THQ has just suffered a giant single-day drop in its stock following a lukewarm Homefront Metacritic score. This is everything that's wrong with our industry.
Metacritic, the review score aggregating site, is a harsh mistress. Many reviewers dislike the site for what it's done to the industry, while many developers live and die by nothing more than its ability to provide a single, average number. Today, THQ's pretty much learnt that lesson the hard way.
There's a lot wrong with this picture, and it illustrates many of the flaws in the way the games industry - development, publishing, and journalism - operates at the moment.
First up, is Metacritic itself. Given that, at time of writing, it's only collating 32 titles in its tracking of Homefront on Xbox 360, it must be pointed out this represents the enormous influence Metacritic has. By merely reporting on the opinions of, basically, 32 or so individuals, THQ's lost money in terms of stock, pre-orders and in sheer good will. And this, despite Metacritic's own report that fully HALF of the reviews are positive.
And don't even get us started about the fact that when it comes to user reviews, the vast majority are in actually positive.
This modern reliance on Metacritic's even more problematic, because it completely invalidates the most important part of the review process. That is, the hundreds if not thousands of words that give any given score context. Any one of those 'average' reviews could praise Homefront - many of them do, in fact - but the scores taken in isolation don't help anyone. Not gamers, not reviewers, and certainly not THQ or other publishers.
The second problem here is that Metacritic only has this much weight because readers and in particular developers give it to them. In fact, it was at a Relic hosted event for the THQ-published Space Marine where the devs present made a big point at the top of their presentation about how well their games have done on Metacritic - as if it's Metacritic they're impressing, not a global audience of reviewers.
Gamers too, do this. There are many who openly claim to not be interested in reviews, who in fact believe reviewers to be corrupt and on the take, but do rely Metacritic scores. To this, we can only say... 'What is this... I don't even.'
However, in this instance, there's one more culprit that cannot be overlooked, and that's THQ itself, and to a lesser degree Kaos Studios itself.
THQ's hyped Homefront to within an inch if itself. And hey, if it's got a property it thinks is the bee's knees, more power to 'em. But to hype a product like Homefront, with a singleplayer game that can be completed in a mere two hours, seems suicidal. We know that in this CoD era multiplayer (and Homefront's is pretty strong) is what gives a game real longevity, but to have such an afterthought of a campaign - no matter how clever, well-realised or impactful - seems little short of negligent.
THQ, with its neat marketing tricks, has effectively given itself just enough rope to hang. The part that we, is a willing and complicit media, plays in this is also up for debate. We certainly hyped the game, playing our own little role in this drama, but we'll leave that discussion to you, the readers.
And what's super ironic about all this, is that we've only just started our review... and it seems like it's already a moot point. What do you guys think?