You Know What This Is About

by Meghan Watt

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The most recent issue of Game Informer (the one with The Beatles: Rock Band cover) contains an article titled “Critical Mass,” in which Glen Schofield complained a lot which details the advantages and disadvantages of Metacritic. I highly advise that you read the article in its entirety, but we’re going to focus on a little blurb in the upper right hand corner of the second page where GI and Glen Schofield, the executive producer of Dead Space, seem to agree on something rather upsetting.

Companies could also be more self-selective about what opinions they decided should matter in an attempt to tune out some of the static.  Schofield says that in the case of Dead Space‘s near-miss of a 90 Metacritic rating, it turned out that the game’s lowest score was from a freelancer that a particular magazine had hired.  This made him question the score.  “They just picked up a freelance person and he or she did a review on it, and so, you know, I wonder, why would we give so much weight to that?  Maybe that person’s favorite video games were sports, and maybe shouldn’t be doing this kind of game.”

I want to jump right into this with the disclaimer that, yes, I’m the aforementioned “freelancer.”

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Issue 1: The Freelancer

Journalism lesson number one: fact-checking.  At the time that I reviewed Dead Space, I was an intern at Official Xbox Magazine, not a freelancer.  Sure, you could see this as, “Oops, they didn’t know,” but Schofield also wasn’t aware that I’m a girl.  This makes me question whether he ever read the review.  He certainly didn’t see the byline.  For putting so much weight into that solo 6.5  he could have at least given my review a glance.  If he had read my review, he would have known that I am an avid fan of horror games and simply didn’t see Dead Space as anything of the sort.  But that’s another point entirely.

Issue 2: Freelancers in General

Schofield’s comment on freelancers is, frankly, terribly ignorant, and GI did nothing to defend the profession that keeps most gaming magazines and sites well-stocked.  He first suggests that a freelancer is unqualified to write a review.  Your average Joe may not be qualified, but freelancers aren’t just some shmuck gamers the editor picked up at Dave and Buster’s.  It takes a lot to get on a publication’s freelance list: published reviews, solid references, writing that adheres to the publication’s particular style, and so on.

He further insinuates that a well-established magazine (in this case, OXM) hires freelancers on a whim, tosses their reviews into the magazine, and doesn’t take a second glance at the score.  Schofield is essentially insulting every editor that’s ever hired a freelancer.

Editors are neither lazy nor careless.  Firstly, editors heavily research a freelancer before assigning him (ahem, or her) a piece.  They read the freelancer’s published reviews, Google his or her name for a solid background check, and talk with the freelancer one-on-one.  They then hand the freelancer a small, bound-to-be-forgotten game like BlazBlu: Calamity Trigger.  If they approve of the work, they may toss ’em something bigger next time.  Oh, and they edit the review too.  It’s why they’re called “editors.”

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Furthermore, editors don’t hand out assignments all willy-nilly.  Notice in OXM how Fran Reyes, the Editor-in-Chief, always gets the J-RPGs?  She lives for them while the other staffers cringe at the sight of all those spikey-haired pretty boys.  When it comes to genre, freelancers also get to pick and choose.  Editors ask at the beginning what games the writer prefers and assigns accordingly.

In my case, since I was sitting just a few feet from my editor, he stood up, looked over the cubicle wall and asked me if I liked horror games.  I said something along the lines of, “Hell yeah!  I’ve played all the Resident Evils, every Silent Hill, and Condemned 2.”  I was excited to play another, supposedly revolutionary horror IP.  Luckily enough, I was simultaneously testing the Turtle Beach Ear Force X4 headset — noise cancellation and surround sound.  Perfect for horror, right?

Back on track: renowned mags and sites typically require a secondary review whether the writer is a freelancer or the editor-in-chief.  It may not be published, but, like OXM, someone else on the staff has played the game.  If the two disagree, they either rework the review or give the writer a kill-fee and hire someone else.  In some cases, the entire staff might have a meeting to discuss each and every score, from the obscure XBLA title to Halo 3.  So yes, someone at OXM played Dead Space and everyone on the staff gave the go-ahead to print.

Issue 3: The “Static”

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If a reviewer has the minority opinion, this is apparently called “static” that should maybe be “tuned out.”  Remember when your elementary teachers would say something like, “I didn’t give you a D, you earned a D?”  Same here.  OXM, Eurogamer, Wired, and EGM (four highly regarded publications) didn’t give Dead Space lower than an 8 just to watch Schofield sob in a corner.  We believed that the game didn’t earn anything more.  It was not worthy of Schofield’s coveted 9.  Other prestigious publicatons — 1up, G4, IGN — didn’t think the game deserved a 9 either.

“How do you get 51 that are above 90 and end up with 89?” asks Schofield.  Again, please fact-check.  Metacritic said they based the number on 79 reviews, not 90.  And it’s a weighted average.  Companies already are self-selective about what opinions they believe should matter.  In this case, they believed that 6.5 (only .5 lower than the next one up) mattered. Ironic, since Schofield himself wonders, “why would we give so much weight to that?”.

Aaaand that’s all I have to say on the matter.  Please feel free to comment on this part, the entire article, Schofield, Dead Space, what’s with the giant graphs on page 12 and 13 of GI, or whatever else you have on your mind.  Cheers!

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