A Kunai review bomb appears to have been the result of one dedicated user exploiting a flaw in Metacritic's registration and voting process.
If you're unfamiliar with Kunai, it's a recently-released indie Metroidvania with a rockin' chiptune soundtrack and high-flying action. It's rated "Mostly Positive" on Steam and has an 83 Metascore on Metacritic and a Top Critic Average of 75 on OpenCritic. Unfortunately, it seems that one dedicated user has been abusing Metacritic in an attempt to drive its User Score into the toilet.
A Gamasutra blog post from TurtleBlaze details the problem. Upon discovering that the game's User Score was a horrid 1.7 — far in contrast to their reception elsewhere — the company began investigating the issue, only to find that this has been a problem on Metacritic for a while.
Look no further then temporary email sites. That's how all of this happened. I found the easiest place to go and I decided to go there, while opening another tab to Metacritic. You see, Metacritic is fucking terrible for user score because they don't restrict you from making accounts to review bomb. Review bombing is easy on Metacritc. All you have to do is: 1) Get a temp email, 2) Make an account with the email and a username/password of your choice, 3) Accept the confirmation email, 4) Go to the game you want to review bomb by searching it and then rating it a 0 (you don't have to write a review), and 5) Delete the email you have, then log out of your Metacritic account. Rinse, repeat. I also wanted to show how pathetic Metacritic really is for user reviews. I made like 200 different accounts just to ruin the game's score.
This wasn't the only game the review bomber claims to have affected, chalking up Tokyo Mirage Encore and Insurgency Sandstorm to his efforts.
While it's probably a pretty bad feeling to see your user score drop so low, there's a ray of light at the end of the tunnel for Kunai — at least for now.
How is the Kunai Review Bomb Being Combated?
The initial effects of the Kunai Review Bomb have already been mitigated to a degree; the current User Score has moved up from a 1.7 to a 4.6 since the review bomb was first highlighted by the developers. In fact, it gained a solid 0.5 points over the last half hour, so it seems that some of the damage is being undone.
One of the issues highlighted by this review bomb is the sheer lack of security measures on MetaCritic. These problems are highlighted in the a recent video from YouTuber YongYea that was cited by the developers. The issues listed in the video were summarized by TurtleBlaze in their blog post:
[...] [YongYea] points towards the absence of certain security measures on Metacritic’s side that are also exposed by the KUNAI review bomber:
- Game ownership is not verified, like it is with Steam user reviews
- E-mail aliases such as Gmail are allowed, making it easier for bombers
- Fake domains used in constructions such as mailinator are not blacklisted
- Reviews coming from the same IP address are not flagged
- There’s no check on the lifespan of these accounts
These seem like pretty worrying issues in what is viewed as one of the more reputable review platforms for entertainment. YongYea and TurtleBlaze's criticisms certainly seem to have merit — and they're not the only ones who have a problem with Metacritic.
The Kunai Review Bomber Responds
One of the people we've reached out to about this Kunai review bomb is the person claiming to be behind it and we've received responses to our questions.
Citing a desire to "stir up controversy and confuse people", the review bomber specifically targeting Kunai because it had a low amount of user reviews overall.
"[...] I review bombed multiple games, but the specific reason that I review bombed KUNAI is because I knew that because the game only had a few reviews," the review bomber stated. "[It] would be incredibly easy to plummet that score down to an insanely low score. It went from an 8.1 to a 1.2 in just an hour. There would be no way for that to happen with a game that had an 8.1 with, say, 250 or even 100 reviews."
One of the motivations the review bomber cites an interest with the character Casey from the Pokemon anime. Several of the review bomber's Reddit posts highlight the character in an effort to cause confusion and raise interest in the character.
Ultimately, though, several problems are highlighted by the review bomber, echoing YongYea's criticism of Metacritic.
"I also wanted to show just how broken Metacritic's user rating system is and make them realize that they need to implement new mechanics to improve the user rating system," the review bomber added. "They only require you to confirm your email and that is it. They don't block Gmail aliases or temporary emails, or even verify that you own the game."
My final question was if there was anything to communicate to the game developers regarding the review bombs.
"Not really, other than I guess that you might as well get Metacritic to remove the scores and ESPECIALLY to implement a much better rating system so that this doesn't happen again."
Publisher Arcade Crew Responds to Kunai Review Bomb Situation
Kunai's publisher Arcade Crew has responded to our questions about the review bomb. As one might expect, they had been keeping their eye on reviews in the weeks after the game's launch. Naturally, this also included a review aggregation website like MetaCritic."When we saw the user score had dropped dramatically we suspected that something was off and a quick research led us on the famous [Reddit] post with every detail of the bombing," stated Arcade Crew's Communication Manager Jessica Richard.
The Kunai review bomb situation highlights what could be considered several structural weaknesses with review aggregation platform Metacritic, especially when it comes to vulnerable indie games that don't have a lot of attention. Arcade Crew would like to see, at the minimum, a level of "basic verification" added so that a user couldn't create "dozens and dozens" of accounts to single-handedly affect a game's User Score.
"It's kind of surprising they allowed email aliases and don't automatically check on reviews coming from the same IP address when it's not the first time that something like that happens," Ms. Richard added. "I saw a [Redditor say] we were kind of lucky to have such an obvious review bomb and that we should think about other games which could have been targeted in a more discreet way by giving a 4 or 5 score instead of 0 like for us. It's really should make us think about how relevant those scores are, considering how easy is it to counterfeit them at the moment."
Thankfully, there has been an upside to this unfortunate situation over the last few days. When I first wrote this article, Kunai's User Score on Metacritic had already recovered to 4.6. At the time of writing this update, it's sitting pretty at a much more respectable 7.7 — much more in line with its Metascore of 81 and OpenCritic's Top Critic Average of 76. That's largely thanks to the fans who have stepped in to correct the problem.
"We are so grateful for the support TurtleBlaze received!" Jessica Richard stated regarding the positive reviews coming in. "A review bombing could be so harmful for an indie studio releasing its first game, because obviously you have everything to prove yet and discover what happened was tough, especially because it was so random. People were amazingly understanding and tried to help by shouting across Metactritic on Twitter or leaving their own review on the website which was so nice."
This story seems to be heading for a happy ending. Unfortunately, it doesn't change the fundamental problems with Metacritic highlighted by the Kunai review bomb and others. We asked Arcade Crew what they had to say to other developers who might face a similar situation.
"I'd say for now and until Metacritic decide to do something about the [user's] accounts and reviews moderation we cannot prevent something like that, it's really random. We were unlucky to [catch] the attention of this person on this particular day but it could have been any other game with a small amount of [reviews]. It's unfair and scary but it happens and hopefully Metacritic removed most of the fake accounts in a few days and as I said, people were really great with the studio and mostly tried to help. So in the end, we're mostly thankful to have such a great community with us."
Considering the issues that have been revealed with this review bomb, it looks like Metacritic has some problems it needs to work out. We've reached out to Metacritic will update this article as we receive replies (as we have with comments from publisher The Arcade Crew).
What do you think of the Kunai review bomb? Do you think review bombs are a legitimate expression of customer dissatisfaction? Let us know in the comments below!