Metacritic increases amount of stupid in industry [Update]

As if it isn’t bad enough that game reviewers attempt to distill a videogame’s entire essence into a number, now Metacritic has taken it upon themselves to do the same for individual developers. As in, individual people who worked on specific games. That’s right, now you too can argue that Peter Molyneux is a better developer than Shigeru Miyamoto, because he’s rated 82 and Shiggy only scores 80. Oh, and Cliffy B is 86. Perhaps if they patched him and re-released as a Cliffy of the Year edition…

So, how does Metacritic assign these arbitrary values to people? Publisher scores are split into two categories, for companies releasing more or less than 15 titles per year, and carefully weighted according to four criteria. Individuals are provided with an “average career score”. All the data comes from GameFAQs, user-collated. And GameFAQs, as we all know, is one of the most intelligent places on the internet.

It’s a little known fact that often publishers use the Metacritic scores of games to literally determine if the people who worked on it will get their bonuses this year, or get paid at all. Or lose their jobs. It’s obscene, that a bunch of jackasses assigning meaningless (out of context) numbers to games have that kind of aggregate sway over people’s lives. Sure, it’s really the publisher’s fault for even caring about the damn Metacritic scores, but if you give a publisher a metric to use against its employees, it will. If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, I’m sure you can relate. Managers will always use metrics they don’t understand to make bad decisions.

You could be one of the best programmers or artists of our time, but if you have the bad luck to work on a run of flops (because the publisher insisted your team make the DS port of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), that’s going to be a permanent mark on your record. One that future employers might look at. Sure, people have a choice – they could quit their jobs before working on a project they know is going to bring their Person Ranking down, but not everyone always has the luxury of choice. Fresh out of college and all you can get is an internship at EA working on their next doomed project? Sorry buddy, tough luck eh?

Games are a team effort. As much as the industry likes to punt this Rock Star idea that Cliffy B, Miyamoto or ‘Neux are the ‘main men’ and ‘true spirit’ to creations, it’s just not true. Hundreds of people work on a game, each one as important as the next.

All of this isn’t really new. This kind of logic has been prevalent in the Stupid Management sector of business since people started submitting to the whims of Middle Management. As a friend said, perhaps in some ways Metacritic putting the stupid out in the public eye is a good move, perhaps this will create a backlash against this kind of bean-counting thinking.

“It’ll forment resentment across the industry, as opposed to the existing isolated pockets of hate people have for whatever rating process that’s in use in their studio/publisher/beurocracy”.

Either way, game industry jobs have never been a safe bet anyway. Unless you go indie, you’ll rarely get to choose what projects to work on, or their direction. And if you go indie, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

UPDATE: Metacritic has removed developer career scores. It wasn’t “ready” for prime time, according to Metacritic – so they’ve not dropped the idea entirely, unfortunately.