Metacritic is here to stay, but can we fix it?
Love it as a quick reference, hate it for reducing your work to a two-digit number, or sweat bullets over it when your bonus is on the line, but there is one unavoidable truth: Metacritic is a powerful force in the video games industry.
The review aggregate has, for better or worse, become our standard measure of a game's performance. But is Metacritic killing the video game review? And if so, what can be done about it?
"Not as many young and inexperienced reviewers are confident enough to go with how they actually feel," journalist Keith Stuart, of The Guardian, said in a discussion on the subject at Tuesday's Develop Conference in the UK.
Instead, he says, new critics will often use Metacritic to gauge the scores that are already out, and then base their score off the general consensus, leading to copycat reviews that fellow panelist Paul Wedgewood of Brink developer Splash Damage called "fundamentally banal."
Sameness is only one complaint lodged against Metacritic. Another complaint is that critics race to have the first, hasty review for a game on the site (something that makes panelist James Binns of Network N "always suspicious"). Another problem facing developers is that today's games -- particularly PC games -- are constantly being improved and updated, while their review scores are not.
And of course there is the absolute fallacy of including a Metacritic score in a game development contract, something that Wedgewood and another panelist, Andy Payne of publisher Mastertronic, both outlaw at their companies.
So what can be done? The consensus -- at least in this panel -- was absolutely nothing. The service is just too popular: journalists depend on it for exposure, gamers give it absolute authority, and publishers show no signs of letting up on using it as a metric.
"Even Steam has Metacritic embedded into it," said Payne.
"Everyone is just adding to the problem."