Many of the highest grossing movies for the past few years appeal to the same collection of young men that most games are marketed towards, yet the ads seem to work far better for bad movies than they do for bad games. When looking at the 10 best-selling games in the US for 2010, 2011, and 2012, the lowest scoring was kid favorite Just Dance 3 with a 73. Excluding Just Dance titles, virtually no high ranking game in those three years got under an 80, and five scored over a 90. Clearly what the critics were saying mattered more to gamers.
I don’t enjoy defending something as big and potentially harmful as Metacritic. Averages like the ones on that site shouldn’t be considered absolutes because they’re based on opinions, and opinions change over time. Additionally, I think actually reading a review is more important than merely looking at a score, let alone an aggregate of multiple scores. All that being said, sites like Metacritic undoubtedly provide an important service for customers… if they choose to use it.
Instead of tearing down imperfect sites like Metacritic because of how publishers use those scores, gamers should be happy that some marker of quality matters to executives. Or to be more precise, be happy that the people buying games still use reviews to decide what to buy, because that forces executives to recognize criticisms of their games in some fashion. The way some publishers employ Metacritic in decision-making could use an adjustment, but I worry about the future where its impact on games lessens.
Some in the gaming press want to diminish the importance of Metacritic because of some unfortunate consequences, but the genie is out of the bottle. If the site vanished this instant, publishers would just collect the data themselves. produce the exact same numbers, and use them in the same ways. As much as people want to end the influence of Metacritic, the most likely scenario for that would be if gamers gave reviews the same respect moviegoers give critiques.
Right now film lovers are in a scary place where studios profit off a public that cares less and less about critical opinion, where the masses follow the flashiest commercials straight to the theaters. If there comes a day when garbage video games sell as consistently due to powerful marketing, you’ll start seeing scores of 30s and 40s reaching the top of the yearly sales charts, negatively influencing the types of games developed in the years to come. If Metacritic loses its influence, expect to see Twilight's gaming equivalent choking store shelves every holiday season.
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