Predicting Metacritic Game Scores

AT THE START OF EVERY YEAR, I like to make a list of the games that are supposed to be released and that I am looking forward to. But this year I did something a little different–I added a number beside each title, predicting the game’s eventual Metacritic score.

In recent years Metacritic scores have been a site of some controversy. Some developers and PR firms have revealed that a game’s final score will determine if bonuses are handed out after the game has shipped. Tying a monetary reward to a website’s arbitrary score, they argue, is unfair and punitive. Indeed, while Metacritic tries to average out all the numbers from various reviews, which particular review sources they consider legitimate is entirely determined by them.

Now, I should probably warn you–I am not a professional games journalist. I started writing these occasional columns a month ago. Developers don’t jet me to their studios to get ‘hands-on impressions.’ For me, this was a theoretical exercise, but an interesting one.

Every day, I suck on the PR teat of the industry. I go to the blogs. Watch the videos. Read actual journalists’ impressions. Sometimes though, as a fan, you can get a sense of what the eventual game will be like. $60 per game is a lot to spend on a hunch, so paying attention to what they leak to us is important. Every time something comes out, whether it’s a screenshot or gameplay video we build up a slow picture of what the final experience will be like. So I did this because I care about games, but also because I didn’t want to waste my money.

As of this writing, seven games on my list have already come out:

Syndicate: My prediction: 80. Metacritic score: 74.
SSX: My prediction: 90. Metacritic score: 82.
Mass Effect 3: My prediction: 95. Metacritic score: 93.
Ninja Gaiden 3: My prediction: 80. Metacritic score: 58.
Resident Evil - Operation Raccoon City: My prediction: 75. Metacritic score: 54.
Armored Core V: My prediction: 80. Metacritic score: 68.
Journey: My prediction: 95. Metacritic score: 92.

As you can see, my predictions are pretty crude. Also, I’m way too optimistic. As an alpha gamer, I want to believe that these games are going to be great. That’s what the hype machine depends upon. Ultimately however, this exercise was more like a barometer of my personal excitement for any particular game, rather than an accurate assessment of what the game would be like.

A couple years back, I read this book: The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki. The idea was that sometimes a random crowd could predict something more accurately as a collective than a few experts in the field. There was this one example that always stuck out at me.

How to best guess how many jelly beans in a jar? Jack Treynor, a finance professor, got his class of 56 students to prognosticate. In actuality there were 850 jelly beans, but when each individual guess was added together and averaged out, the class collectively guess 871. Pretty damn close. And actually, only one student had a closer guess. The takeaway is that we know more than we think we do, but only if we combine forces.

I’m betting that if I got 100 alpha gamers, people like me, for whom gaming is their preferred primary hobby, who follow the hype machine, to guess Metacritic scores for this coming year, each of our individual guesses would be way off. But collectively, we might hit some home runs. We would almost be a Metacritic for Metacritic.

Here are the rest of my predictions for the coming year of gaming. This is not an exhaustive list, and will largely reflect my interests. It’s also based on nothing but my hopes and dreams and whatever media I’ve managed to inhale about that particular game.

Aliens – Colonial Marines: 75
Amazing Spider-Man: 95
Bioshock Infinite: 100
Borderlands: 2: 95
Brothers in Arms: Furious: 4: 85
Darksiders: 2: 75
Diablo 3: 95
Dishonored: 80
DmC: 85
Dragon’s Dogma: 70
Far Cry 3: 85
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier: 85
Grand Theft Auto V: 100
Halo 4: 85
Inversion: 60
The Last Guardian: 85
The Last of Us: 95
Lego Batman 2: 85
Lollipop Chainsaw: 75
Max Payne 3: 95
Metro: Lost Light: 80
Prey 2: 95
Prototype 2: 65
South Park RPG: 90
Spec Ops – The Line: 70
Stalker 2: 85
Tomb Raider: 95
Transformers – Fall of Cybertron: 90

It’ll be fun to look back.

Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of 5 books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.

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