Today, the gaming website Eurogamer announced plans to ditch review scores, joining outlets like Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun in Fighting The Good Fight against the arbitrary and meaningless quantification of video game quality.
That's good news both for Eurogamer and for video game criticism in general. It's also good news for anyone concerned about the disproportionate influence of Metacritic over how and when video games are made. To quote Eurogamer:
Over the years, we've come to believe that the influence of Metacritic on the games industry is not a healthy one (and we're not alone in this opinion in the industry, either). This is not the fault of Metacritic itself or the people who made it, who just set out to create a useful resource for readers. It's a problem caused by the over-importance attached to Metascores by certain sectors of the games business and audience - Metascores which are, let's remember, averages of dozens of numerical values, ascribed more or less arbitrarily, in different systems, by a wide range of reviewers expressing a wide range of opinions. The result has been conservatism in mainstream game design and a stifling of variety in critical voices. In short: it's meant less interesting and innovative games.
This is spot on. It might also make you wonder: just what are the problems with Metacritic? When Eurogamer talks about the "over-importance attached to Metascores," what are they referring to? Is there any evidence that Metacritic has a negative impact on the way video games are developed and published?
Let's take a trip way back to the strange times of 2013, when Barack Obama was president and there was a new Assassin's Creed coming out in the fall. In April of that year, we published an investigative report called "Metacritic Matters: How Review Scores Hurt Video Games."
In that report, we talked to a couple dozen people who have worked for game developers, publishers, and press outlets. We shined a spotlight on some of the many problems with Metacritic — how it affects developer bonuses and negotiations; how it hangs over game-makers like a scarlet letter; and how both publishers and developers try to game the system in any way they can.
Some salient highlights:
- Independent studios like Obsidian Entertainment (South Park: The Stick of Truth) and the now-defunct Airtight Games (Murdered: Soul Suspect) are frequently asked to show their Metacritic scores while meeting with publishers about potential deals to make new games.
- Metacritic scores are also tied to bonuses; Obsidian lost out on a cool $US1 million because Fallout: New Vegas was one point away from 85, according to sources.
- Publishers can and will do whatever they can to skew Metacritic scores. One developer told me of the time he hired an infamously-negative-scoring reviewer to write a mock review for his studio's game — not because the developer wanted feedback, but because they wanted to make sure this reviewer would have to disclose himself from writing a review and impacting the Metascore accordingly.
- Some smaller websites can be influenced in more blatant ways — one writer told me that Sega guaranteed his website an exclusive review of Super Monkey Ball if the score was higher than an 8.0.
- A lot of people are unhappy with the system — and there seems to be a rapidly-growing sentiment that things need to change.
If you're interested in learning more about why so many people see Metascores as such a big problem, go check out the full piece.