Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Metacritic Time to Update: Journalistic Integrity Edition



A couple weeks ago I wrote about latent and patent factors influencing Metacritic scores, but there is more to say.   I admit I am harping on Metacritic, but as Steven Totilo pointed out unfortunately, our industry has decided to be the first industry in the history of entertainment to focus on critical praise over dollars.  A developer's compensation and next job will be based on Metacritic scores.  If the movie business worked this way, there would be no career for those involved in the Sex and the City film, which scored a 52, and Adam Sandler would never have made another film after the revenue spewing behemoth "The Waterboy," which scored a 41. Forget about how silly our reliance sounds, forget about revenue, forget about how biased the reviewers are and forget the reviewers play more games in a week than most people play in a console cycle, give Metacritic and its subjective mystery system more power.
I did write about a number of factors which could be biasing the scores, but I missed one little tiny one worth noting.  (Please note, I am not suggesting I am without bias, in fact I am neither a journalist nor unbiased.  In fact you are welcome to peruse my bias which stands up like a petulant child in each and every post.)

A question in Metacritic's FAQ section asks why the scores are trustworthy, and whether Metacritic is a scam to make money. It is answered with:
A: First of all, if you've been reading the papers lately you'd realize that NOBODY is making money on the Internet. (Although, frankly, we'd like to... and if you'd like to help, contact us about advertising on our site or licensing our content.) We do make a small amount of money if you click on one of the links to buy games or soundtracks or books or DVDs on our site and then actually make a purchase. But we are talking very small. We are not affiliated with any studio, record company, or game company; nor do we directly sell any of the products reviewed on our site. Our goal is to provide completely impartial information about all of the movies, albums, and games you find on our site, so that you may make an informed decision when deciding what to watch, hear, or play. The way we see it, if we weren't completely impartial, you wouldn't come back to the site. So we have made objectivity our top priority. (emphasis added).
If you didn't see the bolded characters, you may think I was going for the advertising statement. Unlike newspapers and periodicals which have church and state divisions between ad sales and reviews, Metacritic used to have the same guy selling ads and doing reviews.  The site was acquired in 2005 Metacritic by Cnet, a network with its own sales department.  Of course this is the ad sales department involved with sister site, Gamespot, which is rumored to have fired one its reporters for writing a review which did not exactly support the ad spend made by the publisher of the title, but I'm not writing about ad bias.  I am addressing a lie.  In fact, despite its burial deep within the site, and in the spirit of the political focus of our country in these days leading up to the presidential election, I would place this lie in the pantheon of great lies, which includes Nixon's "I am not a crook" and Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." 

Metacritic's FAQ specifically says they are not affiliated with a studio, record or game companies, when are actually owned by CBS.  Sure they give Katie Couric's broadcast a 52, but who wouldn't?  They can say it is only a few weeks since the acquisition and they have not had time to change the site, but they were acquired by Cnet in 1995, which made them a sister to a myriad of review and information sites. None of those relations are disclosed.  Journalists are supposed to avoid conflicts of interest, and disclose them when they exist.  Some accuse Todd Purdum of writing a slanted, innuendo filled story about Clinton in Vanity Fair, but they cannot accuse him of  conflict based on marriage to Dee Dee Myers, he disclosed it.  A news reporter will often tag a story with " x is owned by our parent company" or some such disclosure, so we are aware of bias, or potential bias.  Metacritic does exactly the opposite.  They are part of the one of the largest media conglomerates in the history of the world, yet they say they are not affiliated.  

I know these guys are really busy and everything with the merger, so I went ahead and wrote a suggested new sentence for their FAQ: 
We are affiliated with a studio, record company, television networks and game companies, in fact we are better connected than CAA.  We can probably get Les Moonves and Brad Grey on a conference call.  To give you a better idea, we are providing a partial list of our family members:
- CBS Television
- CBS Records 
- MTV 
- MTV Games
- Harmonix
- VH1
- Nickelodeon
- Paramount Pictures
- Paramount Television
- Paramount Digital Entertainment
- Dreamworks Studios
- BET
- Spike

and of course our distant cousin, Midway Home Entertainment.   We do our best to avoid influence from our parent and siblings, but the significant subjective component in our scores makes it kind of tough.  
This has been a public service message.  Thank you and goodnight. 






1 comment:

Jon said...

Excellent point. I've often had to remind people that Cnet / Gamespot owns both Metacritic and Game Rankings. Its absurd.