In today's day and age, review aggregators hold tremendous influence over consumer purchase decisions. Whether it be film, gaming, or music, review averages have pushed single outlets to the wayside, offering consumers an easily digestible way to determine how a product has been received by the press. With this information readily available, reading about the strengths and weaknesses of a product has become second to the number attached to it.
In the case of the gaming industry review averages have become one of the most significant purchase influencers, with Metacritic being the premier site for review aggregation. Developers have specifically cited Metascores as the deciding factor for cash bonuses being rewarded or withheld for a team. Meanwhile, many consumers will turn a shoulder to any game that doesn't average above a certain threshold.
Despite sites like Metacritic bearing tremendous responsibility, they continue to suffer from design shortcomings of ages past.
Enter OpenCritic, a soon-to-be published site headed by four team members that is looking to change the way that consumers not only view game reviews, but how they interact with them. The site has been designed from the ground up to be gamer-centric, focusing on the needs of gamers. This design philosophy stems from the passion for gaming that all four team members share.
Matthew Enthoven, Charles Green, Aaron Rutledge, and Rich Triggs have personally experienced the issues with sites like GameRankings and Metacritic over the years. Without a solution in sight, they decided to band together and tackle the problems head-on by introducing a product of their own.
There are five core design elements that make OpenCritic an extremely attractive game review aggregate solution. For one, it refuses to employ the hidden back-end weighting system that competitors offer. Instead of allowing particular sites to have more influence on a review average than others, everyone is treated the same. This provides equal impact for all sites regardless of traffic.
In addition, instead of the team deciding which sites will weigh on an average—which I would like to note has brought with it some shady politics—,OpenCritic allows users to choose which publications it trusts. Although all approved sites will be enabled by default, if a user finds a particular publication untrustworthy or inconsistent, they can be disabled from a readily-accessible settings menu. The result of this simple action is every game on the site will no longer show a review from that publication, or have its review scores calculated in the averages.
As far as which sites OpenCritic has approved goes, it is being transparent about its standards. A publicly verifiable standards page will be available at launch, and its criteria are fair in their current iteration.
Over the past few years it's become increasingly common for websites to update their review to reflect post-launch concerns or improvements. Take for example Eurogamer which has dropped its scoring system to instead drive the focus of readers on the written body of their works. Other sites have considered doing the same, but are apprehensive about losing cross-site traffic. OpenCritic looks to support such a transition for the first time in the history of video game review aggregators by including non-score reviews. These don't have an effect on the review average, but are given just as much visibility as other reviews.
Made better, every review will have its author listed. This not only provides accountability, but also allows consumers to quickly view who wrote the review. Using this information, consumers can become familiar with which writers they share a common interest with, and avoid those that cause regular disagreement. After all, sometimes it's the writer that poses an issue, not the publication.
The fifth core design element is an extremely important one. OpenCritic will not only support review-in-progress, but will allow for post-review updates to be reflected on the site. This will make publications feel less obligated to have a review up at embargo (i.e. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), and feel encouraged to update their review in the event that drastic improvements are made (i.e. Driveclub).
All these design elements come together to deliver something that isn't just useful, it's potentially industry-changing. Game reviews have desperately needed a shake-up for many years now, to a point where they've become a major point of controversy. It shouldn't be that way, and review aggregates are as much to blame as gaming sites.
OpenCritic has a lot more to offer, including game launch hubs that will help to "immortalize a game". The site will become more than just a place to see whether or not a game is received well by critics, it will be a place for consumers to find information about a title, and become more familiar with what they're about. Reviews are just one piece of the big picture.
With all this ambition taken into consideration, it may surprise you to know that OpenCritic has been fully funded by its team. It isn't asking for hand-outs, and equally as surprising is almost ready to launch. I've personally tested the product, and have been astounded by its well thought-out features and intuitive design. Soon, OpenCritic will hit the internet and empower gamers.