Newsflash: Metacritic Reviews No Longer Impartial
So, apparently, a Bioware engineer going by the handle of Avanost gave Dragon Age 2 a perfect 10 point review on metacritic. Or so this reddit post claims, making it “a matter of ethics and integrity”. I suppose the only possible response here is this: Boo fracking hoo.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s particularly ethical to post reviews for your own product without disclosing your affiliation, but EA (via Kotaku) is quite right that that is how things work. Whole marketing teams are employed to increase product review scores all over the internet and nobody really cares. Hell, it is even a known fact that game publishers pretty much buy scores in critic magazines. (Remember the whole Kane & Lynch incident?) Internet anonymity makes it impossible to simply trust user reviews as unbiased sources.
But even if we could prevent affiliated parties from reviewing their own games (which we can’t), individual user reviews are an almost useless resource. How many people give products insanely low scores over rather minor flaws and how many fanboys give grossly over-exaggerated scores to things they love? Even averages can only do so much to fix the issue of bad reviews. Spore, for example, was a big let-down but it surely wasn’t so bad that it should be rated 4.6 on a 10 point scale (which is what metacritic shows).
Personally, I use metacritic (and similar sites) for two things – getting a quick glance of how well-received a game or product is and finding honest-sounding reviews among the rabble that is user created content. A couple of developer reviews make no difference either way. Go read the opinions of bloggers you know and trust and that have a similar taste in games for a much better picture of whether a game is actually worth getting.
Would I prefer that game companies left the user reviews to actual users? Absolutely. Would I dislike a blogger that didn’t disclose ties to a particular company? Sure. Reality though is that user reviews don’t work very well and that you simply have to expect people to vote for themselves. And hey, why is Joe “I hate Blizzard and will give a 1 point review to Cataclysm” Schmoe’s opinion worth more than that of the guy that actually made the game? Both are biased, neither has to reveal his or her true identity. That’s how things work.