A critics critic

On Wednesday, David Braben, who created Elite, spoke to Develop about the state of game reviews and suggested that the reviewers have their very own Metacritic values to determine who is the most reliable. Those that post their reviews near a game’s release and award them a score close to the average Metacritic (or similar) one could receive a prize for such a fine job. While I think this is an utterly flawed idea it was thought of with good intentions. Braden wants to rid consumers of lazy reviewers who barely play a game before coming up with a review score just to appease publishers or be the first read. He also praised the rest saying they do an excellent job with little recognition. I was with him up to that point until Braben gave his idea for a Metacritic of reviewers. The exact quote was :“The best reviewers give spot-on reviews pretty soon after a game is released. They do not wait to see what others say, but nevertheless consistently come very close to the final average score. There could be a prize for the best each year.”

Sadly, not everyone is privileged enough to receive a copy of a game before it’s released so having a system that potentially penalises reviewers for talking their time to get it right would eventually lead to more and more slapdash and unreliable reviews. Metacritic and sites like it, are only there as a reference tool and not necessarily balanced in favour of all games. One title could have 50 reviews pegged to it while another has 10 so averages can be unreliable too. Making reviewers chase down said average or at least pre-empt it and writing their posts to reflect the score would be incredibly damaging. And sometimes finding out what your peers think of a game is helpful to the review. For instance, if there is a particularly tricky part that was a souring experience, finding out it others suffered the same would indicate whether it was a case of bad game design or bad game playing skills.

Most importantly, a review is a personal opinion and, if written by a credible source, is not right or wrong. The way you know if a reviewer is credible should be based on other reviews they’ve written; do they agree with your own personal view of certain games? Does the final score match what was written about a game? In the past, some games have famously been slammed by a few reviewers in their copy yet are still awarded with a high mark. That is when ethics should be questioned.

Braben’s latest game, Kinectimals, had a varied response from reviewers which is something he found a little unfair because a some of them didn’t review the game for the target audience, children, but instead did so for a core gamer. This, I agree, is wrong. Games for kids should be reviewed from their perspective. However core gamers who are interested in such titles should have an outlet that tells them whether or not they’d enjoy it. But then doing away with a score altogether, ignoring an averaging system would do away with some of these issues because there wouldn’t be a low score, written for the benefit of core gamers, just explanatory text about the child-focused content. It’s one of the reasons I went from a numerical or alphabetical scoring system to stating whether a game is good or bad.

Marc Doyle, co-creator of Metacritic was asked by Eurogamer what he thought of Braben’s comments to which he said: “A critic’s review and his or her score is an opinion – it’s not right or wrong. We can judge the credibility of a critic based on the quality of his or her analysis, the depth of his or her experience in gaming, and a host of other criteria. We do exactly that when selecting critics at Metacritic. But once you’ve established that critics meet these basic threshold criteria, if they happen to deviate from the final Metascore (or average review score) on certain games, there’s no reason to deem those critics or their reviews of lower quality than those whose review scores more frequently match up with the final aggregated score. Penalizing a brilliant critic who happens to utilize the lower end of its publication’s scale more often than a middling critic who never gives lower than a 6/10 doesn’t make sense to me.” I’m glad he agrees with me, otherwise my score may have gone down…

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