Amazon.co.uk censoring reviews

 By Shamus Sep 9, 2008 46 comments

Negative reviews of Spore are being regularly deleted. I guess that’s one way to handle negative publicity.

What a great idea. I’m sure that will fix everything.


20206Feeling chatty? There are 46 comments.


  1. Kind of makes you wonder if the reviews are being deleted by Amazon or whether EA had some hand in it.

    If it’s the former, shame on them. If it’s the latter, well, what better way to push DRM than to prevent people from bringing it up?

  2. edcalaban says:

    This won’t backfire, no sir.

  3. The Lone Duck says:

    Censorship on corporate forums is hardly new. It’s just surpising that it’s Amazon, censoring reviews. We’ve seen this on message boards.
    In their defense, having a bunch of DRM based comments is a bit off topic,if they fail to discuss the individual qualities of Spore as well. If I were to review DVDs badly because I have a grudge against the MPAA, that review would be worthless in regard to the individual DVD. While I agree with the intent, Amazon reviews were not the place to make a statement. You really wanna make a change? Protest in front of game stores. Rally like-minded people. Or not. Any idiot can make a review, and I don’t have a problem with them removing ‘off-topic’ reviews.
    Freedom of press means if you wanna make a pamphlet or blog on the evils of DRM and distribute it, you can without the police hassaling you. It doesn’t give you the priviledge to publish your thoughts on any venue at any time.
    I really enjoy your site. On this issue, I think the Internet is overreacting. Of course, I’m favoring Amazon’s right to do with their website as they see fit. Amazon should have have to be bound to the collective mob rule of the internet.

  4. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Heh.. pirating it right now at my house. I’ll still buy it, but i’m not living with the 3-install limit.

    Now nearly 1,400 1-star reviews on normal Amazon. WE ARE LEGION. This is going to be hard to keep up with. It’s grown by near-100 in the last 10 minutes.

  5. Rob says:

    Maybe it’s just me but that link takes me to a digg login page and not to http://digg.com/pc_games/Amazon_co_uk_censoring_reviews

  6. Skip says:

    FWIW, Amazon has always deleted reviews, both good and bad, if by the words of the reviewer he didn’t actually read the book, or play the game. I can’t see what you’re linking to, because it’s behind a digg login firewall, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case here.

  7. JB says:

    >If I were to review DVDs badly because I have a grudge against the MPAA, that review would be worthless in regard to the individual DVD.

    If you did that alone, it wouldn’t make much impact on the overall score.

    If many people did the same, it would probably be because it was a real problem, and thus the negative review would be warranted.

    I don’t think it is off topic. It is the product as a whole, not the gameplay, that is being reviewed. And if many people have show-stopper problems, the product deserves a low score. Reviews that rate the gameplay can be found elsewhere.

  8. Kevin says:

    Sites like Amazon will more or less automatically remove anything that gets complained about, especially if the complaint is that it’s slanderous. They have no compelling interest in making themselves vulnerable to court action.

    What’s likely happening is that EA staffers are watching the reviews and complaining about the ones they think might keep people from buying. It’s just like on eBay where you can get anyone’s auction of anything cancelled simply by saying it offends you.

  9. Patrick says:

    (Right as I posted this I noticed that Skip had beaten me to my point… oh well.)

    Amazon is probably doing the same thing they did when the Fox News v. Mass Effect fracas instigated people to go review bomb Cooper Lawrence’s book. In that instance Amazon removed any review that they determined were posted by someone who had not read the book. In this instance I imagine they are doing the same thing. I have seen many reviews that start with “I haven’t played the game but…” Those reviews are probably being taken down.

    I am in agreement with The Lone Duck in that I am not sure that Amazon is wrong to remove reviews of people that have admitted they haven’t played the game. Clearly we have the right to speak out and protest what we see as a problem but not anywhere and not at anytime. I am not sure that Amazon is the proper place for that to happen. If you want to cause problems go post on EA’s forum. Hassle them and make them waste money paying some guy to remove all the threads and posts about DRM.

  10. Primogenitor says:

    At least its starting to reach mainstream media now http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7604405.stm

  11. Jeremiah says:

    I can understand removing reviews by people that haven’t played the game. I have no use for someone’s opinion about something if they actually haven’t read/played/watched/whatever the item in question. Surely there were some legitimate reviews in there. But I guess it was simpler to just remove everything. Still pretty ridiculous, I say.

    I also agree there’s probably better places to show disfavor. But on the other hand, there’s probably a large amount of people that know nothing about EA’s DRM and may rely on things like user reviews to become informed about things like that.

