Metacritic: Worst Rating System Ever

Metacritic: Worst Rating System Ever

So, it’s official – Homefront, THQ’s big new franchise bid, is rubbish. Or so a large chunk of the world’s specialist gaming media would have you (and, it would seem, most of THQ’s shareholders) believe anyway. But of course, the truth is always stranger than fiction… or, in this case, the opinions of a few select specialist journalists.

The tale echoes the very best tragic Greek betrayal: THQ bets much of the farm on a new franchise, everyone gives it a glowing build-up and then there’s a massive U-turn when review code turns up. Cue damning reviews with middling scores, the Internet flooding with tales of Homefront being a failure before it’s even arrived and THQ’s shares plummeting more than 25% in a single day. Overused it may be, but the term ‘epic fail’ never felt more appropriate.

And yet numbers don’t lie. Sure, a Metacritic score of 71 at time of writing looks pretty measly next to FPS bedfellows like CoD: Black Ops (85), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (88) or Halo: Reach (91). But day one sales of 375,000 in the US speak just as loudly. Still being on track to hit THQ’s two million sales target for the year makes things a bit shouty. And taking top position in the UK sales chart over the likes of Pokémon Black and White while both games are still selling like crazy… well, you might as well scream it from the rooftops.

So, who’s right? With consumers voting with their feet and sales numbers rising daily, you could be forgiven for erring on the side of caution when it comes to agreeing with the specialist press. That’s not to say their opinion isn’t valid – constitutional rights and all that – but based on the outcome, you have to ask the question: is it really all that relevant these days?

To publishers, the answer’s obviously yes. They place great stock in Metacritic’s gloriously coloured scores as they trickle in and seemingly use them as much for a gauge of success as actual sales – we ourselves have seen numerous PR reps do digital backflips on Facebook over reviews, which always makes us laugh. To the average consumer though, the man on the street who doesn’t trawl Internet sites looking to have his opinion validated or buy paper publications to read on the toilet, there’s little relevance to be found. After all, we could show you all manner of high-scoring games that failed to sell in any great number, while things like Just Dance on Wii (a bright red 49 on Metacritic) squat menacingly on the sales chart for over six months without budging.

As such then, it’s clear that publishers using such a resource to declare victory over the competition is as hollow as it is pointless. Specialist reviews may seem important to some, but there’s no denying that the scope of their appeal amounts to little these days. Put bluntly, they’re little more than the individual opinions of people who, were they on the outside looking in, make up a slice of the gaming market that’s getting increasing small, angry and bitter at how publishers are leaving them behind in favour of the mass market these days. The only difference is that these reviewers don’t have to pay for the games they play, disconnecting them from the game-buying public even further.

Of course, that won’t stop publishers high-fiving each other when good review scores come in, but the fact is that praising prose doesn’t pay the bills. Next time someone has to pull the shutters on yet another studio or lay off another team without good reason after their 90%+ title ends up in the bargain bin, they’d do well to remember that…

About Martin Mathers
Martin Mathers has written about games for the last 12 years and worked on some of UK’s best magazines including X360, Official Nintendo Magazine and gamesTM (which he helped create). He now consults for publishers, freelances for numerous websites and writes his own blog.

1 Comments

  1. I trust you apply a similar attitude to books and movies, and decry anyone that provides negative reviews of massive-selling titles like Twilight (in both book and movie form)? Or perhaps you reserve your populism only for video games, and are happy to bag on bad but popular movies like Twilight or the Last Airbender, both of which are terrible but sold terrifically?

    The role of a reviewer isn’t to predict what will sell the best, but to actually, you know -review- a title on its merits.

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