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Mind Over Meta

Posted on Friday, July 14 @ 12:14:15 PST by Joe_Dodson

Before we began our inquisition, RottenTomatoes was our favorite aggregate site on the Internet, mainly for their old-school cred and the way they handle movie reviews. Thanks to their simple Fresh or Rotten rating, you could tell at a glance if the film was critically lauded or lambasted.

So we were shocked when we discovered that their games section works about as well as a Uwe Boll trailer. Their biggest problem is that they consider any grade under 80% to be Rotten. According to the source:


Although most publishers rate games on a 1-10 scale, it is a rarity for a game to get a score below 6. Because game reviews are mostly positive (a very high majority fall in the 7-10 range), the cutoff for a Fresh Tomato is raised to 8/10. This higher cutoff actually produces a wider spread of Tomatometer scores that is equivalent to movies; otherwise, almost all games are recommended!

In other words, because the video game industry has so much trouble criticizing games, RottenTomatoes is going to do it for them. This completely defeats the purpose of a metareview site. If a critic gives a game a 7.9 - which any sort of math in any sort of country equates to at least “decent” - and RottenTomatoes converts that score to a Rotten rating, they are misleading consumers and misrepresenting their source. By manipulating the hard data to conform to their crazy theory, they are, in effect, metatorializing. Someone please add that to Merriam-Webster.
This meta madness is exacerbated by RottenTomatoes’ stance that at least 60% of a product’s reviews must be Fresh in order for that product to receive an overall Fresh grade. In their own words:

In order for a movie to receive an overall rating of FRESH, the reading on the Tomatometer for that movie must be at least 60%. Otherwise, it is ROTTEN. Why 60%? We feel that 60% is a comfortable minimum for a movie to be recommended.”

(They’re talking movies here, but this cutoff applies to every medium RottenTomatoes covers.)

Let’s take a look at how this scheme affects an actual game, such as Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the Xbox 360. King Kong is considered Rotten even though four of the seven reviews are Fresh. You might also notice that one of the reviews doesn’t seem to be registering. However, since that reviewer gave the game a 7.9, his score would still be Rotten, and so would the game’s aggregate score.

Not fresh.

How screwy does it get? Well, consider that The Godfather for the Xbox is 100% Fresh, while the PS2 version barely keeps its spot in the fridge with a 67. Meanwhile, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat 360 is downright Rotten (50%), which is nothing compared to the stench of Odama (which only managed to score a 0%. Even we’re not that mean.)

Part of the reason RottenTomatoes is so broken - aside from their stupid scoring conversion - is that they only use submitted reviews. Most RottenTomatoes scores are only based on the opinions of four or five reviewers, so you aren’t really getting an accurate look at the majority of the industry, but rather a completely random sampling of whoever happened to fill out the right forms. And more often than not, you aren’t getting any sort of look at all, because many games don’t have the minimum number of reviews to warrant an aggregate score (five).

If you look at the PS2 Racing section for the past 12 months, for instance, you’ll see that out of twenty-nine entries, only four games have tomatoes. Ironically, none of those feature reviews from IGN, and IGN owns RottenTomatoes. Time to sell!

For all this, we think deserves an 89 out of 100. Unfortunately, our cutoff for a Fresh is 90, making their site certifiably Rotten. What can we say? In California, we have high standards for our produce.

And our critics.


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