Metacritic founder Marc Doyle has some strong opinions on the nature of game criticism, and was more than happy to share them with us.
A few days ago, Metacritic founder Marc Doyle was quoted as saying that game critics must “review all the sh*t” in order to help gaming Metascores provide an accurate picture of game quality across the entire spectrum, not just at the high end. We caught up with Doyle in an attempt to understand exactly what he was getting at in his comments on the A Jumps B Shoots podcast.
“The narrow point I was making was borne out of a trend I have observed over the course of the last ten to twelve years,” says Doyle. “Below-average games are not being reviewed as often as they once were and, partly as a result, critics have not honed their skills at assigning scores from the lower end of their grading scales. The question of exactly how bad a game has to be to merit a 1 score instead of 2 on the 10 point scale, for example, is not being contemplated with as much experience, care and precision as the 8 versus 9 consideration.”
This is an important point for game criticism — video game reviews are notoriously skewed towards the more positive end of things. To many critics and consumers alike, anything below a 7 out of 10 or 70% score isn’t worth bothering with.
“Unlike film critics who maintain a band of ‘below average’ scores between 40 and 50, most game critics consider virtually everything under 50 as poor,” explains Doyle. “As a result, everything under 50 in our games section is red (unfavorable) while only films under 40 are given that same designation.”
Of particular relevance to GamePro and our five-star scoring system is a conversation that Doyle had with a critic several years back. The critic in question was advocating that Metacritic deviate from its current mathematical conversion of the 5-star scale to its 100 point system.
“After describing what he felt 3, 4 and 5 star reviews meant, I asked him how he would describe 0, 1 and 2 star games,” Doyle continues. “His response was something to the effect of ‘Oh, those are just crap games that we’d never suggest anyone buy. So we could really give those games any of those scores — nobody’s going to buy them anyway.’ I had the sense that this particular critic hadn’t reviewed all that many bad games and that he was essentially throwing darts at the lower end of his scale… he felt that the “below average” zone on Metacritic could be sufficiently described with a blanket ‘don’t buy.’”
But critically-panned games such as Duke Nukem Forever (49 Metascore for the Xbox version) sometimes find themselves selling quite well — Duke itself performing very well in both the US and European charts in recent weeks. This suggests that this nameless critic’s blanket “don’t buy” isn’t always the most helpful opinion — people want to know why a game is supposedly “bad” and then make up their own mind about it.
“Even though enduring a 10-15 hour game that has been thrown together must be an excruciating experience for the game critic, picking that game apart in a review with the degree of care and precision that he or she would employ when reviewing a brilliant AAA game would absolutely help to better define a publication’s full scoring scale, making every subsequent score more meaningful,” explains Doyle, comparing the games press (whom he believes to focus on “good” or “major” releases) to film publications (whom he notes tend to review all releases in a given week).
“[Film critics] tend to be exposed to plenty of lower-quality fare,” he says. “They are then forced to employ those wonderfully scathing adjectives, metaphors and similes in their reviews, along with very low star ratings. They have become experienced in doing so. I’d merely like to see our game critics review more of these less significant — and often poor — games in much the same way. They don’t have to be in-depth treatments, but taking on this challenge would benefit our industry.”
So then, basically, as Doyle originally said, we need to play more crap. Where to begin?