The thorny issue of 'cash for reviews' has reared its ugly head again this week, with iPhone devs threatening to boycott a leading games and app reviews site over its dubious editorial tactics.
Team 17's Martyn Brown, who has just announced a new iPhone-compatible version of the classic Worms, suggested that developers should "probably boycott" AppCraver because its editorial policy on game reviews was "all shades of wrong".
The site came to TechRadar's attention when we received a note from game developer Dan Boutros, who informed us that he "sent a mail out to a site called AppCraver so they'd check out our iPhone app," and that "the reply I got was... interesting."
Boutros forwarded a copy of the email response he received from reviews site AppCraver which informed him that "due to the number of inquiries and review requests we receive daily, it may take a while to get to your app" yet added that they offered "several other additional options for you to make sure your app gets seen by AppCraver readers."
"We can provide an expedited review for a $50 fee," wrote the AppCraver rep. "This will get your app reviewed by our staff within 6 business days. However, just because your app is reviewed doesn't guarantee that the app will be published.
"While paying the expedite fee cannot guarantee you a positive review, we will guarantee that if our reviewers don't approve your app we will refund your fee and not proceed with the article. After all -- our readers are not interested in negative reviews -- they are looking for us to highlight the best and most interesting apps out there."
"We also have several levels of advertising opportunities. Every advertiser also receives one Expedited Review for free."
As a final teaser to squeeze money out of devs for those 'expedited reviews' the rep is also keen to stress that AppCraver reaches "thousands of people every day, including many of the key VCs and journalists who follow the iPhone app scene.
"In addition, AppCraver typically ranks higher than any other iPhone blog on Google searches. So, if your app is reviewed by us, you not only get the immediate benefit of thousands of highly qualified iPhone enthusiasts, journalists and VCs learning about your app, you also get the permanent SEO benefit of having a positive AppCraver review show up in the Google search results when people look up your app or company."
All slightly shady sounding, TechRadar is sure you will agree. Though, to be fair, AppCraver does make this information publicly available in its online FAQ section.
So what is the problem?
TechRadar spoke with a number of professional games reviewers and magazine and website editors today, to alert them to this story and to gauge their opinion on this questionable practice of 'cash for expedited reviews'.
"There's something vaguely odd about this, but it's deliberately hard to fathom," agrees PSM3 Editor, Dan Dawkins. "Surely the review website should just pick what it wants to review, rather than offering this nebulous 'expedited' service'? It puts implicit pressure on developers to cough up."
Still, as Dawkins admits, AppCraver is "a business like any other, and this 'service' will only survive as long as people are willing to pay it – it's a complicit loop. Suggestions of corruption in games, or any media, is nothing new and, as ever in the democratic internet age, if an outlet is expressing an opinion that doesn't seem either honestly held or in line with the majority consensus, it'll get flagged up.
"That said, mob-rule review scores – often bullied into life by fanboys, as possibly witnessed last year with Resistance 2, where all negative reviews were 'wrong' – aren't healthy either. Critics should be free to speak their mind, even if it defies conventional wisdom – provided, of course, they can craft a compelling, honestly-held, factual opinion for why they agree or disagree with the status quo.
"In short: you can't bullshit people, and deliberately bending the truth only works against you in the long run. Occasional mistakes, or honestly held contrary opinions to the status quo, are quite something else."
Over at games website SPOnG.com, Editor Tim Smith informed us that if AppCraver "hadn't stated this in public in the FAQ I'd be very, very pissed off about it," but sardonically adds, "as they have and it's not hidden you've got to say that it's not a bad model. What a blindingly capitalist way of getting cash in!"
TechRadar has contacted AppCraver for a response to this story.
And finally, to add in a shameless (and unpaid for!) plug, the game which kicked off this whole furore Trixel - is out on Apple's App Store this week for $2.99.