[Rant] Shame On Activision/Bungie

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MMO Fallout doesn’t appear on Metacritic or Gamerankings, and it never will. Those of you who read our MMOments pieces will know that I refuse to attach a numerical score to my reviews, because the criteria for scoring differs between reviewers and the number is ultimately meaningless and only serves as troll-bait for the inevitable flame war courtesy of our friends in the perpetual hate machine. I also have a measured disdain for Metacritic, who treat all ratings as the same on a percentage scale and, when called out on their inaccuracy, flat out deny that the point scale differs between reviewers.

Destiny currently stands with less than an 80 on Gamerankings as publications continue to come out with reviews labeling the game as “good, but not great.” That’s cool, these reviewers are entitled to their opinions just as you or I are. According to an article I read on VG247, review scores may have cost Bungie $2.5 million in bonuses that would have been paid out had the title achieved higher than a 90% overall rating. The clause was revealed way back when Activision was embroiled in a lawsuit with Call of Duty developers Vince and Zampella.

Let me just say, shame on Activision for putting this clause into their contract and shame on Bungie for accepting it. Tying bonuses to performance is a standard in business, but if you’re going to hold money over a developer’s head, do it in return for sales. The fact that Destiny sold more than $300 million in the first five days should dwarf any talk about review scores, especially when this same panel of apparent experts you’re sticking up on a pedestal generally can’t even agree with one another on what constitutes a good game.

The problem here isn’t with Metacritic or Gamerankings, inaccurate as they may be. The issue lies with an industry that is dependent on the scores of a few people to measure their success, with developers refusing to hire people unless they worked on a game with sufficient ratings, or publishers using the scoring system as a method of withholding deserved money from developers. You’re not making a game for the reviewers, unless you are in which case you may want to rethink your choice of careers. You’re making video games because you hopefully enjoy them yourselves, and you want to sell them to gamers who will enjoy them. To put more weight on the approval of a handful of writers, most of whom have little more qualifications than the simple fact that they have an audience, rather than the purchasing power of the market is not only short-sighted, it’s self destructive in the long term.

If Michael Bay’s performance was based on review scores, his movies would be considered utter failures, but I get the feeling that Bay can’t hear his critics from under the mountains of money that he pulls in with the movies that he directs, not to mention the smaller mountains of money from the movies that he produces. Michael Bay doesn’t care that film critics don’t like his movies, because he doesn’t base his success on the opinion of critics. Age of Extinction broke $1 billion worldwide, I somehow doubt that Paramount Pictures is going to be withholding his bonus because the film didn’t get a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Otherwise I have no strong feelings on the topic.

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  • truthmonger

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of a publisher tying any sort of bonus to overall reviews. But you know what? I actually LOVE that idea. In fact the only way I would love it more was if the ratings in questions were ONLY from players and not “professional” writers. Mind you I DO think that some part of a studio’s bonuses should definitely be tied to sales – maybe even the majority of it. Still, considering the amount of schlock that the EAs, Activisions and others have been shoveling onto us for the past several years, I think that encouraging quality as well as developer hype is a great concept.