Metacritic Mind Games (Updated)

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

I can’t fucking believe I’m actually writing about this. I can’t believe that this is a thing that needs to be written about.

This matters little to anyone who isn’t in the business of making games. But a story in Gamesradar makes note that a recent job listing for a Design Manager over at Irrational Games is requesting, under “Requirements”, that applicants have “Credit on at least one game with an 85+ Average Meta Critic Review Score.”

Let me make a rest-of-the-world analogy for you.

Didn’t make Dean’s List in college? Don’t apply.

Didn’t go to Harvard? Don’t apply.

Worked your butt off in a dysfunctional environment, won internal accolades and industry respect even though your product was a public failure? Don’t apply.

Made a product that was too local, indie or grassroots to gain national attention? Don’t fucking apply. Also, stop stinking up our inbox, you filthy hippie.

It could be argued that Irrational is in serious, immediate need of a Big Player. Bioshock Infinite is less than a year from release, and any sudden need for a design manager who can Kick Ass, Take Names AND Chew Gum is totally understandable. But there’s a way to get that type of proven talent without such blatant nickel-and-diming of applicants. It’s called headhunting. Sure, it costs money. But it costs money because it saves money. That’s your shortlist. Not having the poor bastard applicants do it for themselves.

Most gaming companies want experience. Most AAA developers ask for at least three delivered-to-shelf products as standard proof of that experience. Because we go by product cycles, not years, that request makes sense to anyone in the industry. “Can you finish? Can you deliver?” is close, if not equal to “How many years did you work the ER?” or “How long have you been the General Manager for the Eastern Seaboard markets?” And if someone has put in the time, that’s when you find out about their qualities, character, and performance level. And it’s not always as simple as a (lately ever-more-contested) number.

For example, from the ever-witty individuals over at Reddit Games:

Tolkfan 16 points 51 minutes ago:

Imagine how stupid it would sound if they did this with movies:

Guy 1: I made The Matrix, Godfather Part II and Batman Begins. Can I have a job at your studio?

Employer: Nope, sorry, we only take people with 85+ metacritic movies

Guy 2: Hey, I made Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II, can I work here?

Employer: OMG! YES!

And there it is.

Just so I don’t get accused of sour grapes, I’d like to note that I pass the Metacritic requirement for the Irrational position (score only, obviously—I can barely manage getting my dogs to poop outside the house, to say nothing of wrangling a design team) and yeah, it feels damn good to have worked on damn good games. But I’ve met plenty of people who are brilliant, hardworking and capable who haven’t got the dubious distinction of a shiny, high number attached to their projects, for multiple reasons. Some of them absolutely deserved that 85+ and simply never got it. Others worked their asses off on a doomed project, sometimes for years.

It’s the precedent that makes me foam at the mouth. When one or two bad reviews can materially affect the career of a developer, to say nothing of the fortunes of an entire company (hi, Obsidian!) this requirement is facile and misguided. In the end, it imposes a brand name logo (MC85+!™) on all potential applicants that unfairly represents the abilities they provide, which ends up crippling not only themselves, but also the companies that think they’re getting superior candidates.

Even so, they will get superior candidates. They just won’t get all of them, or perhaps, even the one they’re looking for. Good luck, guys.

(7/27/12) Update: Two quick things-it looks like the Metascore is no longer an official requirement, so…sweet! Also, a couple people have pointed out to me that there’s nothing wrong with asking for a minimum GPA when advertising for a job, and they’re right.

Why doesn’t that matter regarding the Metascore requirement? Because while you’re in school, you, all by yourself, have almost total control over the grades you receive from your instructors. It’s between you and them. (Maybe a study partner, sometimes.)

Anyone who’s ever worked on a game knows that with very few exceptions, anywhere from 5 to 300 or more people are working with you to get that game shipped. And the greatest project director (or design manager…cough) in the world won’t ever have absolute control over the total output of all those people. A Metascore takes everyone’s development efforts into account, and as a friend pointed out, that’s before publishers and marketing people get their hands on a project. Trying to distill the complexity of the efforts of scores of people down to a single number that will determine an individual’s future goes against the spirit and best intentions of this industry.

