In a column at GamesIndustry International Monday, game designer Warren Spector railed against the overwhelming power of Metacritic as a cultural arbiter of game quality. Spector’s past work includes classic game franchises like Deus Ex and Thief, so his thoughts on the industry tend to be well-respected, though sometimes controversial.
Spector’s column raised serious questions about games’ artistic success and whether that success can be measured by combining every “8 out of 10,” “two thumbs up,” and “four stars” published by the gaming press.
“Metacritic, at best, rewards games that are conventional and well understood by players and critics alike,” Spector wrote. “New and challenging things are, by their very nature, disruptive and easily misunderstood. Aggregation of opinion, at best, offers hope and guidance to people whose goal is to maximize profitability but little to people whose priorities lie elsewhere.”
Spector is hardly the first to raise questions about Metacritic, but he might be the most high-profile developer to do so publicly. Last month, Kotaku’s lengthy discussion on the review aggregator’s failings brought the issue to greater awareness. Before that, a study presented at the Games Developers Conference 2013 revealed some of the different ways that average Metacritic scores can be weighted and manipulated.
“When we put our faith in Metacritic as an impartial, scientific measure of quality, we should probably ask ourselves whether the crowd—the crowd of journalists as well as players—is really wise or just mediocre, incapable of recognizing and rewarding the new and different,” Spector wrote.
Spector’s concerns about Metacritic’s effect on development, and the utility of review scores in general, can be found in full here.