Somehow I found myself reading this article
about game review scores from the NY Times from last year. I don’t read as much reviews of anything nowadays, but I used to read a lot of game reviews and occasional movie reviews and, as the article asserts, I usually found the game reviews to be more “correct” and the game quality to be closer to my expectations. Movies reviews always seemed to be a mixed bag with me, and based on RottenTomatoes ratings, they still are. However, when it came to movie reviews the aggregate, numeric user reviews always seemed a better indicator of quality than the critical ones. These review scores also seemed to line up reasonably well regardless of the site (RottenTomatoes, IMDB, or Metacritic [which, believe it or not, I’ve only recently discovered]).
So what’s the point?
First, a bit of stupidity from the article:
The data was clear. The Top 10-selling games of last year — including titles like Gears of War and Guitar Hero 2 —had an average Metacritic score of 87.5. Only one of the top-selling games scored less than 80. (More about that later.) Meanwhile, the Top 10 box-office films of last year — including titles like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”’ and “X-Men: The Last Stand” — collected a poor average score of 62.9.
You can’t do correlations (here, between average review scores and sales) like this and attempt to draw out something conclusive. The data isn’t clear because a ton of variables are missing, but most importantly, consumer expectation. Dead Man’s Chest and The Last Stand were both threequels, millions flocked to see them because they were standing on the standards set by their predecessors (i.e. no one gave a damn about the reviews). The same is true (but perhaps to a lesser extent) for Guitar Hero 2, although in this case the data does line up. I don’t think this really undercuts the article’s point, you just can’t manufacture a correlation like this. A sample of original titles, with smaller sales figures (instead of gunning for the top-selling), would have probably done better to illustrate the point.
Moving on, the article ends:
But going forward, a different critical perspective may not be such a bad thing.
If the future of gaming is in reaching beyond hard-core young male players, that may mean risking some lower grades from the young male critics. Either that or the critics themselves can open their minds to new concepts.
First, you again have a stupid correlation, this time between lower review scores and reaching a more diverse audience. Was the second-to-last line simply manufactured so that the article could end with a somewhat poetic: “Either that or the critics themselves can open their minds to new concepts”? Which really just translates into higher review scores for games that appeal to the more diverse audience but lack the elements needed to attract the “young male players.”
I’m getting caught up in technicalities (purposefully), but the my point is in the article: “But going forward, a different critical perspective may not be such a bad thing.” However, instead of pigeon-holing this concept onto video game reviewers, apply the concept more broadly and in a truly revolutionary way. Critics, in all media, serve a simple, pragmatic purpose. They inform and judge, so that readers are better able to spend their time and money. However, a critic’s opinions are a singular perspective and, as such, heavily biased. For decades, there really wasn’t any alternative (critics were likely cheaper than polling people or setting up voting stations). The internet has given us a medium where critics can be cut away because users themselves (large, diverse samples of which) can easily judge what they play, watch, and listen to, and, in the aggregate, biases are eliminated or dampened (extraordinarily low review scores and canceled out by extraordinarily high review scores). Overall, I think leads to better reviews and, in a small way, works towards a better society. This is, of course, not a new concept, but the only site that really puts users on the same footing as the critics is IMDB; looking at the design of RottenTomatoes and Metacritic it’s clear that the critic’s word is valued much more highly. It would be nice to see a shift in the other direction.
Finally, I’ve avoided mentioning music reviews because I’ve never read any or felt the need to. Compared to the time and money of movies and games, music is much shorter and cheaper (in monetary value). It’s also possible to sample almost any track online or by going into a Barnes and Nobel. In effect, I think the need for any form of review is completely eliminated. Pretty interesting (as I think this applies to others and not just myself). Although, one downside here is that finding new artists is not easy, but that’s perhaps more of an issue with the mainstream media.