You don’t have to go far to hear about how bad Metacritic is for the gaming industry. Kotaku recently wrote a great piece about it and Adam Sessler also had some good points in his recent video. This isn’t a new complaint either, IGN covered it a year ago and so have countless other sites.
But if it’s so bad then why does it continue to be such an integral part of the industry on the side of developers, publishers and gamers alike?
Why when Metacritic aggregates scores for Movie, TV, Music and Games is it only games that have this intense backlash against the idea of being labelled with a single aggregated score?
The answer is unfortunately far more simplistic that most people would like it to be. We’d like to believe that artists shouldn’t be constrained by numbers and that every game and movie deserves to be judged by it’s whole and not simply by the ideals of a select few reviewers.
And by in large that is correct. The latest Defiance TV series is currently sitting with a Metacritic aggregate of 58/100. That’s pretty shocking really and yet last night I bought the first pilot episode from iTunes for $1.99… or something. I’ve watched half of it so far and haven’t made my mind up yet but I wouldn’t say 58 is far off the mark.
I didn’t pick Defiance at random, the video game based on the series was released at the same time and it currently has a Metacritic rating of 56/100, am I going to pop out to the shops now and spend R600 ($60) on it? Hell no.
And there is the crux of the entire argument, it’s all about the money in the end and while I’m happy to throw away a bit of cash to judge a movie or TV series for myself I simply cannot afford to do that for all games.
When it comes to movies it becomes even easier for the studio’s, they can make an average movie with big name stars, market the hell out of it and unless they completely overspent they should be able to make their cash back.
And if the movie doesn’t do well at the box office it can always bring in extra money with DVD sales, video store rentals, online streaming, iTunes and then good old fashioned TV showings.
However a game has one shot at life and has to make the majority of its money in 1 month, add that to the high cost of games and you can understand then how important the initial reviews are.
Is it fair that developers are measured on a Metacritic score? Well yes, we all have KPA’s in our jobs and in my last job we were measured on the aggregate customer satisfaction score that we received. People got fired over bad scores while others got great bonuses for high scores.
Is it the perfect template for artistic freedom? Absolutely not, but unfortunately artistic freedom doesn’t pay the bills and with games these days reaching the high tens of millions to develop those are some hefty bills that require payment.
All is not lost though, Sony has been exceptionally good at giving developers freedom when it comes to some of their first party titles like Flower, LBP or Heavy Rain. All of which became commercial success stories and broke the mould and created genres.
Another common complaint about Metacritic is that their weighting system is a secret and we don’t know if our reviews are weighted higher than IGN’s or JoeBlogSpot.com. Obviously when something isn’t transparent we worry that it’s susceptible to corruption but at the same time if these weightings were made public there is even more chance of corruption.
If it become known that our reviews count more than IGN you can bet your bottom dollar that we’d suddenly be inundated with communication from the publishers and be invited on every single press trip known to man. At the same time the guys and girls at IGN would start throwing their toys for being seen as less important than that amazing South African website.
In the end Metacritic isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, publishers use it as a weapon against staff and outlying sites can heavily affect a review score by either hating a game or trying to make a name for themselves. But at the same time it isn’t the evil body some journalists are attempting to make it, it’s simply an aggregate score of all the respected reviews across the planet. Nothing more and nothing less.
Disclaimer, if you didn’t know we are one of the multitude of sites used in the Metacritic aggregate which is something we are very proud of. But mainly because we are the first African media site to be included and that’s awesome.
Last Updated: April 22, 2013