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Video games review scandal: Metacritic uncovers, drops crooked publication

"We discontinued someone's coverage due to corrupt practices"

Metacritic has told CVG that it has been forced to remove a games publication from its review listings after uncovering "corrupt practices".

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Since the incident, the market-leading aggregation site has continued to police the games media via a strict set of guidelines - partly due its belief that some reviewers can "absolutely be bought".

Metacritic co-founder Marc Doyle wouldn't confirm whether the publication in question was paid off by a games publisher, nor reveal its name.

However, when asked by CVG if he'd ever had to wield the axe due to crooked dealings, he told us: "Yes. On one occasion I did discontinue my coverage of a publication's reviews because of what I considered to be corrupt practices."

The admission comes after Doyle's involvement in a fascinating podcast over on ajumpsbshoots.com.

The exec revealed an eye-opening list of criteria for why certain media is not listed on MC, and admitted: "There are many reasons why I would drop somebody [from games review listings]. There's corruption - people can be bought, absolutely."

He commented that MetaCritic's team annually evaluates whose reviews it adopts - a process it takes very seriously: "It [comes down] to a number of things: It's the quality of the analysis, the quality of the writing; do they have an audience; are they respected in the gaming community... is there a reputation for scoring integrity?

"[That means] are they going to give [a game] 4/5 and say it's one of the best of the year, and then give another game 4/5 and say it's really a letdown. I've got to see that they're being responsible internally with that scoring. If they're not - if they're being irresponsible, or being contrarian or ridiculous, which happens all the time - I won't pick them up."

Doyle also revealed that some sites have been dropped for "not taking their responsibility so seriously", and made clear that Metacritic strongly polices the sites that contribute to its average scores.

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"People have screwed around and just tried to dig for hits for various reasons, and so we've lost a lot of sites for ridiculous reasons," he said. "But I mean, the stuff's not highly publicised. It's stuff I see, then I talk to them [and say]: 'Guys, you're going down a bad path here.' We're going to rethink our partnership.'

"And then there are some big [sites] who didn't necessarily want to be on Metacritic, or they're doing some things that I think make them not such a great fit for our system."

Doyle explained that some sites had objected to having their ratings systems converted into Metacritic's 100-point metric. The firm has failed to reach an agreement with G4TV on the subject, but Doyle told CVG: "We've continued to discuss the matter with G4 over the years, and if we can see eye-to-eye on the conversion method, we'll certainly consider re-adding them."

However, it is the news that the CNET-owned site has exposed corruption amongst the games media that will most shock the industry - particularly in a market where the bonuses of developers and publishing execs are dependent on a positive Metascore.

Electronic Arts, Take-Two and others have admitted that Metacritic scores are at the very heart of their self-evaluation practices.

Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick said in March: "Unlike many other entertainment businesses - there are a just a few - ratings by Metacritic and others' reviews really can influence the success of a newly-released title. In fact, if your ratings go below a certain level, it can really hurt your ability to sell the title, and above a certain level can make a real different in your success."

Publications currently featured on Metacritic include Future Publishing's range of titles - such as CVG, PC Gamer, Edge, GamesRadar, OPM, OXM, ONM, PSM3, Xbox World 360 and GamesMaster - as well as IGN, GameSpot, EuroGamer, GiantBomb, Destructoid, Joystiq, VideoGamer and more.

Metacritic was launched in January 2001 by Doyle, along with his sister Julie Doyle Roberts and Jason Dietz. CNET acquired the site in 2005.