I spent the last hour reading allegations that Eidos dangled a six-digit advertising deal over GameSpot’s head in order to have long-time editor Jeff Gerstmann fired for the critical tone of his now-pulled 6/10 video review of Kane and Lynch (a text-only review remains). Whatever the real story, Gerstmann is currently out of a job.
Truth be told, game makers have long since pressured gaming media to publish favorable game reviews as a higher score equates to greater sales. And while most publications will tell you otherwise (even self-serving at times), my sources confirm that several outlets have delt with the dilemma and even succumbed to filthy lucre.
The good news is the current publicity surrounding the issue will end up benefiting our favorite hobby in terms of its integrity, or lack thereof. Sadly, I’m not sure my fellow gamers want honest reviews, at least from the critics.
Just look at the immediate online reaction of numerous Zelda zealots given Gerstmann’s confirmed departure. “Good riddance,” said one Kotaku commenter, “I couldn’t stand that guy since he gave Twilight Princess an 8.8/10 (gasp!).” Other inconsiderate and off-topic comments weren’t so civil.
What can we learn from such behavior? Hardcore gamers don’t want truthful reviews from the critics, they want professional assurance to sooth their insecurity or debate ammo for pithy comments. And you know what? Our entire industry panders to their desires. (Most) critics don’t have the guts to call out an over-hyped game for fear of geek backlash, publishers constantly lobby for inflated review scores, and everyone (myself included) from developers to media take review scores way too seriously. The only group I can see that doesn’t care so much about scores is the casual crowd, bless their souls.
As we deal with editorial and industry growing pains, and while blogs help usher in a heightened level of authenticity, there are solutions for those seeking honest reviews when a publication’s consistency is in doubt, however — soliciting recommendations from people you know and trust and crowd sourcing.
The first is self-explanatory — talk with a friend that shares similar tastes. The second involves taking a cue from other consumers, and there is no better way to cut through the hype, offset the critical echo chamber, and find sleeper games than by consulting Amazon.com or Metacritic average user review scores and their accompanying remarks.
Need proof? Wii Sports was discounted by critics (for whatever reason) in 2006 and received an average review score of 7.6/10 according to Metacritic. Joe gamer and all his friends, however, rated it as a 9/10 game. Another popular launch title, Excite Truck, received “mixed” reviews of 7.3/10 while collective users gave it an 8.4/10. This is a prime example of how critical scores are not representative of what the masses say (deflated).
By comparison, critics gush over Twilight Princess while actual users slightly disagree. The same Goes for Mario Galaxy and other high-profile non-Nintendo games with even greater disparity that I will not mention here. This isn’t to say said games are bad or unworthy of your time, only that society does a better job in gauging inflation than the actual critics do.
So even though gamers may not want honest reviews from critics, they still want to know how to spend their limited budgets in a truthful way by comparing notes. Call it power in numbers.