Warren Spector Sure Wishes Metacritic Was Less Relevant

Warren Spector Sure Wishes Metacritic Was Less Relevant

Add Deus Ex and Epic Mickey creator Warren Spector to the list of people who think the video game industry should stop caring so much about Metacritic.

In his column for GamesIndustry.biz this week, Spector goes after Metacritic, a website that aggregates review scores for movies and video games and ranks them with a single number, or Metascore. Spector criticises the video game publishers and developers that treat those Metascores like holy numbers and use them to affect bonuses and contracts.

“Metacritic, at best, rewards games that are conventional and well understood by players and critics alike,” Spector writes. “New and challenging things are, by their very nature, disruptive and easily misunderstood. Aggregation of opinion, at best, offers hope and guidance to people whose goal is to maximise profitability but little to people whose priorities lie elsewhere or who depend on the constancy and relative predictability of the status quo.”

Spector’s column is smart, and worth reading. It also doesn’t touch upon one important point: both video game publishers and developers manipulate Metacritic scores to serve their own goals. The problems with Metacritic’s influence on the game industry — even beyond the flawed idea that a game’s quality can be summed up with a number — are deep and entrenched.

For more, check out our in-depth investigation into the serious flaws of how the video game industry uses Metacritic.


  • What if it were Peter Molyneux writing this article, and he wasn’t in MS’s thrall (still)?

    What if it were Ken Levine, and he hadn’t spent the last few years producing Bioschock Infinite?

    What if it were Will Wright, Tim Schafer, Cliff Bleszinksi or David Jaffe?

  • I finally agree with Spector on something. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are terrible and the sites don’t make a lot of sense since they only take in the more popular review sites/critics and they don’t bother with sites that don’t give a numbered score.

    • How can you trust anything from that site when A:, their ‘industry’ reviewers are places like ign or Gamespot, who rarely give a bad review to anything (payola anyone?), B: You can have situations like with MW3 where the official reviewers gave it glowing reviews but the public panned it (I think the ratio was somthing like 5:1 against at one point) and C: the review process is easily undermined by the use of astroturfing to alter the results in a party’s favour (companies do it to improve their score, people online take their anger out on companies by trashing the product).

      How is this site even held in high regard when the lunatics are effectively running the asylum??

  • I do not understand the controversy with Metacritic? Isn’t it just a website that collates the reviews of sites?

    • It collates those reviews and then creates it’s own score based off of their own metrics. This metacritic score is meant to somehow represent the general and definitive quality of the game/movie/music in question.

      Since a lot of people trust metacritics metrics to create a score they agree with, metacritic has gained a reputation for representing the final resting place of criticism and that therefore games with high metacritic scores also sell well. So then publishers want their games to score high and will turn it into incentives for their developers. When those developers fail to reach those scores (even if their game is actually good and/or profitable) then they are denied bonuses or fired.

      But it backfires: As Warren Spector said above, if you make what will be aggregated as good then you’re making what everybody already likes, not what could be exiting and new and what people of the future will like.

  • I don’t know. It seems to me Metacritic is pretty important, professional game journalists can be wasily persuaded with exclusivity and other perks as we’ve seen before.

  • I don’t agree with developers getting coerced into signing contracts which rely on a metacritic score for a full payday, but whether the website as we know it exists or not doesn’t matter.

    If metacritic didn’t exist, publishers would have created it. In-house, with their own metrics. Publishers are in the business of money, not art. They understand numbers, not impressions. And when they want to know if something was critically (not commercially) successful or not, they’ll aggregate review scores so that they can quantify that success and attach a dollar value to it. It all goes into the giant ‘success’ equation.

    If anything, people should be thankful that it’s publically viewable and not sitting on an internal publisher database somewhere, so we can try to intuit the reasoning behind some of their bizarre decisions.

  • I’m scared to look at the Metacritic page for the original Deus Ex (if there is one…I hope there ain’t), but I can just imagine the user reviews:

    “lol my phone has beter graphics”

    “The missions are vague. You have NO idea where to go or what to do, the game just says there’s some idiot I have to save someone or something in the first mission. There’s no HUD marker. The levels are too spread out AND THERE’S NO MAP. I don’t know how they missed such a basic feature…but it’s called ‘proper game design’, people. Maybe Specter or whatever his name is should read up on that.”

    “i liek died in the first 10 minutes because i got shot like four tiems even though each shotting was 2 mins apart YOURE HEALTH DOES NOT GO BACK UP WHEN YOU GET SHOT dont know how such a obvious glitch made it into final game”

    “The multi is crap.”

    “The voicework is atrocious. This completely and utterly ruins the game for me – couldn’t they afford Martin Sheen like a proper developer?”

    “too many things to hav to manage . u have to put points into skills AND upgrade augs. lol Mass Effect 2 does all that for u”

    “Cut scenes aren’t cinematic enough. In fact, there’s not enough cinematicity. I spent nearly an hour wandering Hell’s kitchen before something happened.”

    “Dues ex – y u no aim down sight?”

    “There’s nothing to shoot half the time, even though you have TOO MANY WEAPONS. Everyone know proper shooters only have a pistol, a rifle, and maybe like grenades or something or a rocket launcher and that’s it. You have to figure out how to carry all this, too.”

    “lol, little green chicken things can kill you? WTF? totaly ghey”

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