First of all, let me just say, this is not about pointing fingers or discussing how wrong the whole system is, it’s just something to think about.
A few weeks ago multiplayer-only RTS/FPS-mix “Natural Selection 2” was released. Following the first part that was a modding project the game is certainly not triple A but has a solid fan base. Therefore shortly after the release, some reviews followed. Overall it received solid but not stellar scores. A little discussion hit the interwebz as Gamespot published their review that gave the game a 6.0 out of 10. Fans and the community manager of the game criticized that the reviewer made factual errors in his review and it was pulled. After a short time it reappeared with a score of 8.0 of 10 which seemed a little more in line with other reviews. No biggie, right? WRONG! Unfortunately the well-known review score collector Metacritic has a one shot only-policy: this means that the 60% from GameSpot stayed on the Metacritic site. All of this was covered by several news sites (e.g. Kotaku here and here)
However the real question here is: Who much damage did this f*ck-up cause? Unfortunately Natural Selection 2 has a relatively low number of reviews on Metacritic, namely 12 right now, (Metacritic NS2 Page) so this has an effect on the overall number. On the first look the effect might not be that big, maybe around 2-3 points, but it is there. The bad news is: it changed the overall score from around 82 to an ungrateful 79 that is on Metacritic for quite some time and is unlikely to change as there is a high chance that no further (metacritic ranged) reviews will appear. The difference may only be a few points but due to the nature of our decimal system it looks HUGE, a matter of perception but an important one.
Next step: Where is the game sold? It is a PC only title and to me it looks like it is sold solely via Steam, even the official website links to the steam store. Steam is a strong and trusted platform, so why not? Even if there are other possibilities Steam will probably be the most popular alternative. The price is around 23€ so it is a low-price product and therefore very likely to be a spontaneous impulse buy.
Let’s say you heard about the game but you aren’t quite sure about it yet and you search for the game on Steam. This is what you’ll get:
As you can see the metascore from metacritic hits you right in the face. Many people probably won’t bother to check everything on the web if you want to go for a quick round of multiplayer fun. Especially if you played the first part and know what it’s about. So that number might leave an impression. The number also follows you around during your steam shopping trip as it is also on the steam store page of Natural Selection 2.
So the whole time during the decision-making process of getting the game or not it will haunt you, mocking you that it is so close to the magical border of an 80+ game. Now you decide: Will this have an effect on sales numbers? With a product that does not have a AAA-marketing campaign and a relatively low price that says: Come on, try me, it’s only 23 bucks! I say it does. I say the effect could be huge. Considering this number is displayed for EVERY steam customer. Not only in Metacritic’s and Gamespot’s home turf the US but everywhere. (At least also in Europe, so I guess it might even be displayed all over the world.)
I hope that editors learn from this. Think twice about letting some freelance punk publish a review on your site without having someone run a quick fact check, especially when it is listed on Metacritic.