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Michael Bay proves you should be happy about Metacritic’s influence

Metacritic again and again gets attacked by both developers and press, and for admittedly good reasons. Such as... It’s unfairly used by publishers to judge how developers should be compensated. Some fans put too much stock in it, throwing tantrums when some wacky reviewer dares to give a game they're pretty sure will be their favorite game ever a score that’s below the average. And don’t even get us started on the rampant score-bombing that takes place in the user-rating section. But even if Metacritic is a remarkably attractive lightning rod, it also proves how much better gamers have it compared to pretty much every other form of entertainment.

Like it or not, higher review scores often lead to higher sales for games, probably because many gamers pay attention to what critics are saying. Executives using an average from Metacritic at least approaches rewarding creators for quality work that correlates to sales. And that measure of success is far better than the film industry’s. In that world critical consensus matters less and less, as sharp advertising is able to turn out a fan base no matter how many terrible reviews a film garners.

For example, many film critics gave Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen particularly terrible reviews--the late Roger Ebert called it “a horrible experience of unbearable length.”  Its Metacritic average, which comprises 32 individual opinions,  is 35 out of 100, a veritable death sentence in the gaming world. Some Transformers fans responded angrily online with complaints that amounted to, “It’ll make a billion dollars anyway, so your bad review doesn’t even matter!!!”

And just as history will look back on Revenge of the Fallen as one of the most noisily pointless pieces of trash mankind ever produced, that angry sentiment was proven right. The movie made over $400 million in the US, and $836 million worldwide, making it the second highest grossing film of 2009. Additionally, its sequel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, was ravaged by critics to a degree that rivaled its title's ravaging of the English language, averaging a 42. And yet, it earned $1.1 billion, the fifth highest worldwide gross of all time. These films are seemingly critic-proof (you can bet Michael Bay didn’t get punished by executives for his metascore), and the Autobots are hardly alone in this troubling trend.

When we looked at the top 10 highest grossing films of 2010, 2011, and 2012, Alice in Wonderland (Metascore 53), Breaking Dawn Part 1 (45), Hangover Part II (44), and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides (45) all placed for their respective years. Despite such low aggregate scores, the US public paid a combined $1.1 billion to see those movies. Alternatively, Oscar winning/nominated films like Zero Dark Thirty (95), Amour (94), The Artist (89), The Social Network (95), and Winter's Bone (90), did a cumulative $250 million in the same timespan.

What happens when games got scores comparable games to the billion dollar crowd? 2012 release Epic Mickey 2 got under a 60, while 007 Legends and the most recent Harry Potter game ended up in the low 40s. You can bet they weren’t top 10 sellers, and the developers of all three games were closed by January of this year.

Those studios didn’t deserve to be shut down for bad scores. I’d much rather see them get another chance to create the greatest games they possibly can. However, wouldn’t it be a nice change to hear that Michael Bay was out of a job because critics agreed he makes films that insult the intelligence of children? Or that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp got penalized a couple million dollars for once again recycling the same routine for the last two decades?

14 comments

  • Ricky000 - May 9, 2013 9:16 a.m.

    Brilliant article, a great read. You guys lost me with your site redesign there but content like this is what pulled me back - great work and without the hyperbole and ott sensationalism.
  • rxb - May 6, 2013 8:51 a.m.

    Unfortunately I think Hank the tank is right. I think what we really need is a Hank's corner rant.
  • THETHINGABOUT - May 5, 2013 3:35 a.m.

    There's a missing "i" in Metacritic in the title.
  • Gemsa - May 4, 2013 3:41 a.m.

    and if your unhappy with the behind the scenes modifiers based on website/magazine's reputation/prestige then surely you can just look at gamerankings.com instead. although that site hasn't been redesigned in about 15 years. is that a record or something?
  • broodax - May 5, 2013 1:06 p.m.

    new favorite gamesite t hanks gemsa
  • AtlanteanLancer - May 4, 2013 12:10 a.m.

    a movie is a passive experience, meaning if the the add campaign is big enough you can get people to watch it en masse you just sit there and take intellectual rape right to the head, which can be mitigated by sharing the experience ( easier when a film is popular) when you play a game it's a personal experience, it talks to you and you to it, the crapiness just cannot be passively observed, your mind is active and trying to solve problems through interaction and every story piece is earned not given, falling under much more scrutiny. all in all we should be happy that unlike in the abominable hollywood industry, in gaming, quality still matters
  • avantguardian - May 4, 2013 12:47 a.m.

    indeed. i would think the price disparity between the two mediums would be quite a motivator as well.
  • freeden - May 3, 2013 4:27 p.m.

