I wrote this over a week ago and left it in the pending pile, debating on whether or not to bother posting it. But it’s already written, so fuck it. Here’s a random rant.
The Kickstarter planets have aligned for disappointment, and the two projects I’m following that end today got last-minute funding miracles and are now both over their goal. It just so happens that I was considering writing about something else anyway. My annoyance of unworthy Kickstarter projects being funded is nothing compared to my outrage over the persistent hatred I’ve been seeing of Metacritic.
Leave it to game companies to complain about being held accountable for quality over sales. Indie developers would kill to have your problems.
The most recent article I read on this subject is on Kotaku. In it, Jason Schreier is determined to convince you that aggregating review scores for products is the devil. Actually, that’s putting it a little more sanely than it deserves. Just look at the title: “Metacritic Matters: How Review Scores Hurt Video Games”. That’s right, review scores hurt video games. Already, this isn’t really Metacritic’s fault – it’s all those damn websites that think they can assign a numerical value to fun, AMIRIGHT?
To make matters worse, Jason starts off with the absolute most terrible example of how “wrong” it is to review games.
“Perhaps you’ve heard the story: publisher Bethesda was due to give developer Obsidian a bonus if their post-apocalyptic RPG averaged an 85 on Metacritic, the review aggregation site. It got an 84 on PC and Xbox 360, and an 82 on PS3.
“If only it was a stable product and didn’t ship with so many bugs, I would’ve given New Vegas a higher score,” wrote a reviewer for the website 1up, which gave New Vegas a B, or 75 on Metacritic’s scale.”
Poor fucking Bethesda, they release a game that’s buggy as shit, and get poor reviews as a result. What a fucking tragedy. This isn’t even a matter of the game not being fun, or some other super subjective quality – the game was poorly reviewed because of basic god damned functionality. Crashing, inability to progress, wiping save data. If anything deserves to get you a low score for a product, those things certainly do. I suppose we can’t give low review scores to coffee makers if they fail to make coffee, as well.
So the fact that the game was bug-ridden isn’t the problem – the fact that people called them out on it was? How does this garbage consistently get posted to big sites like this? I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS.
It’s at this point that I’m looking for the rational argument behind what looks like insanity, so I can sigh in relief that no, people aren’t really that fucking retarded. But alas, they are. Here’s the argument to why Metacritic is bad for games: when publishers think about funding you, they look to your previous Metacritic scores.
That’s it. That’s the big problem. That’s why you shouldn’t give games numerical scores, and you sure as shit shouldn’t aggregate them. Because people will care, and invested parties will judge you for it. Sorry kids, but that’s the whole fucking point.
Imagine this same argument for another industry. Let’s say restaurant owners start giving out bonuses for high Yelp ratings. Do we turn around and shout “how DARE they! Don’t they know that you can’t assign a numerical value to taste?!”? I doubt it. We would probably applaud them for caring about quality and customer service over profit margin. Do we demonize Yelp for allowing star ratings on their site, which severely oversimplifies the restaurant experience? No, a simple numerical value isn’t the perfect system to judge a video game by, but what is?
The system that no one seems to have a problem with is sales figures influencing bonuses. On one hand, it makes sense, right? You earned the company more money, you get more money for it. But is that really a better system? I mean, shitty games sell big all the time. How many times in the past year has a huge release for a game been a complete disappointment, leading to bad reviews? Hell, EA was again voted “The Worst Company in America” despite their games selling relatively well. Are we really doing anyone a favor by rewarding the act of tricking lots of people into buying bad products?
What kills me is that no one is arguing that reviewing games is bad, or even that numerical values are inherently misleading. They’re just complaining about the system being abused by publishers and investors. Well guess what, just about any system can be abused like that. Let’s take sales figures, for instance. If your bonus is 100% based on sales figures, then how do you maximize your profit? Advertise. Advertise your ass off. The more people who notice your game, the more people will buy it. I know, that’s a huge oversimplification, but as a general rule, it’s quite true.
What you don’t necessarily have to do to sell lots of copies of your game is make it a quality game. Make a mediocre pile of shit and advertise it like a shameless whore, and it will sell. Or maybe a company with a really good reputation releases a terrible game. It sells well due to the company’s reputation, but is poorly reviewed across the board. Should the developers really be rewarded just because sales were high?
Game companies often prohibit the release of reviews until the game is released. Why? They want you to make an uneducated purchase. They advertise and put their product in the best light possible to get you excited to go out and grab it as soon as possible, before you’ve heard anyone’s input about it. After all, you may hear a trusted source tell you that it’s a bad game, and then you’d save your money for something more worthwhile. We wouldn’t want that, now would we? That would mean that sales figures align more with quality than with advertising.
In the end, it strikes me as the same argument that Republicans use against things like welfare and unemployment (oh god now I’m getting political, just end this blog now) – if some people are abusing the current system, then we should just get rid of it. Blame the system, not the people abusing it.
The problem isn’t review scores, and it isn’t Metacritic. If publishers are trying to abuse Metacritic, then don’t make deals with those publishers. They’ll change their tune quickly enough if they can’t make money because no one will work with them. Isn’t this the advice we give to people who complain about the quality of games? Put your money where your mouth is, and all that? If you don’t want the same generic shit that’s being put out year after year, then stop buying it.
Publishers are going to try and make the most money possible – just like you. And right now, maybe that means leveraging Metacritic scores. Is that Metacritic’s fault? Is it the reviewers’ faults? To quote the deceased father in Elizabethtown: “If it wasn’t this, it’d be something else.” If we got rid of Metacritic and every review with a numerical score known to man, publishers would just find something else to try and get out of paying developers more. That doesn’t make them the devil; it just makes them people. Shouting about how horrible Metacritic is for games does nothing, because it has nothing to do with the root cause of the issues being brought up with regards to its use. You just sound like a bunch of whiny fucks crying about how you’re being held to a standard of quality for your products.