Struggling with Victoria

To my astonishment and horror, Metacritic decided that my B- is a 67 / 100 for Victoria II. Personally I’d put the game in the neighborhood of 75 if I were grading on that scale.

It’s annoying, because Metacritic already weighs on my mind when I’m assigning a score. I had a hard time deciding whether Victoria II was a C+ or a B-, and I decided that Metacritic’s penchant for low-balling letter grades would be the tie breaker. I didn’t realize that it would still interpret a B as disdain. But if I weight Metacritic any more heavily, the scores I assign will be useless for GameShark readers.

However, the Metacritic score is emblematic of a problem I’m having when I talk about Victoria II: I keep coming across as more negative than I strictly want to be. I know why this is, of course. You can analyze and explain problems much more easily than you can express praise, and Victoria II’s best aspects are difficult to put into coherent thoughts. Zoom in on any part of Victoria II, and a lot of problems appear. Look at it more holistically, and it’s virtues are clearer.

The other week on Three Moves Ahead I brought up my concern that it’s harder to strike a middle-ground with reviewing games than it is with other media. For one thing, so much of the audience for games writing seem to interpret reviews and scores through a thumbs-up or thumbs-down lens. For another, games are kind of expensive and playing them takes a lot time, two factors that I think discourage risk-taking on the part consumers. When I write a review of a new game, I have this fear that for a lot of people the decision they make on launch day will be final. That they won’t remember what I or other reviewers said in 3 months when the game is on sale, just that the game didn’t sound like it was worth buying. Plus, anyone who follows the industry knows that publishers and developers live and die with early sales.

Maybe none of this should be my concern. But it’s hard to ignore.

Victoria II is a game that I would buy regardless of its problems. I wrote the opening of my review with myself in mind: someone who loves history and the Victorian Era. Someone whose daydreams are filled with Prussian armies, British ministers, and American progressives. Someone who mourns the world that was lost in the trenches, and the stolen future that might have been ours, if cooler heads and better angels had prevailed. Even though I ultimately shift gears and criticize Victoria II as a strategy game, I think it’s an important game for a certain kind of player. And I hope he’ll read my opening paragraphs and decide that’s enough for him.

    • Ruberton
    • August 26th, 2010 6:37am

    Did you try e-mailing the Metacritic guys? The only person they’ll take advice from on score adjustments is the critic himself, i.e. you.

      • Flitcraft
      • August 26th, 2010 1:22pm

      Yeah, I just sent them an email. I feel bad, because a lot of the stuff I review is kind of niche-targeted. So I’m like one of 6 people who shows up with a score.

      Really, I think they just mis-handle letter grades. When a critic assigns an F, he’s saying, “This game is crap, stay away.” But Metacritic places an F at a zero, and then spreads the rest of the grading scale from 0-100. But the truth is that an F is just a failure, and we’re not interested in deciding whether the game is a 0 or a 35. The point remains that nobody should buy it.

    • Julian
    • August 26th, 2010 4:05pm

    I’m not sure I understand why they don’t correlate letter grades roughly to their grade school percentage equivalent. I mean, there’s an established convention for numerical conversion in place here!

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