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.