Thursday, March 15, 2012

Opinion: Metacritic

Business sucks, alright? It's cold and rigid and occasionally unfair. Such is the case with Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas contract with Bethesda, wherein the developer only received royalties if the game matched or exceeded an 85 rating on Metacritic. Leaving aside the fact that Metacritic is a woefully unbalanced aggregation of review scores from both vetted and unvetted publications, agreements like this can leave indie studios -- like Obsidian -- in the lurch should that Metacritic score just barely miss the mark.
As a game developer I find the practice of using Metacritic scores as an exact measurement of a game's success appalling and ultimately self-defeating. Not only does this practice hurt developers who fall short of the arbitrary goals set by their studios or publishers, but it hurts the fans as well.

As a general indicator of success, Metacritic is  a decent tool and I know that I've personally used it to help me determine whether to consider further investigation of certain purchases. Using Metacritic as some kind of industry standard barometer however is just nuts! Consider for a moment that Fallout: New Vegas reportedly shipped 5 million units worldwide in it's first month for a total of over $300 million in sales1. In addition, the game apparently outsold it's predecessor Fallout 3 over it's first weekend2. Consider again that the last two games I've personally shipped both achieved Metacritic scores in the mid 80's. While the former sold just over 1 million copies3, but had a drop in subscribers early on4, the later sold a reported 2 million plus copies and according to the latest officially released numbers, continues to maintain a strong subscriber base5. Clearly Metacritic is a useful, but imperfect means for determining the quality of a given product, yet the devotion to Metacritic's aggregate scores in the game industry is nearly absolute and it's costing people both money and jobs.

Using Metacritic as the sole indicator of a title's success is just wrong and it is unfortunately a practice that I have seen too many organizations both close to and further removed from development place far too much stock in. To see the developer of a universally well-received and successful title hobbled by a Metacritic score only 1 point away from the arbitrary goal set by their publisher is incredibly disheartening. I don't personally know anyone who works (or worked) at Obsidian, but my heart goes out to those who have lost revenue and jobs due to this situation and a practice that fails to take into account the full measure of a title's success/worth in the marketplace.


The views expressed on Plenty For All are purely the opinions of Brian J. Audette and are not at all affiliated with, representative of, endorsed or supported by BioWare, EA, it's shareholders, partners, or subsidiaries.

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