Canada takes Metacritic game reviews by storm

14 Mar
Canada didn't just whip U.S. butt in 1812; we've also done it in mainstream games coverage.

Canada didn’t just whip U.S. butt in 1812; we’ve also done it in mainstream games coverage.

It’s been a good week for Canada and video games, with both the Toronto Sun and the National Post finally getting included in Metacritic‘s video game listings. The two newspapers join The Globe and Mail  (and your’s truly) to form a trio of mainstream media representation on the important aggregation site, a claim only one other country can make. It’s a significant development for several reasons.

For the uninitiated, Metacritic is a hugely important entertainment review aggregator. The site’s editors curate a list of critics in four categories – movies, games, television and music – and present their respective findings as an averaged score. The usefulness of this is obvious: one or two critics can be wrong about a particular piece of entertainment, but the average of dozens – the wisdom of the masses – is a pretty good overall indicator of its quality. So, while Time magazine tells us that Argo was only a so-so movie deserving of a 5 out of 10, yet the critical consensus is 86 out of 100, we can generally judge that it’s actually pretty good (even if it is horribly inaccurate).

As a user, I don’t find the site to be too useful for TV shows or music; reviews of the first are generally based only on pilots or the first few episodes, while I’m not interested in reviews of the second much anymore. With movies, though, I live and die by Metacritic scores. I generally go see highly rated movies, whatever they’re about, and skip the low ones (sorry, Adam Sandler). Game scores, meanwhile, are also hugely important for many potential buyers, not to mention the makers themselves. Some publishers award bonuses to developers based on the Metacritic score of their game.

Inclusion is also important for news outlets. Because of its popularity, organizations in Metacritic’s listings usually see higher traffic to their reviews. That means more advertising, plus more influence.

But not everyone gets included. In our admission process, editor Marc Doyle wanted to see a commitment to regular reviews and a history of doing so, as well as a high level of quality in those reviews. And because this is video games we’re talking about, he also wanted to ensure that new recruits practice journalistic ethics, since corruption has been a problem. Some reviewers “can absolutely be bought,” he has said.

Don’t get me wrong – there are many enthusiast sites that stick to good journalistic practices, while corruption and ethical transgressions can certainly happen at mainstream news outlets too. But if mainstream newspapers still have anything going for them, it’s some sense of integrity or trust associated with their brands. At the very least, mainstream outlets are not entirely dependent on game publishers for advertising revenue like some enthusiast publications are, so there’s a lower potential for conflicts of interest.

Aside from that, newspapers also carry an element of mainstream recognition and the potential for market expansion. Sure, if you’re really interested in games, you’ll seek out an IGN or Kotaku. But if you’re only marginally interested or not at all (but could be), the places you’re likely to hear about them are The Globe, Post or Sun. Mainstream outlets can thus be important to the core market, but also the much larger potential market.

I’ve written before about the big differences in the types of outlets Metacritic lists for movies and games. On the movie side, it’s virtually all mainstream while in games, it’s almost all enthusiast publications. Canada, along with the U.K., is now at the head of the pack with three mainstream representatives (plus Canadian Online Gamers on the enthusiast side). Amazingly, the two countries lead everyone else, including the United States.

Doyle says he’d like to get more mainstream outlets in so that games can be taken more seriously as a form of art and entertainment. Obviously, that’s a goal we share. It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps outlets in other countries – especially the U.S. – will look at the list and think, ‘Hey, if there are so many Canadians on there, we should be too.”

This is also particularly important for Canadian media, since we often get lumped in with U.S. press and therefore disincluded from news, events and advance review copies of games, even when these products are designed on our own soil. (See Assassin’s Creed-gate, parts one and two). It’s amazing that with all the effort publishers put into catering to U.S. gaming journalists, it’s mainstream Canadian media outlet and journalists – not American ones – who are actually putting the effort and resources into covering the medium.

With the growing influence of Canadian mainstream media in video game coverage, perhaps these publishers will pay more attention to our country. And not just when it’s time to cash in on their tax subsidies.


