The gaming press has been outed as a glorified marketing wing for the gaming industry, shown in desperate need of professionalism thanks to Zoe Quinn’s insatiable desire for strange (apparently, female hypergamy can have a positive effect of society!). Given it’s been a few months since #GamerGate broke the public’s conception of the gaming press, you would think the gaming press would be a little tougher on the games they review, if only to recover credibility. Of course, to think that would be to apply logical thinking to social justice warriors and hardcore feminists. Of course they aren’t being more honest in their paid promotion (erm, I mean reviews) of video games. And nowhere is this more apparent than on Metacritic.
If you frequent the video game portion of the site, you may have noticed the often-large discrepancy between the review average given by the press, and the review average given by users. There are exceptions, typically where the game is either outstanding (like the recent example of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Critic Average—93, User Average—9.1) or complete shit (Infestation: Survivor Stories, formerly known as The War Z, Critic Average—20, User Average—1.7).
It’s typically the middle ground where the critics disagree, and from my research that middle ground is vast—everything below 90 and above 70 is fair game for large variance between the “professional” critics and the users. Let’s take a look at a few recent releases and see where they line up.
Dragon Age: Inquisition (DA:I)
DA:I is currently rocking an 87 from the critics, with 25 positive reviews and only two mixed reviews—no negative reviews from the gaming press at the time of writing. Its praise has been absolutely glowing. For example, The Escapist calls it “a massive monument to our culture.” GRYOnline.pl states it’s “the best installment in the series”, a claim which seems dubious from the outset considering how great Dragon Age: Origins (and Awakening) were. Vandal Online disagrees, rightly naming the first Dragon Age “the best of the franchise, but we’ve really enjoyed this one. Fans of the genre won’t be disappointed.”
I wonder if “fans of the genre” agree with the professional critics.
The User Average for DA:I is currently a 5.4, a 37 point deviation (which is massive, considering the scale is only 100 points). To give you a sense of the scale of that deviation, if your GPA were 37 percent below what you thought it was, that magna cum laude just became a job as a greeter at Walmart.
By and far, users are torn on this game. At the time of writing, there are 209 positive reviews, 46 mixed, and 230 negative reviews. And there seems to be some massaging of the numbers upwards on the user side – as user “dlopatnikov” accurately points out, a large number of the 10/10 reviews on the user side have only written one review. That could easily be a coincidence, but it sure looks suspicious. It’s apparently very easy to buy Twitter followers. It’s not unreasonable to think User Reviews can be had for the right price.
Among the general criticisms, people who did not like this game are criticizing… well, everything about it. Poor graphics, poor writing, poor optimization and bugs, and what was for me the largest sin of all—poor controls, a criticism based on the controller-centric scheme (Origins had a keyboard and mouse scheme specific to PC, one of the things PC gamers loved about the original).
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Cod:AW)
Given this is Sledgehammer Games’ first solo effort in the Call of Duty series (they also co-developed Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward, its only other game since being formed in 2009), I would have expected CoD:AW to struggle a little. You know, your first clay sculpture in Art Class is rarely your best. No one benches their lifetime max on their very first rep.
You wouldn’t know it, though, from the critic reviews. The PS4 version sits at an 83, the Xbox One at 82. Hardcore Gamer says it boasts “the tightest multiplayer of the series,” another overly enthusiastic, highly circumspect statement considering some of the multiplayer in other CoD games. GameTrailers claims the game is “Call of Duty’s true starting point for a new generation.” Are starting points usually high points? Well, let’s see what the users had to say…
Ye gods. CoD:AW (pronounced “ka-DAWWW!”) is sitting at a 5.8 for PS4 and a 5.4 for Xbox One, showing that Sony and Microsoft fans can agree on something. Ranga67, a user defending CoD:AW, had this to add to the conversation:
FUKK THE HATERZ!!69696969 Dankest game everrrr!!!! 10/10 all u betafield **** can suck my dikk just like yo mum did **** ass hoes!!!!! Oooh burrrn!!!!! Get rekt m9. 1v1 me haterz
Okay, so he misspelled “m8,” but he seems to bring up some logical points. Let’s see what user HiegSeil says to prove that CoD:AW is worthy of a “0” rating:
If i had a choice to play this game again or eat some dog poop, i would choose the latter. I have made many mistakes in my life – getting a hooker pregnant being one – but buying this game is the by far the worst one i’ve ever made. I would rather use a block of sandpaper as a french tickler than play online with the braindead community that exists in this futuristic abortion. 0/10 implies that how i feel about this game can be represented on a scale – it really can’t. Activision need a good hard look in the mirror to see what they have created: a modern day Hotel Mario (if that is even possible).
Wow. CoD:AW is worse than an accidental hooker pregnancy. Bold words.
Data doesn’t lie, but it can mislead
Interestingly enough, I discovered a point of correlation in that middle range of Metacritic aggregates I examined. Both of the examples above were big budget games, and the argument that there is a significant discrepancy between critic and user scores holds true almost universally for big budget games. However, as a game’s budget declines, so does the gap between critic score and user score.
The Metro Redux bundle, developed by 4A Games to fund moving their headquarters from war-torn Ukraine to Malta, has a critic score of 83 and a user score of 80. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, another low budget game from the creator of Super Meat Boy, has a critic rating of 87 and a user rating of 8.1.
It’s almost as if inflated critic scores come with larger marketing budgets. Huh.
Smaller companies don’t have the scratch to spend on E3 booths, private review events, launch parties, or other, more dubious methods of ensuring the marketing money gets to the right people and websites. That shows in the smaller deviation. Of course, there is one game which proves to be the outlier:
Depression Quest received mostly positive review—Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland describes it as so: “The best bits of Depression Quest are the ones that put words to some of these hard-to-capture feelings in these scenarios.”
RockPaperShotgun writer Adam Smith states: “This is ‘game’ as communication, comfort and tool of understanding.”
Yet this game has an average user score of 1.6! How did Zoe Quinn manage such praise from the press?
Read More: A Review Of The Anti-Game Depression Quest