Metacritic has changed the games industry

Since the very beginning of video gaming there have been reviews and to go with those reviews there have been scores. These have been useful tools for the public when coming to a buying decision, especially when games are expensive to the point of being overpriced. And as a tool for the publisher to get an independent (supposedly) view on the merits or otherwise of their game.

Of course scores have been the subject of abuse. By publishers buying a drink, or even more, for the reviewer or their boss and maybe even using the blackmail of advertising spend. By journalists being deliberately controversial to court publicity for themselves or their journal. I experienced this at Codemasters when Edge gave Severance, Blade of Darkness two out of ten which was just pure sensationalism from them. Other examples are Amiga Power giving International Rugby Challenge 2% and Sega Zone giving Socket: Time Dominator 0%. These abuses from both sides reduced the credibility of an individual score for a game.

So it is especially useful if you can see a lot of different review scores for a game at the same time and so discount the obvious aberrations. This is what Game Rankings does and I have used this countless times as a tool to help in my work. Most notably to prove to the directors of Codemasters that their game quality was slipping in comparison to their direct competitors.

Then in 2001 Metacritic came along and changed the world. Firstly they convert all the review scores into percentages, then they average them to come up with one figure. (They also weight the average so more respected reviewers have more influence.) This single figure to represent a game is a very powerful thing and everybody in the industry is far more aware now of game Metacritics than they ever were of individual review scores, they have become the standard benchmark for the industry.

In 2004 Jason Hall of Warner Brothers started putting Metacritic scores into contracts with game publishers in order to protect his brands. Their royalty payments became higher if the game received a low score. Publishers seized on this idea with their contracts with developers, whose income therefore no longer depended purely on sales, it also depended on Metacritic and therefore review scores and therefore game quality. This practice has now become widespread throughout the industry with stories of a million selling game netting it’s developer zero income because it’s Metacritic was below the contractual minimum.

Investors too have caught up with the importance of Metacritic and now a company’s stock price will go down sharply when a new game gets a bad score (and vice versa). This can change the value of a company quite markedly on the basis of the magic number.

With all this it will come as no surprise that game developers now remunerate their staff partly on the Metacritic scores that their work produces. Bonuses are often  directly tied to the score.

The simple fact is that there is a very strong correlation between review scores and sales with only the occasional exception. “Activision Chief Executive Robert Kotick says the link was especially notable for games that score above 80%. For every five percentage points above 80%, Activision found sales of a game roughly doubled. Activision believes game scores, among other factors, can actually influence sales, not just reflect their quality.”

John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, uses Metacritic as one of the most important measures of the performance of his company and is unhappy when they go down, telling Wall Street analysts “Our core game titles are accurately measured and summarized by these assessments, and that is a very big deal.” He is determined to get the company average score over 80, which is a good target for everyone in the industry to have.

And finally, for consumers spending $60 on a game, Metacritic is one of the best ways they can be sure to get value for money. 


  1. I think giving numbers to games should be something to put aside.
    You can really say that a game is worth a 8 to everyone.
    The market is to wide to really trust on numbers for games.

    Reviews like Zero Punctuation is the way to go.
    Or the podcasts of the 1UP show give a good description on how they play the game and what the downsides are and whats good about it and what people should play it.

  2. Well, I don’t think Metacritic should give more weight to some reviews since then the developers/publishers will just have to bribe / entice those reviewers specifically.

    Completely throwing away the idea of an independent score.

  3. I use metacritic all of the time, and constantly cite it as a source for information when telling people what crap some games are (movies too). It really is making things better, isn’t it?

  4. I love that Metacritic scores are integrated into Steam. Looking at my games list, I don’t see a single score below 80, and that fairly reflects the games I own and play: enjoyable, every one. When buying games on Steam, it gives you the score right up front, even when it’s terrible. Bad for business as far as the poor performers are concerned, but great for business for genuinely great games.

  5. Bruce do you have any stats or graphs etc. that show this strong correlation? I only ask because I tend to disagree with Metacritic being weighted so heavily into these games, since it turns into how to please the reviewers rather than following a vision. Plus it seems kind of outdated to follow this practice if your shipping sales are already going into effect well before reviews come out.

  6. Yet more proof of how ****** up this industry is.

  7. “Activision believes game scores, among other factors, can actually influence sales”


  8. Metacritic allows scores from the most appalling websites out there, counting the opinions of illiterate fansites that give As and 10s to everything that falls in their genre. That anyone is taking it seriously is deeply disturbing.

    As a ballpark guide it works well. As an accurate depiction of a game’s quality, it’s extremely dubious. Check out the scores of any recent European adventure for the horrible reality of how inaccurate the Metascore can be.

    Also, your condemning people for giving low marks is both libellous and extremely ignorant. I regularly give out marks below 20% because I regularly review games that are utter ****. That’s what score utter **** games get. (And exactly what attention were Edge likely to garner from a review of Severance? It wasn’t exactly that year’s most talked about game, was it? Rather a bit of an also-ran that no one really noticed).

  9. 2% seemed quite reasonable for IRC, seeing as how it was practically unplayable…

  10. I *never* use Metacritic. I understand what games I enjoy a lot better than any reviewer, so their opinions mean little to me. But of course, in the marketing sphere scores are far more important, I guess.

    You haven’t fully explained why Edge giving Severance a 2/10 was sensationalism. I guess you disagree with the score, but, you know, some games really do warrant piss-poor scores. Never played Severance, so I’m not sure, but just balking at the low score comes across a little as sour grapes.

  11. But people buy games because of numbers.

    So if my little pony part 5 gets a 80+ score you will buy it?

  12. In a market where nigh on any game on pretty much any platform (apart for the handhelds, largely) has playable demos freely available for download, and in a world where a smaller percentage of buyers than ever would even think about reading a games review mag let alone buy one, percentages some random scribe I don’t know from Adam have never been less relevant to my or anyone I’m familiar with’s decision on buying a game.

  13. I’d like to point out that, having brought and attempted to play Severance: Blade of Darkness, I completely agree with the Edge score. Even with a following wind it would have been, at best, an average game. But it is hampered by an unbelievably clumsy control mechanic and the most derivative gameplay I’ve experienced in years. Put simply, it is a poor game. The fact it may have looked and sounded great didn’t change that or, as a result, justify a higher score. Surely, the purpose of the review is to assess how enjoyable the game is? Severance wasn’t enjoyable, so deserved a low score.

    Which leads me to my second point. Why, if the ‘score’ is all important do reviewers bother writing, and we bother reading, anything other than that? The answer, surely must be, that there is more to a game than a notional percentage. Gameplay across countless genres cannot be reduced in such an arbitrary way. As a result, I am wary of relying solely on Metacritic. Sure, it can help a potential purchaser assess whether a game has been well received by reviewers or not, but it won’t necessarily help them determine whether they will enjoy how that game plays.

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