Interview: OpenCritic’s Matthew Enthoven Talks Review Aggregation and Its Challenges
For years there have only been two names when it comes to video game review aggregators: Metacritic and GameRankings. Both of those sites are owned by CBS Interactive, and haven’t seen any overhauls as to how they operate. This was seen as an opportunity by Matthew Enthoven, one of the four founders of OpenCritic, who figured that they could offer innovation and competition. They’ve done just that in the past year, and despite some complaints that I’ve openly voiced, I do feel that the industry is better off with them involved.
To learn what’s next for the website, I reached out and interviewed Matthew Enthoven. We talked about OpenCritic’s progress so far, its competition, and the unique challenges of review aggregation.
PlayStation LifeStyle: OpenCritic has really established itself in the past year, how happy are you with the site so far?
Matthew Enthoven: Very happy, mostly because we’re starting to feel established. We’re used in nearly every review thread on NeoGAF and Reddit. We get shout-outs from the development community. We’re starting to see retailers interested in using our APIs (like Humble Bundle and GamesPlanet). We still feel the support of industry journalists and critics, though we haven’t delivered as much as we’d hoped. In many ways, we feel like we’ve achieved our initial milestone of becoming a trusted review aggregator for the gaming community.
On the other hand, we still feel like we’re in Metacritic’s shadow. One of the most common pieces of feedback we get is “your scores are so similar!” As we look to next year, I think we have to look beyond “review aggregation for core gamers” and start delivering new features that really set us apart and drive the industry forward.
What sort of improvements (if you can talk about any) are you looking to add to the site down the line?
Right now, we have three focal points:
Aggregate way more stuff.
Overhaul the design to allow room for more features while improving accessibility to mainstream gamers.
Make our profiles something that critics, publications, and gamers can be proud to show off.
How has feedback been from games industry folk been? Has there ever been any pushback from any game developers/publishers with how you display the information?
The feedback, so far, has been very positive. We don’t really get comments from them on how we display the information.
What do you feel separates OpenCritic from sites like GameRankings and Metacritic?
Besides launching this century?
I’m kidding, though there is a kernel of truth there. I think the main thing that separates OpenCritic from GameRankings and Metacritic is that we care about advancing the industry. Before we launched, unscored reviews had no place on review aggregators. Before we launched, embargo times were kept relatively hush-hush (oftentimes even hidden from the developers themselves). Before we launched, aggregator review scores could not be changed as games updated and evolved. Before we launched, it was very challenging to see a critic’s work across publications.
These are admittedly minor points, but they highlight OpenCritic’s key difference: motivation. We feel that critics, gamers, and developers have been underserved by CBS Interactive’s two aggregators. We want to contribute to the growth of the gaming industry and add value to all industry verticals; CBS Interactive seems content with the status quo.
One of the main reasons I personally use OpenCritic over other aggregates is that you can view an author’s page and get all of their reviews in one place. How important was it to you that the site surfaces not just outlets, but the author that makes the review possible?
It is critical. In my opinion, games journalism and media have been moving towards a stronger focus on individuals and reduced focus on the publisher. We have some features we’re working on in this category that we intend to work on once we update the site design. In the long run, we want to enable gamers to follow specific critics and see their complete body of work, including pieces such as news, podcasts, and industry editorials.
I remember there was some controversy last year about Metacritic using data from your site to get reviews up (If I recall correctly you were making slight changes to URLs and were able to spot it that way). Did anything ever come to that? Have they ever reached out to you?
Yes, we caught Metacritic sourcing reviews from us. We believe that Metacritic is frustrated that they can’t match our speed. They’ve started requesting publications send them emails with their review quotes before the review is published so that they can “beat us.” Some critics and editors have told us that Metacritic started insisting that English listing pages for foreign publications be exclusive to them. We think it’s funny, and we’re proud that some publications have refused to comply.
I can’t comment on our direct interactions with Metacritic or CBS Interactive.
One of the things that make aggregating tricky is that sites have vastly different grading criteria. An 80 on one site might be “great,” while the equivalent letter grade elsewhere might be “okay.” Does that ever bother you, since your site does end up assigning an overall number to the game?
Yes. We’re intending to reduce the emphasis on the average score in our redesign. We don’t think that it’s a very good metric for making decisions.
We’re intending to double-down on the percent-recommended metric, though we need to make some improvements before then. One improvement is letting publications set their own threshold for what’s “recommended,” and what isn’t. The other is doing a better job of communicating our standard for “recommended.” Our bar is “unconditionally recommended to general gamers,” which eliminates statements like “if you’re a fan of the series” or “if you like roguelikes” or “if you can get past X.”
We’ve actually been intending to do this for a long, long time. Behind the scenes of OpenCritic is a robust alternative scoring system built on net promoter scores. If you’re an API user, this is what the field “npScore” is used for.
Our focus up to this point was getting included in gamer conversations, which meant focusing on a metric that gamers were already comfortable discussing: the average. Now that we’re a part of the conversation, we want to see if we can influence community discussions to a more useful, actionable, and nuanced set of metrics.
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