trust between publishers and consumers. Social media can be a valuable tool, but when wielded without discipline it becomes self-destructive–even when the message is good–so why trust anything said on Facebook or Twitter now? There is also the question of just how widespread this all is, since it is likely that EA is just the company that got caught, because they have been scrutinized heavily due to the SimCity backlash. I do hope that those companies participating in the social media space start to do so more honestly, for their sake's.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted on October 1, has not been edited. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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On #GamerGate and Journalism
Posted on Monday, September 8 2014 @ 07:31:05 Eastern
Man, this has been a messed up month has it?
All across twitter, you tube, reddit, and pretty much every other social media form under the sun has been going nuts over the #GamerGate scandal. We have seen lines drawn in the sand, people acting like dicks (which is par for the course on the internet, but moreso in this case) and a few folks desperately trying to stay neutral.
I was one of those neutral parties. Honestly, I didn’t really care too much about #GamerGate at all, due to personal life issues. Heck, my time in the sun as a journalist was over. The two year stint at Blistered Thumbs taught me a lot, in particular two lessons about being a journalist.
The first, is to realize no matter what you do, people will go against you. Countless reviews, investigative pieces, etc. were done, lots of blogs and ideas put forth, and not everyone agreed. To be honest, that’s the way it should be, this is a hobby and people have opinions, after all. Constructive criticism is a blessing when it happens, but people are passionate about what they know and love.
The second thing I learned, however, is that no one cares about you if they don‘t know you. I still consider my InXile piece the best journalistic job I ever did, but it was wholly ignored by the rest of the community, except InXile itself, which did leave a sort of sour taste in my mouth at the time. You work hard to investigate things, spend a week or two digging and formulating your article, only to have it shot down by the media itself and never covering it again.
What makes it worse is I actually reached out to many of them to see if they can spread it. Jim Sterling, a member of the press I do not like, I sent an email to see if he can comment on it.Despite my disdain for his style, he is still press and a peer, and would help spread the word faster than I ever could. I also tried to reach Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander and Kris Leigman, but never received a reply. I felt like, despite accomplishing something, for good or ill, it was ignored completely, and I always questioned why.
Call me jealous, call me biased, but that’s my feelings on it. Yet, I can’t help but look at the whole picture of this #GamerGate saga, and feel a sense of shadenfreude against those very people for once. Perhaps they kicked the hornets nest one too many times at this point, and are finally getting stung for their troubles.
See, I look around and see the issues of social justice, flame baiting, namecalling and general internet bile that constantly flows from the frothing mouths out there, but none of that matters. We all agree, you shouldn’t be a dick to people. You could, but it doesn’t make you right in the end. So all the personal attacks and harassment happening to people like Zoe Quinn, which kicked off the entire mess, is completely wrong on both sides.
But, it is not about that. At least, it shouldn’t be. While harassment is happening, it is slowly becoming a Streisand effect with many groups that were in the industry. We see strong writers and activists calling it a quits over this. My friend Mattie Brice is one of those who has given up hope and packed it in. We see major websites such as Polygon block and ban comments regarding #GamerGate, and constant social media battles on twitter between two sides fighting, essentially, for the same thing. We see misinformed fools attack Anita Sarkeesian, Ben Kuchera, Brice and countless others who to be honest, have nothing to do with this issue.
I can’t stay neutral anymore though. For once, people out in the depths of the internet are doing digging beyond the typical milieu of animated gifs and name calling you kind of are accustomed to when looking at the internet. Just yesterday, news broke accusing Indiecade of a racketeering scam,one that is supported with documentation and questionable intent. Is it true? I believe it is, yes.
And honestly, why not at this point? The documentation revealed was professionally researched, not doctored as far as I can tell, based off of the investigations of one person known as Camera Lady, and recited by you tubers who are actually looking at the facts of the issue. They are questioning what is going on, as they should. As a journalist should.
To me, this is the straw that breaks my back. I love websites like Game Revolution, like Gamasutra, and even the occasional Forbes article. Yet, I question why there has been no mention of these findings or in-depth discussion. We have seen some articles that brush off the entire ordeal from the likes of Eric Kain, excuse themselves like Daniel Bischoff, or ignore it all together like Polygon. This morning Rock Paper Shotgun left a long-winded statement regarding these issues, eventually failing to address anything behind a smokescreen of purple prose. Maybe they are right in the end, it shouldn’t matter at all, but wouldn’t it behoove the writers of such websites to investigate this one time?
I know in some cases, they don’t even consider themselves journalists. If that takes them out of the mix that way, fair enough. Yet, many of those who idolize you, who trust you as a source of news or information outside the press-releases and catchy video presentations want to hear about this. I hate to say it, but it is being complacent with the problem, by removing yourself from it at this point. Justified or not, that is the stigma that comes with it. As to those who brush off the issues presented, there is no excuse, you need to simply do your job this time. It may not sell or even be popular, but for me, integrity and journalistic vetting is more important to find the truth of the matter.