  12. Rob says:

    Duck: The difference with Spore vs. A DVD is that when you buy a DVD MPAA dosen’t restrict how many times you can watch that DVD or how many different DVD players you can play it in (regional coding being a completely different issue) nor does it call home to make sure you are allowed to watch the DVD. Your DVD players performance is not effect by any malign or malicious code on the DVD that was put there bu Warner Brothers.

    However that’s what Securom is and does.
    You can’t buy Spore and not have the DRM installed on your machine it is as much a part of Spore the game as the vehicle editor is and as such should be subject to review.

  13. Illiterate says:

    @Rob

    Just wait.. I’m sure the next generation media player will want an internet connection.

  14. The Lone Duck says:

    Rob: I know the difference between Securom and DVD rstrictions. Make no mistake, I’m against SecuROM. It’s not a question of whether it’s bad, it’s a question of where to protest. (This response isn’t directed at you personaly, I just have an easier time writing in 1st/2nd person.)
    It’s easy to point fingers and lay resentment against Amazon because they’re a large business. But they have a right to monitor the content of their webpages. It’s only news to us because it’s something we care about. Plenty of other books get “review bombed” as Patrick said. The DRM aspect should be reviewed, I agree. However, so should the rest of the game. Otherwise, you aren’t reviewing Spore, you’re reviewing SecuROM.
    To reiterate, I’m all for discussing the problems of SecuROM within a full review. I oppose the idea of using Amazon’s site as an anti-DRM blog. You have no rights regarding Amazon’s property. You may have priviledges that are open to the public, but they are not inalienable.

  15. Oddly enough, Amazon.com has not started deleting negative reviews yet. Just checked and they’re up to 1,501 total, with 1,404 1-star.

    No idea how much longer that will last, though.

  16. Kel'Thuzad0398 says:

    Did my comment disappear? I posted one with a link to someone’s top Spore negative review, one with 3000 people who said it was helpful, and was removed, and it didn’t go through.

    EDIT: Working now.

    http://www.amazon.com/My-review-was-just-removed/forum/Fx33E4EB7NJXA02/Tx3J7WLCO6TI2ME/1/ref=cm_cd_ef_rt_tft_tp/002-3974473-1241650?_encoding=UTF8&asin=B000FKBCX4

  17. Illiterate says:

    Well, that is that, then.

    I had sent amazon an email yesterday giving kudos for not purging the review-storm from their site. Got a response today:


    Thank you letting us know that you’ve submitted the negative feedback.

    I am really sorry for any inconvenience caused.

    Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve the selection and service we provide.

    Maybe I *should* have requested a call.

  18. Veylon says:

    Shouldn’t DRM be noted under “product features”? Or maybe “Game Information”? I don’t see any system requirements there, though that would be a good place for it.

    Frankly, commenting on the DRM in an Amazon review is like commenting on the amount of RAM used, or which OS it installs with, or it’s video card compatability. It’s not quite off-focus in the sense that the comments still regard the product as a whole, but it doesn’t describe the experience of actually playing the game.

  19. Pete Zaitcev says:

    I’m shocked that not one comment thus far has realized that Amazon detects review attacks. The link to the article circulated just when the mass-reviewing campaign started. The attackers obviously have organized in some Internet cesspool somewhere and crawled out into the item for the sake of publicity. Sounds like something FSF would do actually, if they had the numbers. But it can be /b/ or SA Forums’ Last Gasp.

  20. Sam says:

    Well, that’s pretty disgusting. At least Amazon.com hasn’t deleted the reviews. It’s up to 1,400 negative reviews out of 1,500. I wonder if anyone will take the hint.

  21. Illiterate says:

    Pete — I’ve suspected this from the beginning, but my opinion is that the attack originated in this fashion, and has set off a chain-reaction of like-minded individuals adding to the storm.

  22. Red says:

    Actually, Amazon.com has also been deleting reviews, they’ve just been much slower about it. But yesterday, I refreshed once and they were up to…say…680 negative reviews, then refreshing again brought the number down to 570. (Or whatever.) Point being that it’s hardly exclusive to the UK site, they’re just more effective about it.

  23. Daosus says:

    I don’t think that Amazon is doing anything outside their rights when removing these reviews. However, they are showing me, a consumer, that I can’t trust their reviews to be objective, because they have been selected by the staff at Amazon. That just means that when I buy software and books, I’ll do it someplace that doesn’t feel it’s necessary to control which reviews I see.

