Going Gold

Going Gold
Going Gold #4: These Go To 11

Christian Ward | 20 Aug 2008 21:00
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Think about the classics that went by un-perfected before the seminal Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was judged good enough to be perfect. Since then, there has been an average of just less than one 40/40 score a year, culminating in two games - Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Metal Gear Solid 4 - getting top marks this year alone. It was the first time two titles have been awarded the score in one year, and there's still four months left to go.

Newer on the scene, it was only 3 years before the UK's Edge gave a perfect score to Super Mario 64 (a title that Famitsu judged to be a mere 39/40, incidentally). Edge has never been the huge seller that Famitsu is, but it positioned itself perfectly on the border between industry insider and distant, beard-stroking critic. Yet its descent into normality has been even more rapid, evidenced by the fact that while only one title of the hundreds or thousands released for the previous generation got a 10/10 score, four titles have already claimed it this generation.

Halo 3, The Orange Box, Super Mario Galaxy and Grand Theft Auto 4 have all been judged as "perfect" in just the past 10 months. Is it coincidence that two of the titles on that list were the ones boosted by the biggest marketing budgets this industry has ever seen? Let's be clear here - I do not believe that publications like Edge are being paid off, literally or otherwise, though many publications out there undoubtedly are. It's nothing so cynical, or even preventable - we're just becoming more susceptible to the whirlwind of hype, commercials, junkets, and freebies at which the industry is gradually becoming better and better.

The fact that this is happening just as sites such as Metacritic are becoming ever more important to the industry seems unlikely to be a coincidence. It's no secret that, devoid of any other way to judge their quality, many publishers now calculate bonuses based on a title's Metascore or GameRanking.

Now, this isn't necessarily awful. On the one hand, it is no bad thing for publishers to demand quality, especially from external developers, and to entrust that judgment of quality to a respected third-party aggregator rather than some other more arbitrary system. But on the other hand, this has made the review score into something more than one important factor in a game's sales - it can mean the difference between getting your bonus or not, between getting paid or not. It's not inconceivable to say that for some developers, the ethereal Metascore could already have been the difference between keeping and losing their job, their house, their marriage.

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