(And for those who said I swore too much…poop. Also, farts.)

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4 Responses to Metacritic Mind Games (Updated)

  1. Evan says:

    Amen, Maria. Amen.

    Great post.

  2. Sean A.M. says:

    I enjoyed this article quite a bit, but I take issue with one assertion: GPA is a higher-quality marker of individual achievement (for a job application) than a Metacritic score. This is simply not true; a GPA is just a different representation of different expectations in an equally-broken (if not vastly more dysfunctional) system: modern public education.

    GPA is a reflection of one’s ability to follow prescribed rules and meet (ignorant) expectations; it’s a representation of one’s ability to conform, so maybe in that sense it’s good for a corporate job resume, but it’s just as much an indicator of being able to “play the game” as is a MetaCritic score; most high-profile games (and movies, since you brought that up too) with high MetaCritic scores are easy to digest and do not challenge the sensibilities of the “average” person. (Your example of Godfather Pt. 2 compared to the last Harry Potter movie is a prime example, and I argue this is echoed in game industry MetaCritic scores as well … though “games” are less studied and revered as an art form when compared to movies, so it may be more difficult to establish.)

    (Yes, there are numerous exceptions to this phenomenon, but let’s focus on median experience, and main-stream exposure.)

    I went to public school in the USA. I did not have a good GPA, but I didn’t have any problems getting into college because I could establish myself as a thoughtful individual in other ways; I scored well above 90th-percentile in every category on CAT and SAT, wrote provocative entrance essays, and generally did well in interviews during the admissions process. Why then did I not have a suitable GPA in high school? I reviled the mountains of “fill-in-the-blank” homework from every single class and degrading “open-book” tests. Who are the kids who had god GPAs? The kids who had no qualms reducing themselves to filling-in-the-blanks with their textbooks open. Would that I knew this was also common practice in many institutions of “higher” education, which are essentially a bunch of money-making corporations at present.

    I’m guessing someplace like Valve (for example) doesn’t care about the high-school (or college) GPA of their applicants, but then again Valve isn’t a conformist company; Valve is interested in making their own rules and defining their own success. The person in the HR department at Take 2 (the company which owns Irrational) is probably coming from a more corporate (and less creative) standpoint. The best jobs I have had in my life were the jobs that did not measure my worth by an arbitrary measurement of conformity (GPA, MetaCritic, etc.) but were those which evaluated me based upon my working knowledge of the project at hand, and my ability to conceptualize and communicate productive concepts.

    At the end of the day, the only thing a score like those on offer from MetaCritic and the old GPA reflect are the respective levels of intelligence of the people who come-up with those scores, and the political/intellectual climate of their respective industry; people rate Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 higher than Godfather 2 because most modern humans know less about the art of film-making (and thus have less ability to appreciate it) than they did when Godfather 2 was released, because there are more people who have seen HPDH2, because there are more people who are conditioned to like HPDH2, and because more of those people are more likely to use MetaCritic in-reference to HPDH2; your high-school teachers (and College professors) dole-out higher GPAs to good conformists because it’s easier for them to grade that fill-in-the-blank homework at their paltry salary, and because their jobs are on the line if too many students receive poor grades. (What an idiotic concept: judging performance based upon the presence of grades provided by the person being judged.)

    Nothing should be addressed without context; GPA should not be addressed without mention of the current state of education any more than a MetaCritic score should be mentioned without reference to the current state of the corporate gaming industry (the latter of which you do address.)

    GPA (or any public system of ratings) is just as broken as MetaCritic, and for the same reasons; a rating is only as good as the experience and motivations of the person who gives the rating, and increasingly more often that experience is ever decreasing and those motivations are insincere.

    Sartre was right about awards, which is basically to what a MetaCritic score (or GPA) amounts; it engenders a lack of ability for people to appreciate the “measured” thing based upon their own perception, and only represents a social median of ignorance; it has little to do with the actual quality of the thing which it measures, and only speaks to the motivations of those who provide the award.

  3. Pingback: Irrational Games bruker Metacritic på sitt verste

  4. Adam says:

    So well said. Great post.

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