Over at the mtv blog, Stephen Totilo comments on a practice in the industry (which he calls “common - but not widespread”) of pegging developer bonuses to the scores on Metacritic.

Simply put, if a game fails to achieve a particular high score, the devs don’t get any extra money. That’s irrespective of sales. So a title could sell well but have a “low” score, and the publisher keeps all the money.

If anything shows the industry’s ridiculous obsession with numbers, this is it. And is the “big number” on Metacritic in any way accurate? Not everyone thinks so (see second link at end).

We all know that for certain franchises, a game is likely to make big sales. Grand Theft Auto IV raked in $500 million its first week. It also happened to be a darling of the reviewers. But would a low score from them have even mattered?

I don’t know if Rockstar’s agreement with Take-Two includes a “high score for bonuses” clause. However, suppose for a moment it did. And that the Metacritic score was “too low”. Do you think anyone at Rockstar would be happy to see those sales and know every penny was going to the publisher, just because of a certain number on an aggregation site?

This also brings up the question of how much influence reviews have these days on purchases. The fan base for a particular series (such as GTA) will buy the product as soon as possible, regardless.

After the mess that was Might & Magic VIII, I held off on IX until I heard details from a friend who played it. That was enough to confirm my decision to skip it.

I relayed that information to another friend, who had played all the games in the series so far. I told him, “Don’t buy this one, you won’t like it”. But it was Might & Magic, so he bought it. And he didn’t like it.

So scores in instances like these are meaningless. Of course, there are people who check the numbers before buying a game, but my feeling is that they are a minority. After all, there are products that have been praised in reviews but did poorly at the cash register.

We might think that sales are the best indicator, but there we also have to consider how much marketing was done, and how well it was done. Poor publicity can sink a game, too, reviews or no.

Connecting a bonus to a highly-subjective number is certainly against the best interests of those who develop the games. If “extra money” is going to be handed out, a better method is needed that doesn’t depend on one factor alone.

Low Scores Cost Developers on mtv.com

Why EA, The Industry Shouldn’t Rely On Metacritic on Gamasutra