I'm currently waiting for the new SimCity game to be released in the UK, whilst I do so, I've been reading a number of forums for the game, and watching the first reviews rolling in from the States and other places that the game has launched.
As with many other games that have have gone down the have-to-be-online-to-play route (mostly MMOs, but notably Diablo 3 too) there have been issues with the servers at launch. Despite Maxis and EA running beta tests to try and ensure that there were no problems, inevitably there were.
This has lead to, in the age of instant feedback, to an interesting effect. The reviews for these games have hugely suffered.
Taking Diablo 3, it has an Amazon.co.uk rating of 2.7 stars from 476 reviews (100 @ 5*, 75 @ 4*, 55 @ 3*, 64 @ 2* and 164 @ 1*). Looking at the numbers here, the number of 1* reviews seems hugely out of proportion to the others. Its Metacritic scores are also interesting. Pro critics scored the game at 88/100, but the public scores only give it 3.8/10 (from 7943 ratings).
Looking at SimCity, which has only been out for 3 days, the reviews are strikingly similar. Amazon.com currently has an average rating of 1.4 stars from 278 reviews (9 @ 5*, 10 @ 4*, 7 @ 3*, 18 @ 2* and 234 @ 1*). Once again the number of 1* reviews seems well out of proportion. Its Metacritic scores are similar to those from Diablo 3 - pro critics giving the game 90/100, but the public score being 2.6/10 (from 850 ratings).
Why is this happening? I'm fairly sure that in both of these cases, the reviewers are punishing the company involved for taking a game that could previously be played without an internet connection, and forcing online play on people. In addition to this, both games have had initial problems with server load that have prevented first day players from playing the game, adding to the discontent of the previous fans of the series, who have been used to being able to play offline. Another factor in the discontent may be that both games are continuations or reboots of an old series that's not been touched for some time (11 years for Diablo II, and 9.5 years for SimCity).
Whilst this skewing of review scores isn't great for the games production company, its also not helpful for Amazon, and to a lesser extent Metacritic. They want reviews that reflect the gameplay experience overall, not just the first week or so where the servers where under heavy load, and the game wasn't as it should be.
So, what's the answer to this issue? From Amazon's point of view, the labeling of users that they know have bought the game from them is helpful, but at the moment, you can't get a rating made up of just confirmed purchasers. This also can't be a solution for Metacritic, who don't have the sales details that Amazon do. The only solution that I can come up with for both sires is not to take reviews for a game for the first week or two. Those who are cross about the games forced online play and/or other issues, then have a chance to calm down about any issues that might have spoilt the launch, and thus will give a better set of reviews. Maybe Amazon could have an option so that you can restrict the reviews to only those who have bought the game via Amazon.