The Nasty Business Of Using Review Scores To Drive Traffic
This is one of those tricky, sticky, controversial topics that can incite plenty of anger and outright hostility.
But for the sake of consumer understanding, it should be addressed. Let's take a very recent example to kick things off; you might be familiar:
Naughty Dog's The Last Of Us currently holds a Metascore of about 96, making it one of the highest-rated games in video game history. Personally, I agree with the majority. However, as always, there are a few statistical outliers; in this case, it's Polygon's much-publicized 7.5 score for what many have deemed a total masterpiece.
Critic Philip Kollar has taken a lot of flak for that score, and then he got into it with Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida on Twitter. That exchange can be seen here. First, Yoshida takes a little supposed jab by asking, "who are you?" This is followed by a very interesting statement:
"Congratulations, you must have gotten lots of clicks for the review, incl. mine, I would have not read it otherwise."
See now, that opens up a whole new can of worms. Let me give you some insight on this from my perspective, and that perspective includes 13 years of writing for various gaming websites: Reviews for big games often equals big traffic. Everyone wants to read about the latest hotly anticipated title, especially if it's either A. scoring huge, or B. scoring well below what was anticipated. Either option generates plenty of discussion, which in turn generates traffic. However, a site doesn't really have any control over the general reception; it can only control its own review score.
And herein lies an obvious problem, as Yoshida so clearly stated above. One of the best ways to generate traffic is to go against the status quo. It's the easiest thing in the world: If your site needs a traffic boost and a big game is coming up, a regrettably common tactic is to wait for the initial round of reviews, and then run precisely counter. And when you run counter, you do so without any hesitation; go full on. If the game is getting 9s and 10s, give it a 4. If it's getting 4s, give it a 10. You get my drift. Sadly and unfortunately for consumers, this is a very real occurrence. Hey, websites are free; they need to generate revenue, yes?
That's no excuse, of course, but that's the reason editors will give. As for this particular situation, I'm not sure that's what happened. Polygon is too big to care that much about extra traffic. The only question I have concerns how they go about reviewing games:
"Games are not scored until a review is written and finalized. Once a review is complete, the reviewer meets with a group of senior editors to determine which score on our scale properly reflects the text as written. We do not write with scores in mind."
In my honest opinion, that's wrong. Meeting with a group only dilutes everything and completely eradicates the one voice, the one cohesive opinion, that is necessary for writing an accurate review. Trying to incorporate the opinions and thoughts of a big group doesn't do anybody any good, especially when a portion of the analysis is subjective. That's a critically flawed policy in my eyes. That being said, it doesn't mean the reviewer went out of his way to score The Last Of Us low for the sake of traffic. I doubt there was an ulterior motive.
There may have been a personal ulterior motive but hey, this is a crapshoot. Everyone is human. No critic can be 100% objective at all times and for all reviews. And if something about this game really got to Koller, well, so be it. But I just wanted to clarify the subject for those who aren't quite familiar. Yes, it can and does happen. No, I don't believe it happened in this case. It doesn't seem logical.
Related Game(s): The Last Of Us
6/13/2013 10:56:43 PM Ben Dutka