  24. July says:

    DRM is a good enough reason for a one-star, if you ask me. I don’t care if a game casts aside the storm clouds and brings us to the promised land if I have to wear hand-cuffs the whole way.

    It’s not an attack or an organization. It’s a bunch of angry people who pre-ordered the game, but now they know that once it comes in the mail and they open the box, they still won’t really own it.

    Edit: Looks like we’re down to… 15 reviews.

  25. Illiterate says:

    Over in the US, where the users have guns rights it’s up to 1,584 reviews.

  26. Dev Null says:

    EDIT: Sorry, just found all the links to the “my review had 3000 out of 3300 positive reviews” threads. Obviously my wild speculation below was wrong.

    Amazons reviews also have the self-censoring “Was this review helpful to you” function. Could be EA hired a bunch of out-of-work gold-spammers to log in and click “no”.

    Not saying I have any evidence that this is the case, mind, just that the censorship _could_ be done by an outside source if Amazon routinely removes reviews with negative scores.

  27. DaveMc says:

    To put this in a bit of context, let’s imagine that Shamus posted an article about Spore’s gameplay, and several thousand people dropped by to leave comments of the form “I hate the DRM in this game”. Shamus would no doubt agree with them, but he’d also be perfectly entitled to remove those comments if he wanted to.

    I agree with those saying that Amazon is entitled to do this: they aren’t a comment-hosting service, they’re a store. And as others have pointed out, it does make sense for them to remove reviews that start out by admitting that the person hasn’t played/bought the game. (If Amazon wanted to be really ruthless about this, they could accept comments only from people who had purchased the game *from Amazon*, but as far as I know that’s not the case. At least not yet.)

    Having said all that, I love the fact that so many people did go out of their way to “protest” the DRM in this tiny way. It’s too tiny to make any difference, though.

  28. Factoid says:

    Many people have said it and I agree. Amazon can and should be able to take down comments left by people who demonstrate that they haven’t played the game.

    I just went and looked, and a comment I read yesterday that was fairly scathing (1 star) and was obviously written by someone who had played the game and it’s still there.

    They seem to just be removing the ones that start like “I didn’t play the game, but I hate DRM” that’s a legit comment on a blog, but personally I want comments on Amazon to be from people who have used the product on offer. It makes the service more useful.

    They might be going a bit overboard, but it’s hard to say without seeing all the comments, including which ones were deleted.

  29. Steve says:

    The game is rated one star by Amazon.com reviews, but it’s also ranked #1 in sales for video games on the same site. I wonder which of those 1s EA cares about more?

  30. Cineris says:

    Amazon has been censoring reviews for a long time. One star reviews seem to be the target of much of the censorship.

    I think in general it’s a good practice to read reviews for products in places other than a retailer, since a retailer has an interest in selling you the product (though they also have an interest in not selling you a horribly bad product, since you might get pissed, but it’s more intangible).

    I don’t think we really need 1,500 one star reviews complaining about DRM to make an informed decision on Spore.

  31. MechaCrash says:

    I’d be a lot more sympathetic to Amazon disliking the whole review bomb thing if the whole “has only three installs and comes with a side order of malware” thing got mentioned anywhere. But no, you only find out about this crap after you’ve opened the game and thus rendered it unreturnable.

  32. [...] like Amazon UK’s has begun to censor and deleting some customer reviews. Tsk tsk tsk… Share [...]

  33. Robert says:

    Amazon in the US regularly removes reviews when people complain about them. There’s a few romance authors who have rabid fans who complain about any review that’s less than 5 stars, so their self-published books are all rated 5 stars. (On their web sites, they talk about how to game the Amazon review system, and recruit people to help.)

  34. Avilan the Grey says:

    Again, I agree with, and support, Amazon.co.uk’s policy to remove any review, of anything, that indicates that the person has not played the game / read the book / etc. Personally I feel the whole “manual DOS attack” on Amazon very childish.

  35. mephane says:

    I’ve seen the amazon page with the many reviews, it was more than 1,000 (!) reviews with one star, now there is only one.

  36. I wonder why Amazon.com hasn’t started doing the same? They’re up to about 1800 1-star reviews now.

  37. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Yea, that comment that I linked to earlier? That’s back up at the top again.

  38. Alleyoop says:

    You don’t think all this attention called to Amazon on blog and news services might just incline people to visit for the controversy but also sit and shop, er, stop a spell?

