When people want to gain an assessment of a game’s quality, Metacritic is the primary destination. The website is responsible for aggregating multiple game reviews into a single “Metascore” that players can reference. This process involves converting a game review score into a numerical value.
Left to its own accord, Metacritic can be a helpful tool for gauging a general consensus. Paired with the color coding, Metacritic scores can make or break a person’s decision to purchase a game. Not to mention, it provides an easy database to access the reviews of multiple websites in one place.
Unfortunately, Metacritic also holds the capacity to do harm in the realm of gaming discussion due to significant fundamental issues with the website.
An Inherent Bias
A common misperception around Metascores exists concerning how Metacritic arrives at the score. It is natural to assume that it is calculated by simply taking the average of the reviewers, and this is mostly true. But another component exists: the “weight” of a review. Depending on the publication or critic, Metacritic will assign a greater “weight” to them. Under this system, reviews from IGN and Gamespot might hold more influence over the Metascore than other sites.
This system is problematic because the criteria for assigning “weight” is vague. According to Metacritic, a publication’s “weight” is “based on their quality and overall stature”. What remains unclear is the metric that quality measured, because of the inherent subjectivity associated with a review. A publication’s overall stature , however, can be measured with quantitative data. Due to the nature of quantitative data, it is likely relied upon more when determining “weight”.
Regardless of personal sentiments, it would not be a stretch to assume that most readers would want game critics to have an equal voice. A website’s popularity does not always translate to quality, and that should be reflected in the Metascore.
More Numbers, Less People
Metacritic fosters a culture of game discussion and game reviewing that emphasizes the numerical score over the justification for said score. Numbers are so effective in reviews because it immediately communicates one’s assessment of a game. Under most circumstances, Whether it be a 9.6/10, or a 4.2/10, it is easy to digest and understand the meaning underlying these numbers.
The use of numbers within a review aren’t problematic in itself. Yet without context, numbers hold little value. For example, God of War was given a perfect score from IGN when released in April. When discussing review scores, most people tend to credit the publication, just as I just have above. In reality, the views represent truly represent Jonathon Dornbush’s opinion.
This information is valuable because it gives a name to the review, and enables us to understand the person’s taste in games. In addition, it allows people to find reviewers that resonate with their personal opinions. Yet Metacritic does not display the name of the reviewer on their page. Besides a link to the review, the name of the publication takes precedent.
There are other issues surrounding the dominance of Metacritic apart outside of its control, including the idea that most readers focus on obtaining key information rather than reading complete reviews. However, the greater emphasis on numbers and the “weighted average” raise enough cause for concern. When Metacritic opts to highlight the qualitative elements of game reviews, whether it be listing common criticisms or including the the name of the reviewer, the culture around game reviewing could improve for the better.