Chris Avellone from Obsidian Entertainment was recently asked over Twitter by a fan if the company had made a large amount of money from Fallout: New Vegas, which Chris replied with the following statement: “@Gahzcan FNV was a straight payment, no royalties, only a bonus if we got an 85+ on Metacritic, which we didn’t.” The publishing contract between Obsidian and Bethesda contains a clause which requires a Metacritic score of 85% or higher for the company to be rewarded with extra money, which the game missed by 1%.
This follows the news that Obsidian had to let twenty to thirty employees go, affecting the development team that was creating the highly anticipated South Park RPG title and their cancelling a new next generation title completely. However, Fallout: New Vegas sold 5 million units and made over $300 million in sales for Bethesda by the end of 2010.
I know quite a few people hold negative feelings towards Metacritic and what they do to the industry, and this certainly speaks to that. It’s scary that a web site that most average gamers harbor a grudge against is this important and is relied upon for extra income by developers like Obsidian.
Although the idea of having a Metacritic bonus is nothing new in the industry, which I imagine is most likely in place as a way to motivate studios to spend more time polishing their titles, it does make people who review games feel potentially quite bad and responsible for a studio’s financial troubles.
It’s likely that the recent layoffs are due to the lack of a bonus for reaching 85% for Fallout: New Vegas, and this is something that really bothers me. A contract is a contract, but 1%? I can’t help but feel bad for the company. However, it’s entirely possible the company could hire the people again once they release another title.
The important thing here is that Metacritic isn’t the enemy; rather, it’s just a tool that’s utilized in the wrong way, and it’s the people that put too much emphasis on meta-scores that are the cause of the problem. Would the industry be better off without Metacritic? Possibly, but if the site weren’t relied upon the way it is now by publishers, then I don’t see the harm of having sites like Metacritic around.