Some Game Sites ‘Gamed’ Reddit, and Nothing of Value Was Lost

A number of prominent videogame media outlets — specifically GamePro, G4TV and VGChartz — have gotten themselves in hot water after they were caught “gaming” Reddit with puppet accounts and the hired hands of power users. An Internet sleuth exposed the shenanigans yesterday, forcing those outlets in question to come clean and admit their fault. Apologies have been issued, though the sincerity may be dubious and the gesture has not been enough to stem the tide of outrage and abuse that often follows charges of “NEFARIOUS CORRUPTION” in our videogame “JOURNALISM.”

As is often the case with controversial chicanery, a few people asked me my thoughts, and I spent a little time looking into the situation. Having carefully considered the “crimes”, the “victims”, and the fallout of the exposure, all I can ask is … what, exactly, is the big problem here? A few publications “gamed” a website that, at the time of writing, has a thumbnail of a thing that looks like a vagina on the front page with the headline, “I’m just posting this for the thumbnail.” Another hot bit of main page news consists of a chat log that starts with the hard-hitting question, “How many fingers can you fit in your pussy?”

Something tells me that an unshakable bastion of online integrity has not been rocked to its very core by this issue.

GamePro, G4TV and VGChartz have been attacked pretty vehemently by Reddit users and the usual cavalcade of “Rawr Videogame Journalists” pundits, yet I cannot see what they did that was so wrong. As much as people may like to dream otherwise, the likes of Reddit, N4G and Digg are little more than marketing tools in the eyes of many people. Despite what you may say of the community (usually made up of people fighting with other all day), the very way these websites work create an entity begging to be gamed. G4TV admitted it had employed a “Power User” to promote content on news aggregates and gain significant traction, and while it looks sleazy, the very fact that power users even exist is evidence that these sites are not a level playing field where everything has an equal chance and the cream can rise to the top. I don’t fault people using tricks and scams to get ahead in a system that welcomes and rewards the use of tricks and scams.

It’d be great is news aggregates were a simple case of “Link is posted, if enough people like it, it becomes successful,” but the system of metrics in place do not allow for that. In the end, sites like Reddit and Digg are just glorified Internet popularity contests, and you’ll have to forgive me for being unable to muster enough outrage over somebody cheating at an Internet popularity contest.

Now, I’m not saying that what these sites did was right, exactly. Content-spamming Reddit with twenty user accounts is most certainly naughty behavior. It might not be right, but it’s not exactly wrong, either. No great moral trespass was committed. A broken system was used to the advantage of a number of sites. Big deal. It doesn’t affect my view of the outlets’ content, or the moral fiber of the writers who work for these sites (in the interests of disclosure, I’ve freelanced for GamePro, and I also happen to think the people who work there are stand-up guys).

On the subject of GamePro, I wholeheartedly back the tongue-in-cheek nature of the magazine’s apology:

It’s definitely true that we’ve had some power users recently spamming content on our behalf. We have already stepped in and asked those people not to do this in future.

The reality of the situation is pretty straightforward – Reddit can be gamed, it was gamed by people on our behalf, and those people got busted. We take full responsibility for engaging those people. And yes, we’re apologizing because we got busted. Damn you. We’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids. So give us the kicking we deserve, and we’ll look forward to seeing what the conspiracy theorists will come up with.

We’re hoping that the more reasonable of you will respect our honesty regarding our deferred dishonesty, but we’re sure some people will run riot with it, which is to be expected – and in some places celebrated – on the Internet. Ultimately, we respect Reddit and its community, at least the ones who don’t live under a bridge and forget to take their meds. We also believe in our content, but in future we want you, not spammers, to be the judge of it.

GamePro was particularly singled-out for the insincerity of its apology, though the other sites were also given a tongue-lashing. One Reddit user said that GamePro’s statement on the matter was “bullshit,” but on the contrary, I think it was refreshingly honest. The publication admitted it apologized only because it got caught, and it treated the issue with the severity and gravity that it deserved — very little. I’d rather a publication have fun with a “bullshit” apology than pretend it is deeply sorry and grovel for forgiveness over an issue it doesn’t take seriously. I know some people were disappointed — after all, we always get off on exerting moral power over somebody who’s just made a bowing, scraping apology — but nothing was damaged, nobody was hurt. These sites were caught being cheeky, little more. In the grand scheme of corruption, even just within the videogame industry, this is low, low, looooow on the list.

Gamers seem obsessed with finding controversy and corruption within the gaming press, but if low-hanging fruit like this qualifies, then I’d suggest gamers maybe raise their expectations a little. After all, Reddit’s deluding itself if it believes these three sites are the only ones bending the rules — or even the worst examples.

In short, I think there’s only one thing these guys did wrong — they didn’t write an editorial disagreeing with the Reddit collective. That usually gets you right on the frontpage, and you don’t even have to make a single account.

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15 Comments on Some Game Sites ‘Gamed’ Reddit, and Nothing of Value Was Lost

Bruce McGee

On March 31, 2011 at 9:06 am

So the sham that is Reddit got exposed and now the community is pissed off. I really doubt the sites mentioned in this article as the only ones doing this. I also suspect is the outrage has more to do with the fact that this exposure proves how broken the Reddit system is.

I know from personal experience if your a new blog trying to attract readers on Reddit your not going to get anywhere fast. Especially if you try to go it in a legitimate fashion. Either the vaunted community over there will run you into the ground or sites gaming the system will bury your submissions. Jim nailed it with calling the site an Internet popularity contest, because that is exactly what it is. As long as there is a human component to any promotion system you will always see it turn out like this.