If it turns out to be wrong, then it is wrong, simple as that, we recover, move on to the next scandal and go forward. Of course, people need to talk to uncover the truth, and chances are no one within the industry, be it major gaming websites, the parties involved with IndieCade, and so forth, will do so. Hell, for those reading this, they may see me as nothing but a shill in the end, and as per my lessons learned at Blistered Thumbs, it really doesn’t matter. I am not getting paid for this at all, nor do I have a stake in a side “winning” or “losing” when this is all over. I may be biased and opinionated, but you know that ahead of time, so form your own conclusions.
Which honestly is what a journalist should do, let us formulate a conclusion in the end. The reason why I am enamored with these videos is they make mistakes, correct them as they can, are honest about their bias and don’t force the message down your throat. It is raw and not forgiving yes, but also endearing and backs up their claims without much assertion. I feel that if real journalism can get to the heart of the #GamerGate problem, we would maybe solve this puzzle, learn from it, and grow as an industry for once, instead of ignoring the problem or blaming the victims for all the issues at hand they be guilty of them or not.
I also do not believe it should be about sides either. In the end, all of us enjoy video games. We like playing them alone, with friends, on the internet, we love deep RPG’s or action adventure titles, getting scared in survival horror or testing our plat forming skills. That is a strong connection we need to embrace, instead of letting #GamerGate take us apart because of the morass of cynical, deplorable behavior that lines the foundation of what is happening, from all sides of the argument.
I feel it is the obligation of video game journalists out there to actually dig into this story to find the truth yourselves. If there is corruption, racketeering, or any other accusations of collusion going on, why not look into the indie scene then? And why stop there, where you can turn it on the publisher/developer relationships or the metacritic scandals and sock puppet accounts that keep popping up every three years. Discussing games is a fun past time, but sometimes you need to take off the rose-tinted lens to see the dark underside of what built this industry up.
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Why EA Access is the Best Value Out There
Posted on Monday, August 4 2014 @ 17:36:24 Eastern
This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
Here we go again. Electronic Arts, why do you constantly make it so easy to poke fun at you for dumb business moves. I mean, this whole EA Access thing looks…
Hmm… you know what, it is actually a pretty good deal. In fact, dare I say it, it is probably the best deal to come out for consoles in a long time.
This is not a “project ten dollar” or the “season pass” shenanigans that people are decreeing it to be. Oh no, if you read the fine print you slowly realize that EA is saving you money in the long run, provided you take the leap and the service they offer is actually good. So much depends on it being really good, and having what you want, but there is a lot of value here.
That hasn’t stopped people from condemning it as another “enslavement” tactic. Once again criticizing the gaming as a service model that the gaming industry has been moving towards since Steam got popular, and Xbox Live became worth something. The standard cries of “its poor value” or “you are paying twice” being chief among them. Heck, even Sony got in on the act by stating: “We don't think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.”
Interesting choice of words, considering their own service model, PlayStation Now, is set to launch and may have a much more restrictive purchase schemes than what EA is offering, if reports are to be believed. Still, maybe Sony did see something in EA Access that is not readily apparent. Perhaps, behind the fine print presented, EA Access is another pointless service model that is doomed to fail. Let’s find out by looking at the three major points of EA Access and the possible pitfalls they may have.
The first and foremost thing to discuss is the pricing scheme. $4.99 for a month, or $29.99 for a year. For those who are doing the math, that is about $2.50 per month if you get the year subscription, which is half of the $5.00 price tag being offered. Since EA Access is only on Xbox One, the service would be a second charge on top of the Xbox Live account, presuming it is required to use EA Access. Combined with a year subscription of Xbox Live, if one was to purchase a year subscription for EA Access, it would be around $90.00 a year altogether, without Netflix or other services attached.
Now $90.00 seems like a lot for an entry fee, but if you actually break it down it’s pretty decent for a deal. The combined prices for the first four games in this beta equate to $142.00 all together, with Battlefield 4 and FIFA 14 being the lions share at $49.99 apiece. So you already are saving $52.00 off the bat, which is close to a full priced game on its own at $59.99. This is also if you have an Xbox Live Gold account. If EA Access is treated like an application, then your savings become $112 a month.
The second aspect offered is the 10% discount on downloadable content. This includes DLC of course, but also full-fledged games which you can buy and play. So a fully priced title at $59.99 would become $54.00 before tax. $10.00 DLC would become $9.00 easily, while $12.00 games such as Peggle 2 would be priced at $10.00. The discount does offer a good bonus for consumers, provided they like downloading titles off of Xbox Live. Of course you need Live to fully take advantage of this discount. It may also become more lucrative if the games on Xbox Live that are discounted with the Games with Gold program further, stacking the two discounts for extra savings. Although that is just speculation at this time.
Finally, we have the trial access. Since EA is offering you trial runs of the game, chances are they would be complete versions of the game locked off, with a time stamp on it. Much like the demo to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which gave you access to the in-game tutorial, the character creation mode, and an hour's worth of game time in the first area, I expect many of the early access trials to follow a similar pattern, with the difference being the ability to import saved data to the main game.
