Game reviews are strange.
By all logic; a game that earns a 5 rating should be seen as average. Worth playing if you like that genre, but nothing too special.
A game that earns a 1 should be avoided at all costs, treated like a bomb made of knives and forgotten forever five minutes after it was reviewed.
A game that earns a 10 should be played by everyone. It is an unquestionable masterpiece analogous to The Godfather or Casablanca.
That is how logic dictates a 10 point rating scale should work. But that is not even close to how game reviews work in practice. A 5 out of 10 is seen as bad, nobody recommends playing games that have been rated a 5 out of 10. Games are never rated 1 out of 10, not unless they are extraordinarily broken to the point of unplayability or are in such poor taste to rate them anything higher would be offensive. Meanwhile 10 out of 10 is not nearly as rare as one would expect. You would think they are rare, seminal experiences but we see several a year. If the games industry was routinely producing such quality that would be incredible, but very few journalists or gamers even agree on what a "perfect" game is. Does Gone Home deserve a 10 for its novelty? Did Metal Gear Solid 4 deserve a 10 despite the fact that a significant portion of it was un-interactive?
These are the quirks of the game-reviewing game. A typical AAA game will seldom see its rating dip below 8 on any major site and 7's are seen as a disappointment. 7 is the new average, anything less is bad. There are several reasons for why this is; sometimes its inflated PR budgets from AAA publishers or advertiser pressure on the journalistic outlet. GerstmannGate anyone? In other cases, reviewers fail to evaluate games independently, employing phrases like "If you liked the last one, you'll like this one cause its more of the same". We've even seen reviewers say that because developers' bonuses are tied to their Metacritic score they'll increase the review score to help them out, even if the game didn't deserve it.
"So review scores are messed up" you say "What does any of this have to do with Destiny?" Well, Destiny seems to have broken this trend.
Destiny was a big deal. It was coming from Bungie, the closest to a sure thing in terms of developers. During development, rumours were that Activision had pumped half a billion dollars into development and marketing and while Bungie downplayed that number, it was easy to believe. It came in with a massive amount of hype, Sony even dropping money for exclusive advertising rights. Expectations were high to say the least.
But Destiny didn't come in with a roar, it came in with a whimper. It got sixes and sevens, the excessive grind was criticized, the story was abysmal, the voice acting was wooden. The headlines were "Destiny a disappointment" or more bluntly "Destiny is boring". Essentially the reaction to Destiny was appropriate; it is a pretty game with tight shooting that falls flat in some key areas. Good, but not great. Definitely not perfect.
A game not being a masterpiece shouldn't be headline news, but in this climate of inflated review scores and cozy relationships between publishers and journalists, a game as big as Destiny, as hyped as Destiny should have been can't miss. But it did miss. if you look at the review scores, you'll see Destiny trending lower than Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4. The former is derided as a lazy cash-in and the latter shipped in a borderline unplayable state; not the company Bungie would like to be in I'm sure.
What I wonder is what led to these scores for Destiny? Was it just such a letdown compared to the hype that reviewers had to reflect that? Did Activision wrong these outlets somehow? Or did reviewers just wake up and decide to give this game the scores it deserved?
Activision likely doesn't care. Destiny was a massive success at launch, they more than made their money back. But if Destiny is indicative the direction games reviews are going, Activision, Ubisoft and EA should be concerned. Inflated game reviews primarily benefit publishers. consumers don't benefit from buying a game that was sold as better than it is. Developers might hit their bonuses easier, but false praise means no drive to innovate or improve. If a 10, a 9, even an 8 are that much tougher to achieve those games they release every November might not be the license to print money that they once were.
We've heard for years that the big publishers exert a massive amount of pressure on games media for coverage, for marketing and for reviews. Destiny is among the biggest game properties in history and it seems to have broken the trend, all the marketing money in the world couldn't force games journalists to lie about how good it was. If this is the new normal in the games industry, Activision should be worried about more than a bad performance from Peter Dinklage.