Their argument, if they were honest, would be that the stakes are at an all-time high.
That’s why Telltale employees abused Metacritic user scores for their latest game, Jurassic Park.
At least two developers at the studio – though there could be more involved – decided to publish a string of bogus reviews that compared the game to some of the best projects released in the past two years.
One said: “The best way I can describe this game is if Steven Spielberg decided to direct Heavy Rain.”
It was a deceitful manoeuvre that becomes even worse when you consider that Telltale allegedly didn’t provide critics, such as Gamespot’s, with early review copies of the game.
The harm done is clear: On the day of Jurassic Park’s release, Metacritic had no professional reviews but several glowing user reviews. Consumers who viewed that page at that time were being fooled by developers with a vested commercial interest in the game’s success.
It’s a shameful scam, certainly, but not one without its unfortunate reasons.
The necessity of commercial and critical triumph is simply unsustainable in an age where anything other than a blockbuster is a flop, and anything other than a masterpiece is thrown onto the maybe pile.
A modern game studio must match near-impossible levels of expectation placed upon it by hype-inflating publishers and a suggestible press with an inkling for hyperbole. Consumers are no better, the most vocal already zombified by fanfare and bewildered by brand loyalty.
This is the stage it’s got to: Activision internally reviewed Blur before release and, out of expectation that it would be liked but not loved, decided to slash its marketing spend.
A damaging review isn’t just a 50-score anymore – it’s the beginning of a chain reaction that pulls Metacritic averages down and puts a question-mark above a game that needs to be spotless, utterly faultless, to ensure it has a fair chance in an intensely competitive market.
The problem for Telltale is that – in this unsustainable climate of hype – it has made what appears to be a less than stellar product.
That’s not just one disaster. Jurassic Park is an episodic title where sales of the first instalment will almost certainly outweigh the next four.
It’s a domino effect. Those who don’t buy episode one won’t touch the entirety of the series.
I feel sorry for Telltale’s predicament. Developers join the industry with a hope to reproduce the kind of games that illuminated their childhood, but only a handful get the chance to make something special.
But as unpleasant the situation is, there should be no contagion to it. Meddling with review user scores is no solution to deep-rooted industry problems, but something that merely passes the problem onto the consumer.
Had the Telltale devs’ plan worked, those who were fooled would only become more cynical of user reviews in the long run.
A spokesperson for Telltale said the company won’t “muzzle” its own staff from writing what they want on the internet.
But the issue is not about censorship. It’s about honesty. Developers with an interest in entertaining people have absolutely no right to fool people into buying their games.
Hype may be more rampant than ever, but the truth still lies in the content. Developers need to let their work speak for itself. That may not bode well for a game like Jurassic Park, but at least it’s an honest break from an industry marred by unfair expectations.