The trial runs also provide a unique opportunity to do something that is still hard to accomplish, a complete game demo. The “try before you buy” mantra is very much still alive for many consumers, so the ability to actually play parts of the game, albeit for a limited time, is a very enticing offer. It removes the restrictions found in most demos out there, offering a taste of what is to come, much like a kiosk in a GameStop. The potential can be further augmented, though. For example, every team is unlocked for an Exhibition mode in Madden 15, and you can change the parameters of the game in the options menu, instead of recreating as the latest Super Bowl in 5 minute quarters. Such control for a game that usually doesn’t receive a demo online has a lot of potential.
Now, there are some caveats. As mentioned, the pricing might be too steep for some people, and many of the scenarios presented are speculative, it honestly depends on how EA decides to approach them with the trial deals and the 10% discount. It is also a question of content, while there are four games and a bunch of DLC already available in their beta, the pickings are slim and favor fans of sports games over other genres, although if EA sticks with it we might see a large amount of games in their vault on the service. Plus, we still don’t know if it’s a rotating group of games that will be free each month, which is again similar to the Playstation Plus model of free games. We also don’t know if purchased, downloadable games from Xbox One are retained if you decide to cancel the service.
There is also one more, sort of intangible issue that is lingering as well, the “slippery slope” argument that is often made regarding gaming as a service. While access to games and downloading them are all fair positives, many feel, including myself, that the physical copies are valuable and more protected from EULAs. The “enslavement” argument being that the service model locks you into paying money for every aspect of the game, from the DLC to the release date, to what teams or characters you can play as.
It is a legitimate concern, and we constantly see that negative in many instances. Asura’s Wrath, Dungeon Keeper for the iOS, Sims 4, Diablo III, and countless freemium games both on other services provide the proof of abused content and broken promises. The potential of EA Access being abused is there as well, and for many, the fact that it is EA doing this is enough to condemn the service before it's proven. As it is presented, however, it’s a good deal on good faith based upon the current pricing and the current savings received for their beta launch.
Not to mention the final positive given, this is non-mandatory service. You don’t have to sign up for EA Access, and not doing so in the end is a choice the consumers can make. Unlike the “false choice” that poorly implemented season passes presented, EA is allowing the consumers to choose, and with Xbox One providing the service in the same way it provides Netflix and Hulu to consumers, EA has nothing to lose in testing out how successful it can be.
So I have to disagree with Sony in the end. Contrary to what they believe, there is a lot of value here, or at least long term potential. If nothing else this benefits fans of the EA Sports titles the most, because it gives them access to their yearly purchases for the low price of $30.00, but over time EA Access might include more downloadable and new titles, much like the Origin library is today. It would also be a coup if EA allowed other big publishers into their service, although it is unlikely this will occur.
For all the naysaying, though, at least right now, on paper, EA Access is one of the best service models you can get in gaming. This all of course heavily depends on your tastes in gaming, but once again, the choice is always in the consumer's hands.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in July 30, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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Where Did Makoto Go?
Posted on Monday, July 7 2014 @ 16:07:54 Eastern
Like any character from an RPG, Makoto has his own quirks to stand out in his game, Enchanted Arms. For Makoto, he is a support character who uses the element of Light for most of his spell casting, along wit... read more...
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The E3 Conundrum
Posted on Saturday, June 14 2014 @ 17:41:49 Eastern
Man, E3 sucks lately doesn’t it?
Perhaps it is just my jaded outlook on the gaming industry as of late, but for the last few years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has become a chore to sit through. Gone ar... read more...
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The Managed Expectations of the VGX
Posted on Tuesday, December 3 2013 @ 13:44:43 Eastern
Is it just me, or do the game of the year nominees for Spike's VGX awards feel underwhelming? I mean, four of these games are critically acclaimed masterpieces, yet it feels like there is no fundamental difference between most of the nominees thi... read more...
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Sandy Hook Slaying Turned into Gun-Control Video Game
Posted on Friday, November 22 2013 @ 15:26:43 Eastern
[b]*Note: this article was first posted on Blistered Thumbs and can be found in the link below.[/b] http://www.blisteredthumbs.net/2013/11/sandy-hook-slaying-turned-into-gun-control-video-game/
Can video games be political statements?<... read more...
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Mike Krahulick, Dickwolf Bully?
Posted on Friday, September 13 2013 @ 12:43:34 Eastern
Is Mike Krahulick a dickwolf bully?
For those not in the know, or are like me and barely cared when this occurred because you find Penny Arcade to be unfunny, back in 2010 Penny Arcade got into some hot water over a strip titl... read more...
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Seeing the Love: My Time at Video Game Fan Fest
Posted on Wednesday, June 26 2013 @ 12:30:01 Eastern
[Editor's Note: As LinksOcarina comments below, this article is on Blistered Thumbs so it won't be a part of the official Vox Pop competition (yes, I will soon amend the fact that I missed last month's Vox Pop due to E3). However, we thin... read more...
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Is InXile Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?
Posted on Tuesday, May 7 2013 @ 22:25:48 Eastern
[Editor's Note: This article was published on BlisteredThumbs and thus will not be eligible for the Vox Pop monthly prize. However, we believe it should still be featured as a part of our community.]
Update: InXile has gr... read more...
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