Thursday, 22 March 2012

For Want of a Metacritic Point

This seriously has to stop.

Metacritic: the name itself is enough to start arguments in some game based circles on the web. I'm not here tonight to endorse or damn Metacritic or the people that use it to give the public feedback about whether a game might be worth buying or not. No, I'm here to ask, nay plead in the hopes that someone somewhere up the chain might listen. What am I pleading for? Simple: stop giving and withholding bonuses based solely off of Metacritic scores.

What brought this to my attention was a GamePolitics article that explained how Obsidian lost out on their bonuses for making Fallout: New Vegas because the game scored a Metacritic rating of 84 when the contract stated they needed an 85.

Now, I'm not privy to the conditions of the contract; it's entirely possible that there were other conditions that may or may not have been met. However, to deny bonuses to a company that made a game that made $300 million dollars in sales when it first released in 2010 based on a one point difference from a desired score seems heartbreaking at best and ludicrously stingy at worst.

Metacritic isn't some sort of be all and end all measure of the worth of a game; certainly it takes both professional and public opinion into account, but only on a minor scale -- the 84 came from the aggregated scores of 39 professional reviews -- so the pool isn't that large. Perhaps the most glaringly sad thing is that an 84 isn't even a bad score! There are arguments going around that in terms of rating systems these days eights might as well be sixes, but putting that aside as neither fault of Obsidian or Metacritic itself one is still left with a score that seems to indicate that the game is pretty much in the top percentile when it comes to whatever can be gleaned from reviews.

The ramifications for losing this bonus are also less than pleasant. Obsidian recently had to let people go, and it's entirely possible that some of those positions could have been salvaged with the bonus money that would have come from a single point. It's not like a child not getting an ice cream cone if they didn't get a 90 on a test; I know that it's an unfair emotional punch to pull, but considering the circumstances I'm not sure it's entirely unjustified (granted Obsidian aren't even taking this angle as far as I'm aware).

I'm not saying that publishers and companies should never take what Metacritic or other review sites have to say into account, what I'm asking for is a modicum of rationality. Balance the Metacritic score against things like actual sales, the amounts of DLC produced and proliferated, how people say it holds up to sequels or similar games, I could go on. It just comes down to the fact that while Metacritic itself gets a lot of hate (warranted or unwarranted is a matter for a different debate) it's just one measure out of many, and using it seemingly as the sole factor as to whether people are rewarded or not for their work is just plain wrong.

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