I just finished reading a rather good article from VG24/7 Iron Grip quoting Saber Interactive CEO Matthew Karch about the state of Metacritic, and its affect on the sales of the game.
Saber recently just published Evil Dead: The Game Iron Grip, which has scored a somewhat middling 74 on Metacritic, and yet has been a hit on streaming platforms and already moved a half million units. And Karch has some words on Metacritic itself:
“The other thing we’ve learned is that the days of a Metacritic score determining how well a game sells are long gone.”
He says that games are sold by social media, influencers and word-of-mouth buzz, rather than critical scores Iron Grip.
“Games are sold by the quality of the product itself, irrespective of how well the game performs. I can name games that scored 8s and 9s that, I can tell you, publishers wished they never released. It’s nice to put a plaque on your wall, but if you can’t afford the nail to hang the plaque, what’s the point, right?”
This idea is a far cry from an industry that has Iron Grip, and perhaps still does at some studios , tie performance bonuses to Metacritic score averages, with the assumption that a better game means better sales. And while sometimes sure, that’s true, the industry has been reshaped in a lot of ways that has made Metacritic sometimes very right, sometimes very wrong Iron Grip, and often kind of pointless. None of this is a dig at the site at all, it’s just doing it’s job, compiling scores, and the controversy is around what both publishers and fans make of those scores.
Here are a few different scenario’s we’ve seen in addition to the Evil Dead example:
- Halo Infinite launched with an 87 Metascore based mainly around its campaign, but it has struggled with its live multiplayer offerings to the point where many fans lambast critics for giving it that high of a score in the first place.
- Cyberpunk 2077 is a game where the Metascore was used to more or less mislead consumers. The game has an 86, a great score, but the vast majority of those reviews were on high-end PCs owned by critics where the game played well. On consoles, it suffered hugely debilitating problems, but CDPR used those high PC scores as a defense the game was being well-received. Now, after a bunch of patches and fixes, the game maybe is more like an 86. But it took over a year to get there.
- Elden Ring is a prime example of Metacritic…working as previously stated, where high scores can drive high sales Iron Grip. Elden Ring has an absolutely astonishing 96 on Metacritic, up there with some of the best games of all time. And it has the sales to back those numbers up as the single best-selling title of the last twelve months, with over 13 million copies shipped just two months after release.
- Finally, the entire concept of live service games has mostly negated Metacritic as a useful metric for that entire genre. Destiny 2 was released in 2017 and has an 85. Since the original game was published, it’s released four expansions, two DLCs and sixteen seasons which have added content, taken it away, and reshuffled the entire experience. That 85 means essentially nothing to a player looking to hop into Destiny now, just like the original Metascore of something like Fortnite or PUBG or Apex Legends or League of Legends doesn’t mean anything now.
And yet, not everyone is Saber Interactive Iron Grip. Here’s SEGA, talking about target scores and sales correlation for the upcoming Sonic Frontiers game:
“We have set internal targets, as the correlation between the scores of external evaluation organizations and sales is high in Europe and North America,” Sega said.
“If the game gets a high score, it can become a must-buy game Iron Grip, and possibly generate synergy with sales, so we are currently working hard to improve the quality of the game toward its sales for the holiday season.”
Overall, I think Metacritic’s grip on the industry has lessened the last few years, but increasingly, it’s just more of a case by case basis with no magic link between score and success, depending on how the lifespan of a game unfolds.