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Take-Two's Zelnick Stresses Importance Of Metacritic Scores
Take-Two's Zelnick Stresses Importance Of Metacritic Scores
March 9, 2011 | By Kris Graft

March 9, 2011 | By Kris Graft
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As Take-Two makes a turn towards consistent profitability without total reliance on Grand Theft Auto, chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick stresses the importance of game reviewers' interpretation of quality.

"Making good games just isn't good enough," Zelnick said at the Wedbush Morgan Securities Technology, Media & Telecommunications: Management Access Conference on Wednesday. "I believe good is the new bad. ... Games need to be great."

It's a familiar mantra with Take-Two, which refuses to take the annualization route with its non-sports game franchises, instead focusing on a rotation of several wholly-owned, acclaimed series like GTA, BioShock, Red Dead Redemption and others.

By not tying each franchise to an annual release -- and by retaining top industry talent -- Zelnick said Take-Two's developers can concentrate on releasing quality products. And when game reviewers recognize quality, that often equates to sales and profits, he said.

"Unlike many other entertainment business -- there are just a few -- ratings by Metacritic and others' reviews really can influence the success of a newly-released title," he said.

"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 added.

"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."

Zelnick also said high review scores extend the life of Take-Two products, generating longer-lasting, predictable sales of catalog titles.

Just last month, review aggregator Metacritic found that Take-Two had the best overall ranking of 2010 for game review scores.

The executive, who took over the previously embattled publisher in 2007, said Take-Two will continue to focus on the big-budget triple-A space because it's working out well for the company. But the firm is also exploring emerging business models and platforms, including Facebook, which hosts many lower-cost games that use microtransactions.

Just don't expect Take-Two to ever give its core titles away for free in order to try to make sales off of related goods. In an answer to one attendee at the conference, Zelnick said, that'd be like "a motion picture company [putting] out a huge action release for free and let[ting] people see it for free in hopes of them buying t-shirts."


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Comments


Tim Carter
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My only reservation is that metacritic scores reflect short-term thinking.



In other fields of art, many things got panned when first released only to have their significance truly understood years and sometimes decades later.

Joe McGinn
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Well o be fair, surely not as short-term as "Milk the hell out of this franchise each and every year!" :-;

warren blyth
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I thought GTA Chinatown wars had a great metacritic score (93), but didn't sell beans. does this not count for some reason?



(i thought it was considered a shining example of how little critics matter in the gaming space)

Rob Wright
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Oh good grief...if these gaming executives actually visited Metacritic and read some of the poorly written, incomplete (to many reviewers don't finish the game/take shortcuts/use cheats to get through the game quickly) meandering, and amateurish reviews, they wouldn't even consider making any kind of business decisions based on the aggregate scores.



Strauss, I dare you to read some of the crap in the Metacritic gaming section. I just dare you. If you're not constantly stumbling over foul-mouthed rants masquerading as professional criticism, then you'll be tripping over all of the unoriginal, template-like reviews that start and end the same way: "If you're a fan of [blank genre], then you'll enjoy [blank title]" followed by "it's not perfect -- no game is -- but it's very good. 10 out of 10!"

Alan Rimkeit
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ROFL! ++ This is all so very true it hurts my head to think about it.

Steven An
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I'll admit it - I often look to Metacritic to make my buying decisions. Sometimes I'll just do a "90+" filter and see what I get. This doesn't always work, but it's one way I decide what games to play. And as long as this works sometimes, I'll keep on doing it as a consumer.

Tomiko Gun
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Metacritic = dross

R G
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Reviews are just opinions. I don't see how they should be taken on a uber-serious level. They should be taken with a grain of salt, with sales and what your fans (or feedback from said gamers) would like improved.



I know of maybe one or two honest review sites/mags. Most are paid for their reviews.

Jamie Ottilie
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He is running one of the few companies that has put their focus on product quality rather then viewing games as consumer products. Metacritic's aggregate review score is currently the best indicator that we have of the overall quality of a game rather then its appeal to a specific player and/or reviewer. Its not perfect by any means but it is the best metric that a media executive like Zelnick has available to him. His strategy regarding great not good for Take 2's front line titles has created some of my favorite games of the last two years and I am glad that it is working for them.



Tim - in response to your concern - front line games aren't art - they are media and are built for commercial sales. A company can't invest 30 million dollars in a product and wait years for its greatness to be recognized. Artistic games - much like artistic films - are a completely different business. Thankfully with rise of digital content and nonstandard platforms - we have lots of outlets for these now.

Tim Carter
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"...front line games aren't art..."



