, BioShock and the GTA series has given in to the notion that success on Metacritic for video games is vital.
Unfortunately, he’s probably right. According to Zelnick, consumers react to those game ratings as one would expect; with their bank accounts.
“…ratings by Metacritic and others’ reviews really can influence the success of a newly-released title. In fact, if your ratings go below a certain level, it can really hurt your ability to sell the title, and above a certain level can make a real difference in your success.”
Zelnick links his company’s developments studios’ ability to create some of the finest games in the industry as a source of their Metacritic success. And, again penning the obvious, Zelnick says that games cannot afford be be simply good:
“Our ability to have high scores over and over and over again is a huge competitive advantage, and that advantage drives sales, it reduces risk and creates profits…
…Making good games just isn’t good enough…I believe good is the new bad…Games need to be great.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a gamer that doesn’t want more in the way of “great” games. But, in my opinion, there’s something inherently sick and twisted behind a game’s commercial success relying so heavily on averaged review scores.
If you’ve read or heard my work elsewhere, you’ve probably noted my inability to accept that games can be boiled down to simple review scores. I’ve always felt that it’s impossible to quantify an experience that lasts anywhere from 8 to 50+ on a rating scale of 1 to 10. Don’t get me wrong, I love reviews. I just hate the need readers feel to skip the body of work and head directly to the score. It’s like they feel the words can be entirely ignored and the validity of the game rests fully in the number assigned at the end.
Review scores should complement the games they’re for. You can’t sum up what you felt when you played Ocarina of Time, Halo, Red Dead Redemption or Super Mario World for the first time with a singular number. It’s impossible. If a friend walked up to you and said, “What do you think of the new Dragon Age?,” you wouldn’t look back at them and go “8.8.” And, the fact of the matter is, asking a veteran reviewer to do the same is asking for misleading advice.
But what really doesn’t make any sense to me is the weird turn score values have taken since the advent of places like Metacritic. On a scale of 1 to 10, 5 should be the dead average. The thing that rates a 5 should be considered mediocre. Anything above that slides from good to exceptional, below it lies the land of the bad. Why is it, then, that consumers find anything below an 8 so hard to love?
I’ll leave you with this: I’ve worked with a lot of people in the gaming industry. From critics to developers, our relationships have always evolved enough so that we could sit and talk about review scores. The pressure that Metacritic puts on publishers and developers is relentless. I’ve known entire publicity teams that lose quarterly bonuses because of less than stellar Metacritic performance.
Don’t get me wrong here, Metacritic is a service to those that use it properly. It’s a place that gathers reviews and presents them in a statistically appealing fashion. But, and I must beg this of you, don’t base your purchases entirely on a game’s Metacritic score. There are so many amazing qualities in just about every “good” game out there that can’t be summed up with an averaged number.