Metacritic may be increasing falling out of favour, but Satoru Iwata is having none of it.
The Nintendo boss dedicated a significant part of his investor briefing to talking up the reviews aggregator, highlighting the success that Nintendo is currently enjoying with the critics.
Foreign website Metacritic.com is well known for its Metascore system that shows the average score out of 100 from various game media and websites,” Iwata said. We must understand that even among game players, majority of consumers that visit Metacritic.com are considered avid game fans.
For Nintendo’s current platforms, 19 titles [received a Metascore of 85 or more and a user score of 8.5+ or more on Metacritic]. In contrast, the current platforms of other companies, PS4, Xbox One and PS Vita, totalled eight titles.
In fact, software available on our platforms continues to be reviewed highly even after the turn of the year. The two software titles which were released simultaneously with the New Nintendo 3DS hardware in the US and Europe, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, received the very high Metascores of 90 and 86 and user scores of 9.5 and 8.9 respectively.”
The exec even presented a Metacritic-dedicated graphic:
There are many reasons why Iwata may choose to focus on the company’s critical as opposed to commercial fortunes. Indeed, the exec’s Metacritic diatribe was preceded by the admission that there are hurdles we are yet to clear regarding the Wii U hardware sales expansion in Japan and Nintendo 3DS hardware sales in the US and in Europe”.
And of course, why wouldn’t Nintendo make noise about Metacritic when it’s one of the only battles it won in 2014?
Nonetheless, Iwata’s enthusiasm arrives against a backdrop of increasing hostility towards Metacritic and the role of review scores.
Eurogamer last week announced its decision to drop scores from its reviews, mirroring others such as Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun and the now departed Joystiq (but not, as is ably demonstrated in this video, Videogamer).
From now on, Eurogamer reviews will no longer be listed on Metacritic,” the site said. We just don’t think there’s a fair way to interpret our new system in Metacritic’s 100-point scale. We don’t want to do it ourselves and we don’t want Metacritic doing it for us. For many game creators, far too much is riding on a Metascore – good or bad – for us to allow it to be influenced by a rating that we don’t think represents us fairly, or that we don’t have full control over.
Over the years, we’ve come to believe that the influence of Metacritic on the games industry is not a healthy one (and we’re not alone in this opinion in the industry, either). This is not the fault of Metacritic itself or the people who made it, who just set out to create a useful resource for readers. It’s a problem caused by the over-importance attached to Metascores by certain sectors of the games business and audience – Metascores which are, let’s remember, averages of dozens of numerical values, ascribed more or less arbitrarily, in different systems, by a wide range of reviewers expressing a wide range of opinions.
The result has been conservatism in mainstream game design and a stifling of variety in critical voices. In short: it’s meant less interesting and innovative games.”
"It’s very fair to ask what part
publisher pressure has played
in what is being dressed up
as a pro-consumer and
Whether the media appetite to distance itself from review scores is shared by consumers remains to be seen. But Eurogamer is right to say that there is an increased appetite for a score-less approach across the industry – and not just from some here at MCV and developers, whose bonuses can be arbitrarily tied to a game’s Metacritic score, but also from publishers, who have become increasingly unwilling to spend on site ads only to see their marketing sitting positioned alongside an undesirable 7/10.
It’s very fair to ask what part publisher pressure has played in what is being dressed up as a pro-consumer and anti-publisher movement.
However, while the likes of Peter Moore have described Metacritic as a slippery slope”, others have been more supportive. Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick has previously described Metacritic as a tool that can create a competitive advantage”.
Back in 2010 Metacritic co-founder Marc Dyole told MCV that the site is aware of the responsibility it has toward the industry.
I’ve always welcomed suggestions from publishers, developers, and other creative people in the industry, and I have been personally available to these people to answer questions about our process, which has been appreciated, even if they don’t always agree with our point of view,” he said. I take my job extremely seriously because I know many of these publishers and developers use our Metascores as a measure of quality, to be considered alongside sales when assessing the ‘success’ of a game.”
Regardless of intent, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for the harmful effect a reviews aggregator culture can have on creativity.
Typically, when you go into pitch meetings and whatnot, publishers are going to want to know your track record as far as Metacritic,” Portal and Quantum Conundrum creator Kim Swift told Kotaku back in 2013. As a company, what is your Metacritic average? As an individual, what is your Metacritic average?
It’s pretty common in the industry these days, actually. When you’re negotiating with the publisher for a contract, you build in bonuses for the team based on Metacritic score. So if you get above a 90, then you get X amount for a bonus. If you get below that, you don’t get anything at all or get a smaller amount.”
In 2008 developer Matt Burns likened Metacritic to a crowd-testing exercise that results in studios aiming for the lowest common denominator.
Armed with the knowledge that higher review scores meant more money for them, game producers were thus encouraged to identify the elements that reviewers seemed to most notice and most like – detailed graphics, scripted set piece battles, ‘robust’ online multiplayer, ‘player choice’ and more, more of everything.
Like a food company performing a taste test to find out that people basically like the saltiest, greasiest variation of anything and adjusting its product line-up accordingly, the big publishers struggled to stuff as m