If you head on over to the Metacritic page for Natural Selection 2, you might notice something strange. Of the seven reviews listed, only one is scored below an 80.
Also, it doesn't actually exist.
Last week, GameSpot reviews editor Kevin VanOrd pulled his site's review of Natural Selection 2. The review, scored 60/100 and written by a freelancer named Eric Neigher, had been eviscerated by readers and commenters who pointed out a number of mistakes—for example, the review said the recently-released indie game was $30, when it actually costs $25. Other errors involved the game's engine and load times.
But the original review is still on Metacritic. A big yellow 60 sits right on Natural Selection 2's front page, warning readers that "disappointing execution holds it back." Clicking "read full review" will take you to a broken link.
So why hasn't the review been replaced? I asked Metacritic head Marc Doyle, who told me that they have a one-shot policy for all reviews and all gaming outlets. (Kotaku is not listed on Metacritic, as we do not use review scores.)
"Yes, the critics we track know—and I spoke to the GameSpot team about this this week - that we only accept the first review and first score published for a given game," Doyle told me in an e-mail. "I'm explicit about this policy with every new publication we agree to track. It's a critic-protection measure, instituted in 2003 after I found that many publications had been pressured to raise review scores (or de-publish reviews) to satisfy outside influences. Our policy acted as a disincentive for these outside forces to apply that type of inappropriate pressure."
(Note: GameSpot and Metacritic are both owned by the same parent company, CBS Interactive.)
"We only accept the first review and first score published for a given game... It's a critic-protection measure."
It's a policy that seems to be enforced with the best of intentions—just about every reviewer in the gaming industry has heard shady stories about publishers trying to get scores changed—but it doesn't account for situations like this, where a writer's mistakes could seriously impact the fate of a game. I asked GameSpot's VanOrd how he felt about this whole situation, but he wouldn't comment on the specifics. "The review had multiple factual inaccuracies that cast a shadow over the entire piece, so we chose to pull it and reassign, which is a rarity, of course," he told me.
"So what?" you might be asking. "Why does it matter what kind of review scores this game has on Metacritic? Aren't review scores just arbitrary anyway? You guys don't use them!"
For better or worse, Metacritic has become an important tool for people in the gaming industry; some publishers even use it to decide whether to give out bonuses, a practice I've criticized in the past. And studies have shown that a game's Metacritic score can have significant impact on its sales.