There's something similar happening to gaming on a much faster scale, a change that has accelerated over the past decade. As the general quality of games has improved, the standout hits are becoming fewer and fewer. The same basic trend was mentioned by the CFO of Electronic Arts, who was reported by Kotaku as noting that "the very top games are garnering more sales than ever, making the top-20 far and away the largest hits, a shift from a few years ago when games in the top-40 could all boast grand sales figures".
Perhaps this change is the inevitable result of an industry growing up and taking fewer risks. Others would say that gaming is better than ever and all this is just opinion. And fair enough - overlooking for a moment the problems of using an algorithm seemingly compiled by one man with zero oversight, the idea of using Metacritic as an aggregator for the industry is fine. The one glaring problem is with the mix of critics themselves.
Picking at random a blockbuster movie from Metacritic (I chose 2012, as it's about as smart as the average videogame), look at the reviews that are being collated: they come from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, Slate, Time, Salon, the Village Voice. Looking at an equally random videogame, (I chose The Saboteur on Xbox 360) we have Destructoid, IGN, GameDaily, Gamespot, 1Up. Spot the difference.
Metacritic's game reviews are dominated by the specialist gaming press in the way other Metacritic categories are not. The specialist gaming press is massively dependent on advertising from publishers to stay in business. Meanwhile, publishers are dependent on the specialist gaming press to advertise and hype their product, both in the ad pages and in the previews. This leads to a relationship between the two groups that can be described as symbiotic at best and parasitic at worst.
Given the state of our own Western review culture, maybe we should look at the state of games journalism in our own house before we point too many fingers abroad. For Japanese publishers, the Famitsu average is the equivalent of our Metascore, so perhaps it's not too surprising to see that in an ever-more competitive industry, both these ratings are rising.
This is not to say that good, independent games journalism doesn't exist, there just isn't nearly as much of it as there should be. But as hype, hyperbole and hits all chip away at the credibility of our media outlets, the likes of Famitsu and Edge may wake up one day to find that credibility is a currency easily spent but very difficult to earn.
Christian Ward works for a major publisher. Silent Hill 2 has a Metascore of only 89? Sacrilege.