ESAD

On March 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

I hope you feel the same way when people start stealing your content to push hits to their blogs via reddit. oh wait,you have no content…

FOAD

sunra73

On March 31, 2011 at 10:20 am

Where did he say it was ok to steal content (which I’m reading as plagiarizing)? And was content stolen or did they just push traffic to their sites by linking GamePro articles?
So what’s your point? Oh wait, you have no point.

Aids

On March 31, 2011 at 10:21 am

Video game reviews is a job for retards. No real work or dedication needed. Just do video game reviews like people on youtube. Don’t play the game and just spew swear words every 5 seconds.

Joshua

On March 31, 2011 at 11:40 am

I do SEO full time as well as run a website. What was done was typically black hat. It has been around for ages and will continue to be present until changes are made to the very core of how things are ranked online.

MasterOfHyrule, G4, GamePro and the rest are nothing but symptoms of a greater problem. As long as something can be gamed, it will be.

Sim Jerling

On March 31, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Heh, complaining about the reddit hivemind, Jim? Spoken like a true redditor.

IMO, the only thing notable about this incident is a) how effective the downvote system is at keeping true spam from the frontpage (hardly a post for G4TV even got a positive score in the past months : http://www.reddit.com/domain/www.g4tv.com/new/ ) and b) how embarrassing it is for a major site to hire human spambots. Those sites are dead for /r/gaming. At least until people forgot about this (which could take a while). I doubt it was worth it.

It can be traced back to Digg v4. They started putting corporate sponsored links over user submissions. And DIED. Seriously, half of digg migrated to reddit without looking back. So reddit is extra stingy when it comes to corporations paying to game the system. Even though it never even really worked, lol.

Steve

On March 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm

This is the internet… where being an asshat can (sometimes) get you paid, and being an attention-whore gets you website hits.

You digital Utopian delusionists crack me up.

You’re going to have to give up anonymity to ever fix things.

Earnest

On March 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Saying that nothing of value was lost implies that you place no value in what Reddit is. First and formost, it is a community, and what binds that specific community together is a sense of trust. Trust has been diminished, and I do think that there is a value in that trust.

Otto

On April 1, 2011 at 3:53 am

Reddit sucks. This is not news.

Here’s what it comes down to: Sites like Digg and the later clones of it were fine when they were new and aggregation and moderation could be achieved organically. But over time, it became fairly obvious how to game them to force pretty much any story you wanted to the top. It’s not even that hard to do, really. Look at this story, the guy was able to do it with only about 20 accounts. Hell, doing the same with a couple hundred users would be easily scriptable.

As long as you’re relying on your users to vote on stories, without taking measures to ensure that the votes are real and that people aren’t working to upvote multiple times, then the system isn’t going to work. And any measures you take along these lines can be worked around.

Once marketing scumbags saw how to game these sort of systems, they did so. It’s not a question of ethics or morals for these people, because they don’t see these sites as having any sort of code of behavior. They’re trying to drive traffic to make money, period. That is their only goal. They’re not trying to help their fellow man, or improve the quality of content on the internet. They’re entirely money driven, and that’s all that they care about. So *of course* they’re going to game these sites when they see an opportunity to do so. They’re going to game the living out anything and everything in order to drive traffic back to them.

Marketers see people as things to be bought and sold. That’s their whole worldview. Until you understand that, you’ll never be able to deal with them.

Digg and reddit and other systems like this are inherently unworkable, because their own popularity causes marketers to game them, which inevitably is noticed and thus kills their popularity. Digg didn’t die from their most recent round of changes. Digg died about 2 years ago, when the quality of content went straight to hell. Reddit is dead as an aggregation tool, it’s just that its users are too busy using it as a rather ugly looking chat forum to notice.

Eventually something else will come along with a new idea and a new way to rank and promote URLs and ideas by a community system. It’ll last a year or two before the marketers swoop in. Hopefully, the new idea will be much more difficult to game, but it will happen too. Just a matter of time.

Mike

On April 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Oh look an adversarial article by Jim Sterling what a titillating change of pace. I wonder if the content of this article has anything to do with the once burgeoning relationship between Destructoid and /r/gaming that fell apart largely because of a major backlash against Destructoid’s article content, mainly Jim Sterling’s. Probably not.

Derp

On April 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm

It would be hard for Jim to find fault in this behavior, because he would have to fault his own camp. Gaming the system is not evil, but it is a jackass move. Hopefully standard users will take note of those that sell their votes, and gauge their opinions accordingly.

G

On April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm

There is clearly a problem of plagiarism, which is a shame… but there will always be folks trying to piggyback their website with the written work of others.

On the same token, the Reddit system isn’t terrible. It has it’s flaws, but realistically can’t be totally policed perfectly for it to work dynamically. While there is clearly a popularity issue, and this can work against newbies to the site, the idea in principle is good.

The point Jim makes about the “spamming” aspect is sound. Reddit’s flaw is that if a site does become popular and many fans start linking that site to Reddit, it gets marked as spam. That’s a flaw in the design. Legitimate popularity shouldn’t be arbitrarily assumed to be spam by the Redditors.

Asha Lav

On December 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

Wow! that’s some … Wow! that’s some cool looking software

Felica Sathre

On December 12, 2011 at 8:22 am

Hi Lorraine,Hahahahah! I do not believe in the tooth fairy! Thanks for reading

Chi Salcedo

On December 14, 2011 at 11:54 am

Hey just a thought, you’ll probably get a lot more visitors in case you interviewed controversial people to your blog”