The law of averages

The law of averages
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

October 13th 2010 at 8:00AM

Metacritic's founder provides a rare glimpse inside the world of the website

Founded in 2001 by siblings Marc Doyle and Julie Roberts, plus friend Jason Dietz, the Metacritic review scores aggregation system had until recently remained on largely the same technology and design template.

That alone is a testament to the website creators’ forward thinking vision; almost a decade after inception, Metacritic in its fundementally original form is still relevant and contemporary.

More than that, it has become a keystone of the industry. Like it or loathe it, Metacritic scores are a subject of fascination not only for consumers, but PR departments, publishers, marketers, and even developers. Expected and average review scores have long been a point of tension as publishers and studios ink deals, and Metacritic has become the recognised standard for that process. Truly, the website has changed the ecosystem of the industry at almost every level.

Scores to settle
“We were fortunate to have a strong vision of what we wanted to achieve right out of the gate,” says co-founder Doyle of Metacritic’s acceptance by the industry.

“By selecting the most respected critics in each industry, and by presenting their reviews and scores in an easy-to-digest format based on a sound and consistent scoring system, we enabled our users to make the most of their entertainment dollars by ‘consuming’ the highest quality movies, games, albums, or television shows.”

As early as 2003, the first of the big game publishers began publically endorsing ‘Metascores’ as a de facto gauge of quality, clearly recognising Metacritic as a reliable, robust platform. Much of the website’s quality can be attributed to the fact that it isn’t automated, and that it constantly refreshes its list of relevant critics and publications. To a certain extent it holds not only the quality of developers to account, but also the work of the critics that ultimately make or break a game.

Power-Up
That considered, Doyle is in a powerful position, but he is acutely aware of his responsibility.

“I’ve always welcomed suggestions from publishers, developers, and other creative people in the industry, and I have been personally available to these people to answer questions about our process, which has been appreciated, even if they don’t always agree with our point of view,” insists the co-founder.

“I take my job extremely seriously because I know many of these publishers and developers use our Metascores as a measure of quality, to be considered alongside sales when assessing the ‘success’ of a game.”

Listening to feedback has lead to a constant refinement at Metacritic, which saw the site’s core technology platform completely revised in August this year. Thanks to a new powerful backend users, can now search through a far more integrated database, browsing ‘career’ scores of publishers, writers, film directors and even record labels. If that notion is unsettling, fear not, as critics and publications can now also be monitored and compared.

Press On
Of course, the very media Metacritic monitors is in its own state of flux and, thanks to the website’s proximity to print and online publications, it is well positioned to look forward to the future of the relationship between games and the press.

“I can only hope that with the decline in the number and influence of traditional media outlets there will still be critics coming up in the tradition of Pauline Kael of The New Yorker or Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal – critics who produce reviews which are viewed as works of art in and of themselves,” opines Doyle, who clearly adores the craft of criticism.

“It is the quality of analysis which has always been the most important element of a review, and the ability of a critic to draw from prior works and from culture at large in analysing a new work truly makes his or her work important.”

As its 10th anniversary nears Metacritic is developing, expanding its remit and evolving its concept. That is big news for the development sector, because when Metacritic changes, the wider industry changes.
As it absorbs and delivers more cross-referenced data from the business’ four corners, it looks set to become an even more important and influential resource.

www.metacritic.com