Confessions of a Gamer – Episode 3

Confessions of a Gamer – Episode 3: “Metacritic is Bullsh#t”

A bi-weekly column about a gamer and his deepest secrets.

Where do I begin?

For those not familiar with Metacritic, it’s a website that aggregates reviews of music, television and movies. It also does it for games. And there lies the problem.

I think it’s fair to say that the influence of a low-rated game looms larger and more prominent over a gamer’s head than a low-mark on a Justin Beiber album. There are many factors to this. For one thing, you’re not paying over sixty dollars to listen to “Baby Baby Baby Oh.” Reviews of video games are crucial and are unmistakably taken very serious by game enthusiasts. So when you see a game that has a Metascore of 75, you immediately look away. This is what this website is training people to do, if it’s not in the 90s, It’s not worth a purchase. This system might have some merit but the way this site goes about its business is not something that should be overlooked. Now that’s where the Bullsh#t comes out tap-dancing.

Metacritic converts any review grade into a percentage. So if you’re a website that routinely delivers reviews using the alphabet scale, it doesn’t matter. Most notably, if you give a game a B-, Metacritic’s system converts that into a shameful value of 67. For Metacritic, any score is always out of 100 so if you give a game an F, that translates to a very cold zero.  Many websites continuously argue that an F should be converted into at least a 50 but to no avail. Metacritic is sticking to its guns. This is what the scale looks like:

  • 0–19: Overwhelming dislike
  • 20–39: Generally unfavorable
  • 40–59: Mixed or average reviews
  • 60–79: Generally favorable reviews
  • 80–100: Universal acclaim

The investment in video games is much greater than buying a movie ticket or downloading a new album on iTunes. The investment in time and money is unparalleled so more gamers are depending on Metacritic to show them whether or not a new game met expectations or isn’t worthy of their hard-earned cash.

So how does Metacritic get these numbers?

They hand pick them like cherries. It’s not very clear which websites they feel are “reputable” but it’s quite clear that they don’t green light every grade that comes through. Publishers even play this as an angle, strategically using Metacritic as a marketing device.  When the publishers get involved, this business becomes rather shady.

Adam Sessler, recent former employee of G4, made some very interesting points regarding the whole Metacritic system. He points out that if publishers really want to see if the game is good, they should look at sales numbers instead of trying to manipulate and entertain Metacritic scores. They depend solely on review critics like Sessler, when they should really look at the people who are potentially buying their game. You can check out the video down below of Adam Sessler giving it to Metacritic on a panel at 2009’s GDC event.

In a generation where anything below a 90 is seen as a “critical failure”, Metacritic isn’t doing a very good job of remedying the situation. Games like 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and even this year’s Binary Domain don’t have attractive metascores but they’re exceptionally good games. (Agreed, Ed) Yet, with these averages being converted to percents, gamers are looking at a score that should be higher than it actually is. Review scores can easily influence game sales and can also influence the stocks of videogame publishers.  What’s worse, Metacritic doesn’t see anything wrong with it, co-creator Marc Doyle says, “I’ve never been told by a publisher or developer that they’ve been able to definitively make a causal connection between poor sales and low scores from my site.”

In many ways, Metacritic is just a quick way to tell if a game is good or bad. But then you’d be basing it on a selective group of review scores. Is Metacritic withholding reviews that could negatively influence a game for publishers? We’ll never know.

A smart consumer of video games will look beyond the metascores and actually try the game out, or seek guidance from someone who has actually played the game. I just find it silly how some people take these metascores so seriously. I’m not saying don’t ever visit Metacritic nor am I boycotting the site, but just take it with a grain of salt. Do not make final judgments on a game when all you see is an average score posted up. You never know what gems you may be overlooking when you pay so much attention to scores that are, more often than not, an unfair representation of how good or how bad a game really is. Be smart consumers, be smart.

About the author

Jamison Jones

31 yrs old Aircraft Preservation Manufacture (Buildings ) Catlin from Smith-Ennismore-Lakefield, has numerous interests including dogs and gaming. Was particulary enthused after setting up a journey to Monastery and Site of the Escurial.