Wow. Arrogance of the first order. I tip my hat to you, sir. You have solved a debate in one sentence that many have been haggling over for years.



If the game industry were to maintain the value of their libraries - as the film industry does - instead of treating games as mere software (as if it were not entertainment, but instead technology [which goes obsolete quickly]) - it would not devalue good products as rapidly as it does. It could then mitigate risk through long term sales.



You don't see, say, the music industry undercutting the Beatles catalogue because it was recorded with now-obsolete technology.



Entertainment products should have decades of life in them.

Jamie Ottilie
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you mean like the music business is managing to mitigate their risk with their libraries in a digital age or all those wonderfully 'artistic' summer blockbuster movies?



What I should have said - is that to Take 2 - the company that funds these products - they are not art - anymore then a Spiderman film is to Sony. They are an investment that has to provide a return in a reasonable time frame in order for the company to survive, prosper and continue making them. Whether they are 'art' as you are defining it is something that only time will tell and not something one can build a business around. My point was - given the number of publishers who work from a fiscal year / ROI standpoint who don't care much about the overall quality of their games or ignore the talented people working on the team who made the product successful to begin with - its refreshing to hear someone try and hold up a quality standard and promote talent retention as a reason for their success.



I guess I am confused as to what Take2 could do to maintain the value of Bioshock or GTA that they haven't?

Tore Slinning
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The problem is that the game-is-art aspect is being focused solely on esthetics's and narrative, ignoring completely gameplay(which i subscribe to is a form of art) .



IP's today for example have nothing todo with gameplay, its all branding.



There is no one concerned about keeping tabs on genre and its abstractions, because market projections is much more optimistic if you can homogenize everything, then slap a Hollywood "epic" template on it(which in turn raises the cost of games and lowers profit margins, and then suddenly niches big and small is seen as unprofitable)



Its like the music industry reforming Beatles with Bieber, Lady Gaga and the Jonah Brothers.

R G
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I agree with Tim here.



But to state it in my humble way, video games are an art form in general. Games CAN be "artistic", while some games don't want/need to be (Shadow of the Colossus v.s. Bulletstorm).



GTA and BioShock, though as you call them "front line games" are art in their own way. Both story, location, and atmosphere to tell a story. It doesn't matter if they sell 1 thousand or 1 million; that doesn't change the game. It just changes the fact of whether it is financially successful or not.



But towards your Metacritic comment, I see where you are coming from. I'm rather biased towards reviews because of the two sided nature of many mags and sites (ex: We will rate a CoD game highly when people are following it like sheep, but the minute someone starts grumbling they just follow the next bandwagon).

Mark Morrison
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Wow is right. Jamie, I think you've written something more profound than Tim gives you credit for. You're 100% correct IMO. Front line game are not art, at least from a fine art context. They might be fine craft but not fine art. Historically, fine art is not quantified. Front line games are not only qualified but also quantified.



I do believe art is in the eye of the beholder, and this is what often differentiates a game as art IMO. Ironically, TakeTwo has produced some of the more creative and perhaps artistic front line titles in the last decade so this CEO using MetaCritic is a pretty valid strategy.

Rob Wright
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I think delving too much into the "art" issue, ala Roger Ebert, and losing site of the real issue, which is major publishers basing decisions on Metacritic scores.



I get it -- we all tend to look at the aggregate percentage of a game. I know I do. The first thing I did on Tuesday was check to see where Dragon Age 2 was coming in.



But honestly, do we as gamers and/or industry professionals REALLY read some of these reviews? Or do we just jump to the third page and check the final score? Do we actually take the time to read some of the god awful crap that's being rushed out of these sites/magazines, many of whom are more interested in being first than writing a complete and compelling criticism?



And have we really looked at some of the sites that have somehow managed to get into Metacritic's game review feed and judged their quality over, say, other sites that do game reviews such as Kotaku or Ars Technica that AREN'T in Metacritic because they don't score their reviews?



I guess all I'm saying is, it's incredibly easy to start a gaming blog/review site these days. I suggest that people start reading the content and judging its quality to find out whether it's even worth investing in these scores or averages before we resign ourselves to accepting them. I do this on a regular basis, and I can tell you that if I worked at a game publisher/developer and found out my CEO was going to tie my compensation to Metacritic scores, I'd be absolutely horrified.

Michael Joseph
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When I read this article I get the sense that Zelnick is only using the MetaCritic score to suggest that "you can't release a half baked, unfinished or even unpolished product to try and save money and get away with it anymore."



I read this as him talking about only releasing games when they're done and that the marketplace is too competitive these days to release a shoddy product...


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