    I've never understood hate for something like Metacritic. What exactly is it? It's just a collection site that take reviews from all over the web and puts them in one place. The number is arbitrary because it simply doesn't matter. What difference does a 73 and a 75 make? Now, ok, I understand if certain media is being taken at exact number value, but for me at least, films are separated by their range. For example, if a film is between 80 and 90, then I'd estimate that it's probably worth checking out, even at a score of between 70 and 80, possibly even 60-70. And I think it's safe to say that most people who read reviews or check out numbers, actually take time to read up on something if the score matters that much. However, when talking about games, that's even more important. If Metacritic has collectively piled all these reviews together, both user and industry, and put out this collection of critique, there's no reason to dismiss it simply because you don't agree with the system. If you want a game regardless of collective opinion, you're going to get that game anyway. All Metacritic does is help round off the idea of what is worthwhile and what isn't. And at $60 a pop for a game, why should I simply ignore reviews, even for a game that I seem to want? Why should I ignore the game's collective score? Because it's somehow skewed? Because somehow the statistic is wrong? If 100 people go see a movie or get a game and come back and tell me is sucks, then I'm not going to waste my time and money because they may very well be wrong. I may play a demo or wait for the DVD rental, but I am going to take those people at their word because a collective of opinions is usually enough to convince me that something isn't worth taking the chance on. Movies are okay. If I am extremely bored, I may take said chance. But gaming, well, it's simply not worth laying down my hard earned money for something that is getting low numbers in the dozens.
  • garnsr - May 3, 2013 6:55 p.m.

    I think when movies score in the 70s it tends to be subject matter that doesn't suit everyone as well. Games that score in the 70s tend to have qualitative problems with their controls, or graphics, or whatever, and the story doesn't factor in as much as in movies, since you can still play the game and enjoy it, even if the story isn't as compelling as the gameplay (and some people just skip the story in games, anyway.) Movies don't get dinged for technical flaws as often as games, I think, since it's not something you really have to deal with the whole way, like a game, and you can still be pulled along by the story. So, the critics for games are people who want somehting that plays right, which is pretty objective, and the critics for movies deal more in story and meanings and such, which is more subjective. And time can be harsher on games' ratings than on movies, current movies seem to have higher scores than older movies that have aged a bit, but most older games are hard to really enjoy nowadays.
  • rcarrasco121 - May 3, 2013 3:06 p.m.

    ...sponsored by Metacritic
  • ultimatepunchrod - May 3, 2013 2:45 p.m.

    This is the most spirited article I've read on GR in a while, and I like that.
  • Cyberninja - May 3, 2013 2:03 p.m.

    Well I think the difference is movies are still a fun way to waste time even if they are bad, Like just last Monday I went to see Scary Movie 5 and even though it was bad it was still a good time with friends because we can kick back and make fun of it, if it was a bad game no enjoyment can be had. Also the low scoring movies you listed are for a different audience then the critics because if you had the people they were intended for reviewing them they would do much better, like you put kids movies(low scoring) versus serious films(High scoring and things adults would want to see), in the case of the Hangover II people even say its not as good as the first. With games on the other hand the people who review them fall in to their target audience which is why people care more about review scores but in any case that was a really good article.
  • garnsr - May 3, 2013 12:51 p.m.

    Didn't Aliens: Colonail Marines do pretty well, in spite of terrible reviews? Game reviews usually don't come out until after you've run to the store to pick up a game on the first day, or after you've preordered a game, frequently a franchise, that you already know you want. How often does a game really turn out that badly when it's a known quantity? The bestselling games of the last few years have been the games that we were expecting to be good before they came out, so anybody reading this site was persuaded to buy them by knowing that they were coming, and knowing that they were expected to be good, not by any advertising. Movies only cost a sixth or so of what a game costs, and take no more than half the time of the shortest games, and are frequently used as ways to waste time with friends or dates, so it's not surprising that crappy movies do better than crappy games. And a trailer can show you that the movie has enough big flashy sequences to make you think it's worth the money, even if overall it's not great. I don't think reviews really affect whether people go to movies or buy games, but I think the system that Metacritics uses is a reasonable way to see what the general concensus is, and how good a game or movie should be. Their numbers make more sense than Rotten Tomatoes, where it's the percentage of people who gave a movie a positive review, rather than the quality of a movie out of 100.
  • Sinosaur - May 3, 2013 12:44 p.m.

    That was an interesting comparison, but there are a few flaws to consider. Going to the movies costs about a fourth of the price of a game, and we typically expect it to entertain us for an 1.5-2 hours. Games are expected to be around 5 hours minimum. Movies, to some degree, hit a wider audience than games do, and that affects how they're viewed. The big 'Blockbuster' audience in gaming is typically limited to games like the various Call of Duty iterations and the yearly sports games, possibly consuming fewer games in a year than they do movies. Also, the Twilight audience is pretty much the opposite of the typical game audience. These bits aside, there's a lot of truth in your editorial, Henry, and you're definitely right that publishers would look up all the information on their own if Metacritic wasn't doing it for them.

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