Thursday, 29 September 2011

Power to the People (Not the Trolls) - The Case for Metacritic

Recently there has been some news regarding Metacritic and games. Metacritic revealed that they had banned and negated the scores of people who they believed were “review-bombing” certain games like Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War were apparently targeted by swathes of people that simply gave the game a zero without any justification. The group was apparently large enough in number to have an impact on the metascores of the games they targeted which is one of the reasons why Metacritic took the action of banning them, believing it to be unfair abuse of the system.

I for one say good on them for doing what they did.

As the case has been covered by other far more notable voices in the industry than myself, there might not be a whole lot of original content to add to the discussion. That never really stops me from trying though.

Metacritic gets a lot of heat because of the “average Joe” factor that to many people seems to rob the Metascore of some level of authority or prestige. The fact that anyone can effectively register and share their thoughts on any movie, music, or game they want seems to turn a lot of people off. Again, I find the need to segregate reviewers of any kind of medium and put them on pedestals like their words are worth more than anyone else’s to be a foolish notion that we really don’t need; reviewers are meant to be helpful guides, voices that can help you make a decision, not the sole factor in making the decision.

What Metacritic has done though, in banning these review-bombers, is essentially making sure that unfair and clearly biased and troll based scores aren’t tolerated. One of the sorest spots would seem to be the idea that people can just say what they want and give the score that they want to give without consequence or justification. This banning clearly proves that there is a line between not liking a game and rating it lowly for reasons legitimate to you, and just plain giving a zero because you think it’s funny to do so.

Certainly, when it comes to Metacritic, there are going to be a lot of pointlessly high and pointless low scores, with no justification given other than “this game rocks my socks off” or “this game sucks and you should never buy it” whether due to poorly expressed personal taste or just a case of hype backlash or what have you. At the same time though you’ll still find people using Metacritic in hopes of becoming more topical and recognized reviewers. These people are finding their voice and hoping to become part of the crowd that has enough recognition that people do take what they have to say seriously. The reviews you’ll find will be varied, and hopefully informative, and I’d say if you are looking to decide on whether or not to buy a game then they certainly can’t hurt if you use them as a tool, as they were meant to be used.

I do find it somewhat strange that, as the previously linked Giantbomb article claims:

“Metacritic is often used to determine royalty and bonus payouts for developers, though its exact use varies from publisher to publisher. I've never heard of a publisher leveraging user reviews as a metric for payment because of situations like this, but especially for small studios, perception is king, which is why user reviews remain very important.”

Though I see the need to base priority on something, I don’t believe that basing whether or not to give bonuses or even keep designers on over reviews -- and I mean any reviews from any critics -- is a fair thing to do when it’s not tempered against things like sales and production costs. Certainly, reviews should be taken into account, but again they shouldn’t be the sole factor to be taken into account.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that Metacritic shouldn’t be unfairly blamed for the way that users on it act, especially when they are taking steps to ensure that those that have unwholesome motivations can’t exploit the system to their own ends without being punished and ultimately removed from the system for it.

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