    A whole lot of those 1 star reviews (on US Amazon, now nearing 2000 reviews) are from people who cancelled preorders. DRM restrictions should be out in the open so you know what you’re getting into. Amazon allowed EA to post a product description in which online only activation and the 3 activation limit are nowhere to be found before you buy. That’s hardly up front. Amazonians are letting everyone know what they should know so they can make informed choices about what they buy through Amazon.

    And it’s not like you couldn’t see this coming a mile off after Bioshock and Mass Effect PC problems with DRM. The Amazon Spore discussions laid it all out pretty well and long before release.

    I sincerely doubt this was planned at all but a very appropriate evolution of consumer rage toward these customer-antagonizing restriction policies. I think the message to EA is that they should also evolve: listen to your paying customers or they will eventually use whatever means they can to hammer your stupid ass.

  39. K says:

    DRM is a valid point to review, as it is a big part of the game experience, especially if it prevents the game from running.

    If I buy a game and it does not install/run at all, that’s a big, fat F, no matter how great it *could have been*. Software first has to work correctly, and then you can make it pretty and fast and fancy.

    Correctness > All

  40. batgrl says:

    Annoyingly this happens on Amazon in the US, but it’s not something I’d automatically blame Amazon for – sometimes authors and fans band together to see that negative reviews are voted down or reported:
    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/04/18/summary-post-of-rebas-amazon-fight/

    While reading the Amazon reviews at that link I can’t help but notice that some people are reviewing the DRM and don’t say anything about the stages of the game up to the space portion, making me wonder if they completed the game. Not that their review should be removed – just that those aren’t really reviews I’d pay attention to. I already know about the DRM and that DRM sucks – I’m more interested in the review of the game that they’ve played. If they weren’t able to play the game due to DRM, that’d be another matter – none of the low stars say that at the moment. Of course, those may have been removed. There are always going to be people who will have not bothered to buy the game or play it, but who will review their feelings about DRM. One of the reasons why you have to take everything reviewed there with a grain of salt. And of course it’s also why I’m not going to automatically believe anything over there about the DRM causing the game not to work. I’ll go elsewhere for that information, and it definitely exists. How widespread it is is another matter. I’m frankly willing to wait and see, since I play many games now that were bugfests when first released.

  41. Kevin says:

    Frankly, I think the fact that people are rating this game down due to what is essentially its packaging is wrong. It’s akin to going to a book on Amazon.com and rating it down based solely on its cover, without at all considering the merits of the printed words within. They’re taking one flaw in the overall package of Spore and using that as their entire judgment, often without playing the game proper. Indeed, SecuRom isn’t even part of the game proper, nor is it unique to the game, so to claim that it’s part of the game and thus open for judgment is disingenuous as best.

    I agree that the DRM is restrictive, but I also think that the game itself is good fun. It is also a bold step out of the endless parade of generic video games and tired cliches. It does not deserve this sort of thrashing on Amazon.

  42. Avilan the Grey says:

    K:

    I agree, if the DRM makes it unplayable on your computer, then it is a valid point and should be strongly pushed in your review / comment. However, a good 90% of the 1-star reviews (rough estimation) starts with “I have not played the game” or “I will never buy this game”…

    Those “reviews” should immediately be removed.
    Thank God that you can click on the review-grade you want and bypass the whiners.

  43. Joe_W says:

    Well, I would never buy a product that is packaged in razor sharp glass shards, so I would say that the packaging is an aspect. If I buy something and I can see that it will cause me quite an amount of pain when I try opening it, I would send it back and blame the guy who packaged it. If the article is packaged with glass shards (or, let’s say, strongly radioactive waste that will render you sterile, cause cancer etc.) I would say the prospective buyer has the right to know about it…

  44. Jeff says:

    Frankly, I think the fact that people are rating this game down due to what is essentially its packaging is wrong.

    The book is excellent but the pages are made of asbestos and dusted with anthrax. 1 Star.

  45. William says:

    Alot of the deleted reviews are also evangelist and, ironically, Athiest rantings as well with no actual connections to the game. Oddly there’s been little actual stink from most of the major religions about Spore’s depiction of Evolution, probably since it takes the hardest of hard heads to really take issue with it, but apparantly the implementation of a ‘Religion’ path in the Civ\Space stage and the depiction of two Gods has resulted in a suprising outcry from a number of big name Athiests.

    So yeah, alot of the deleted reviews are people running around screaming fury at the fact that Spore has gods in it.

  46. btw i found a great tool for removing DRM: check out ultimatedrmremoval.com.

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