Allow me to preface this diatribe. This afternoon, Kotaku Australia's editor posted an article titled "An Open Letter: Metacritic," which can be viewed using the following link. While I appreciated the criticism of a freely-available evaluation tool for all popular media, I don't agree that we can blame Metacritic alone for the failures of the gaming industry as a whole; or even original endeavours within the industry itself. I posted a response to the letter, which I wanted to share with you all.
No hate from me. You provide a valuable service, and if the gaming media adjusts their assessment methods so that their opinions can be published on your website then that is their concern.
Videogames have been a medium prone to sequels (and a wholesale lack of creativity) for quite some time. I would argue this was the case long before I began to consult with you.
Ordinarily for me, purchase decisions are based on the impressions I read about a title pre-release. While reviews often reinforce the initial impressions, they can in great number sway me from purchasing something I was only remotely interested in. On the other hand, if something garners positive quantitative analysis out of relative obscurity (Braid, Demons' Souls) you then open my eyes, and my wallet.
I consult Kotaku daily for reviews and opinion, and the site has not since I started reading it afforded numeric scores to evaluate videogames. I appreciate that, I respect that, and these qualitative measures can at times have more sway than a number.
I would argue that no outlet on its own can provide the means to justify a purchase decision. You merely assist with filtering the raw data that the gaming media provides, and help with those 50/50 gambits. IGN and Gameinformer often scare me with their fleeting, albeit usually positive analysis of AAA games upon release, only to publish an article weeks/months later providing valid criticisms of a game that they will probably state is "Game of the Year," material. For an example, IGN gave Fable III a score of 8.5 only to publish an article titled "Editorial: Fable III - Why It Fails." 8.5 is not a fail, if Fable III went to IGN University, it would be awarded a High Distinction with that score.
Metacritic doesn't speak English, it only does the math. I refuse to hate on the numbers guy, they only try to help.
To Kotaku AU, please criticise a publication that deserves a higher level of scrutiny, like Gameinformer. Especially after that 30 characters that defined a decade article. That was rubbish. I loved Red Dead Redemption, but how has Bonnie MacFarlane (or John Marston for that matter) characterised a decade of videogames? How can they rate Niko the fifth most influential character and lament that "Before Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar protagonists were predominantly shallow criminals driven by a lustful desire for money and power," only to then announce the 17th most influential character, Tommy Verceti from GTA: Vice City? Absolute rubbish.
To me metacritic, it's not your numbers that I loathe, it's the usually inane opinions behind them.
Keep on adding, subtracting and dividing.
While I will admit that I made a few sweeping statements in my reply, I think it is wrong for us to lay blame for the industry's downturn at the feet of a website which merely aggregates the opinion of the gaming media as a whole. I'll admit that Metascores have influenced several of my purchase decisions, but this is often because I am unfamiliar with a recent release and am looking for a second, third or fourth opinion. If I'm interested in a game well before release, and intend to purchase it well before it is available, odds are that I will buy it regardless of the numbers involved.
What concerns me more than Metacritic, is the opinions that contribute to the much-maligned Metascores. Once again I will refer to Gameinformer, where reviews for recently released games are usually far shorter than the previews for upcoming titles. The final evaluations of many games are far less protracted than the pre-release hype typical of this publication. Call me a cynic, but I think this is in no small part due to the fact that the publication's principal sales partner is a large gaming retail chain.
Even with Metacritic's advice, I've still managed to pick up many games which I have failed to engage with. This includes titles with Metascores in the high 80s, and in some cases, 90s. Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, I am looking at you.
Do you all use Metacritic? Do you object to the concept of the website?
1. Stead, C (Editor) (2010). The 30 Characters Who Defined a Decade. Game Informer, Issue 12, p26-49.