Posted by on March 14, 2013 in journalism, video games


7 responses to “Canada takes Metacritic game reviews by storm

  1. trixxiii

    March 14, 2013 at 12:10 am

    yeah our gamers rox and im one of em LOL

  2. Malgrim

    March 14, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Eh, I don’t know if I would trust a review from a non-gaming news outlet. I’m Canadian, by the way. Sure, globalization is cool and all, but seriously, I just don’t think I’m going to ever read a review from them. Different strokes for different folks.

    • Peter Nowak

      March 14, 2013 at 12:50 am

      That’s interesting. I’d love to hear why?

    • craigbamford

      March 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Sometimes they can be useful as a different perspective. The enthusiast press, as much as I like them, can get a bit caught up in opinion waves at times, which can end up biting them (and consumers) in the butt when they make a bad call. That’s happened with games where there are big flaws that go unaddressed (like Rage, Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3, and now SimCity) and with underappreciated titles too.

      Adding in “outsiders” can serve as a useful corrective there.

      Peter: Is there any particular reason why the Star isn’t on Metacritic? Do they even do game reviews?

      • Peter Nowak

        March 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

        Good points, although I’m one of the few that still likes the Mass Effect 3 ending.

        In regards to the Star, I think it may be that they don’t have the frequency of reviews that Metacritic is looking for, but I could be wrong.

  3. parridoxrian.

    March 14, 2013 at 5:39 am

    One reason is ” They can get off topic ” . You say GAMER = Willing to pay $ 350.00 for there video card. Having at least minimal 4 Gig RAM,550 Watt Power supply. Onboard video sucks in games, no power possibly a heat issue for one thing. Windows XP or Win 7 is ok, but most talk about upgrades, patching games, such.
    Peter if you like to open a can of beans then start blogging why VoIP is not sweeping Canada like the USA. Or that not good enough, talking about the Wireless Spectrum sale of 700MHz airwaves. That is where all Canadians gave up the rights of free TV. Too end up paying unheard of rates to big business. When Government sell it off, will we get a lot less for more overblown Internet rates for the wireless we pay threw our teeth for now.
    Why do not all Canadians please stand up for what is there, free tv for the last 40 or 50 years. Giving all away for to be a customer of higher rates. Do they do all of this in Europe?
    When we as the people get a break from all of this wonderful Tech, ask a cell phone user if they like higher DATA Plans or something. Good Luck Canada as a people for what is fair, right, an JUST for all.!!

  4. Davor

    March 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I don’t know if having mainstream publications listed on metacritic is a good thing. For starters, the gaming portion of metacritic is over-saturated. In comparison to their movies and music sections, the gaming one has more than double the number of listed publications. How reliable is one site over the other?

    Then you have the problem with the fact that mainstream media don’t report on Gaming news on a regular basis. Something like the SimCity debacle, BioShock Infinite or Minecraft might get reported, but latest-breaking news or even stuff that would be considered off-the-cuff doesn’t get talked about. Yes, you mentioned that people should go to a Polygon or a GameSpot to get their daily gaming fix, but when you couple that with the over-filled gaming section of metacritic, a review from the Globe & Mail will not get the attention.

    Then you have the issue where there are so few known Gaming Media Personalities in Canada. Outside of yourself and Steve Tilley, there really aren’t any known commodities.

    (I have to exclude Marc Saltzman since his Tech bits at Cinemas is identical in french and english, so who’s actually writing that stuff? Also, he appears more like a hype person than an actual critic)

    Since we have so few known people to trust, if a new person comes on the scene (however unlikely), how reliable will be what they write about. Then you have the fact that since so many newspapers are run by the same company, a review by Steve Tilley is appearing in 7 different papers, not exactly helpful.

    If Metacritic broke up their reviews like Rotten Tomatoes, separating gaming reviews into categories (eg. Mainstream, Daily-Regular Gaming Sites and Smaller pages), then this would be a much bigger deal. But the way it stands, this really doesn’t change anything

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