We have a complicated relationship with Metacritic here at Dealspwn. Though we're not currently represented on-site, we love the fact that it collects and corrals critical opinion from across the internet into one convenient place. Users can access a wealth of differing viewpoints with a single search, allowing them to read the most positive, negative and middling articles before deciding which particular critic they identify with most. At a basic level, then, Metacritic is profoundly brilliant.
The Metascore is obviously pointless. Review scores only make sense in context with other reviews from the same site, since each publication has unique scoring criteria and puts different weighting on the various technical and artistic aspects of each title. Us critics are informed by our own unique experience and tastes, not to mention that we write for different audiences. Trying to average and make sense of review scores as a whole, therefore, is useless - without context, they literally mean nothing whatsoever. It's sometimes depressing to see both gamers, publishers and pundits read far too much into this arbitrary number, which is too broad to be useful at best and disingenuous at worst. Plus, so long as you make the time to read it, it's the text that counts.
However, in my personal opinion, Metacritic's most far-reaching and arguably damaging effect on the industry is also one of its most subtle; a case of unintentional brainwashing that has helped to massively skew review scores towards the 80-100% end of the spectrum. It's as simple as the colour yellow.
Videogame criticism has received is own share of criticism over the last console generation for handing out far too many eights, nines and tens, while many gamers now view 7/10 as average or even poor. This simply isn't true. 70% means that a game is good, so far above average that it deserves instant attention for genre fans. If a 5/10 score means a game is not bad, then two steps up is seriously good going.
So why the hate for poor old 5, 6 and 7? The base quality of games has increased, certainly. The worst games now are better than the worst games of yesteryear, while the average quality of released titles is usually solid and playable. As critics, we've also perhaps been too generous with our 8s and 9s over the last few years, creating some unfortunate benchmarks.
But in the background sits Metacritic, who made the decision to use the colour yellow to indicate a score between 50-74%.
Yellow is not a wholesome colour.
Yellow is indecisive, as anyone who's stopped at a traffic light will tell you. Yellow is hazardous, the colour of warning signs. Yellow is cowardly, hence 'yellow-bellied.' It's associated with stinging insects, poisonous reptiles, pus, bile, urine, decay, disease, jaundice, heightened terror alerts, lethal levels of electricity and radioactivity amongst other terrible things.
Yes, yellow also has some positive connotations. We like lemony-freshness and the healing power of the sun. Bananas are tasty, and seeing as I'm half-Welsh, I love me some daffodils. But these few good things conspire to create a wave of conflicting emotions every time we see the complex colour.
So when you behold a Metascore or review score of 70%, set against a stark yellow background, common sense tries to tell you that it's a good game. Of course it is. Yet, in the back of your mind, an irrational and primal voice tells you to "stop." "Something's wrong here," it says. "This could be dangerous." Just like approaching a blinking amber traffic light, wasp or bright yellow snake, it's almost impossible not to get caught in a moment of complete indecision, a feeling that sticks with you every time you see the number elsewhere. The link has been made. 7 is bad. Unsettling. Bilious. Even though it isn't.
Due to Metacritic's ubiquitous popularity, the 50-74% band has been irrevocably and subconsciously linked with this colour, both for gamers, consumers and us hacks alike. Though it's definitely an unfair question after mentioning it so many times (I freely admit), try imagining the number 7 in your mind's eye. What colour is it? Thought so. The brainwashing is subtle and unintentional, yet powerful and incredibly insidious.
The fact that 7 has been banded together with 5 and 6 doesn't make any sense, either.
I'd love to see my fellow critics making an effort to revisit the sub-80% score bracket, and many of us have been doing so. As one of the current industry leaders, however, I feel that Metacritic should look into re-evaluating its colour scheme as part of a wider exploration of what each particular score criteria actually means. A darker shade of green for 70-80%, followed by a more vibrant hue for the very best games, could be a great place to start. Not to mention the triumphant power of royal blue. It's not really about the colour. It's about reinstating the humble 7 to its rightful place, and remembering what score thresholds really mean before getting back on track.
Don't even get me started on the capable '6.'
Or, dear reader, perhaps it's best to ignore the numbers altogether - forever - and focus on what we have to say?