Are User Scores the Only Problem with Metacritic?
The balance between expectation and reality is a pendulum that video game studios struggle to navigate. Trailers and reveal events increase anticipation; however, failure to deliver on assumed promises can lead to anger and resentment. For over two decades a single website has been a constant and trusted source for video game reviews: Metacritic. But recently, the industry has scrutinized the website for allowing users to “review bomb” new games. In response, the company dramatically altered its practice for user review scores. Although the change was necessary and welcomed by studios, questions still remain. Most notably, fans are wondering if Metacritic should also reconsider its method of aggregating critic reviews. Let’s dive in.
Video game communities are among the most passionate fan bases in the entertainment industry. As studios continue to up the ante with new installments of popular franchises, players’ anticipation grows. While all video game developers strive for perfection, few are able to achieve unanimous praise. As a result, fans rush to websites, such as Metacritic, to voice their displeasure. Recent examples include Animal Crossing New Horizons, Pokemon Sword and Shield, and The Last of Us Part 2.
Within a few hours after the release, Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed sequel received over 30,000 negative user-score reviews. This highly-visible response provoked Metacritic to implement radical changes. Fans first discovered these modifications with the release of Sucker Punch’s highly-anticipated game Ghost of Tsushima.
Instead of immediately voicing displeasure, users can no longer post review scores on Metacritic until 36 hours after a game’s launch. The website’s explanation for this change is to allow players to “spend some time playing the game”. Although understandable, problems remain with critical reviews.
Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
While Metacritic user scores are notoriously biased, industry expert Alanah Pearce provided unique insight into critical reviews. A large portion of the video game community believes that critical reviews are biased towards developers; however, the exact opposite appears to be true. According to Alanah, critical reviewers are more fearful of fan backlash than upsetting video game studios. Fans want to play exception games, and for this reason, critics favor positive reviews.
In addition to an abundance of positive reviews, Metacritic also favors certain reviewers. Industry veterans, such as IGN and Kotaku, are given preferential treatment while the opinion of lesser-known authors is neglected. The result is a aggregation of biased critical reviews that favor positive scores at the expense of the truth. This practice raises many questions:
- Are review scores the best method of conveying a game’s worth?
- Should Metacritic aggregate fan and critic reviews equally?
- Can critics become more transparent?
- Is there a better venue for fans to expose a video game’s flaws?
- Should studios provide greater transparency during the development phase?
Despite the chasm that remains between fan and critic reviews, a single truth remains: information asymmetry is problem for the video game industry. Websites, such as Metacritic, must balance the opinions of both segments to ensure that communities are properly informed.
But we want to know what you think. Do you believe that Metacritic should reconsider the criteria for critic reviews? What do you think about the review site’s lack of transparency? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other news items on Pokemon, Modern Warfare, Capcom, Blizzard and more.
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