Obsidian misses New Vegas bonus by slim Metacritic margin

In the wake of studio layoffs, Obsidian creative director Chris Avellone has revealed that it would have received bonuses if Fallout: New Vegas had hit 85 or greater on Metacritic -- a target that it barely missed.

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Fallout: New Vegas was pretty well liked by critics and gamers, despite some of its signature open world jank. But it was just barely not well-liked enough to earn the team at Obsidian bonuses, according to creative director Chris Avellone.

Joystiq reports that Avellone told a fan that Obsidian's contract with Bethesda only guaranteed bonuses if the game earned an 85 or greater in its Metacritic score. The tweet didn't reveal a deadline for the score, which has probably long-since passed. The game currently stands at an 84 on PC and Xbox 360 (82 on PlayStation 3).

"[Fallout: New Vegas] was a straight payment, no royalties, only a bonus if we got an 85+ on Metacritic, which we didn't," Avellone said. The tweet has since been removed.

These types of deals are fairly common in the industry, though. Publishers rarely acknowledge the practice, but the Wall Street Journal reported that publishers like Activision and Take-Two were utilizing it years ago. Critics have commented that developers have approached them about reviews, since the practice makes their work indirectly responsible for another person's pay.

This comes just a day after the news broke that Obsidian laid off 20-30 staff members, including ones from the team working on South Park: The Game. A canceled project code-named "North Carolina" was reportedly set to be published by Microsoft for its next console, and was called "desperately needed" for the studio.

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  • reply
    March 15, 2012 4:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Obsidian misses New Vegas bonus by slim Metacritic margin.

    In the wake of studio layoffs, Obsidian creative director Chris Avellone has revealed that it would have received bonuses if Fallout: New Vegas had hit 85 or greater on Metacritic -- a target that it barely missed.

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      March 15, 2012 4:10 PM

      Wow, that's painful. I don't rate my games on metacritic, but if it makes this kind of difference, I have to.

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        March 15, 2012 4:13 PM

        User reviews don't affect the actual score.

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          March 15, 2012 4:45 PM

          oh, ok. I guess that's because we're typically 10, 9, or 0?

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            March 15, 2012 5:40 PM

            Currently all EA/Activision games will be a 0. Then 10 years from now the kids will say "Remember how sweet X game was? They don't make them like that anymore!" Then that 0 goes to a 10.

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        March 15, 2012 5:16 PM

        user reivews do not count so don't worry.

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      March 15, 2012 4:23 PM

      Guess they should've polished up a few more of those technical issues, eh?

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        March 15, 2012 6:12 PM

        Heh, yeah that Bethesda QA team really fucked them over on that one.

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          March 15, 2012 6:27 PM

          I can't tell if that's a joke or if you're actually blaming QA

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          March 15, 2012 8:25 PM

          QA finds the problems, trust me. It's production who says "fuck it, we don't care, ship it".

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            March 15, 2012 8:36 PM

            Would Obsidian really say "screw the bugs let's just ship this" even though they knew fully well a bonus was at stake? If they did, then that's just ridiculously shortsighted of them.
            If it was Bethesda that forced their hand, then that's... well, yeah.

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              March 15, 2012 9:28 PM

              The need to meet the deadline is strong. I've spent a decent amount of time working QA - I know they do their job like none other, and I know how many bugs get marked with a convenient "WNF" - Will Not Fix.

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                March 15, 2012 9:38 PM

                That irks me to no end.

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                  March 16, 2012 7:22 AM

                  Welcome to game development :p

                  Pretty sure publisher QA has a quota to fill as well, which is frustrating. While it encourages finding every bug you can, it also encourages finding things that aren't really bugs.. and then people fixing the bugs have to sift through the garbage to find the meat. Although with a game like Fallout, that's more a matter of being overwhelmed by the number of A bugs (high priority) and deciding which ones absolutely need to be fixed in order to ship.

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      March 15, 2012 4:24 PM

      I would really like to know the story behind how and when metacritic became entrenched to the point where it was considered normal to be used in contracts between various parties in the games industry.

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        March 15, 2012 5:32 PM

        I was thinking along similar lines, Dr_Cube.

        I would not trust a site like Metacritic. And only taking in to account the so called "official" reviewer scores, not the general public, is a bit lame, considering the general public are the ones who BUY the games. Social word of mouth is much more powerful than a handful of so called professional opinions.

        I think bonuses based on units sold would be a fairer option and less prone to collusion. Sales usually reflect the majority opinion of a given game.

        Yes, some games would normally sell like hot cakes on release anyway (then decline, once opinion is out) so they appoint required numbers in the contract to reflect this prediction anyway. And yes, sometimes great games do not sell... but great sales would sure make it financially easier for a company to hand over bonuses! They are here to make money after all.

        There will never be a perfect contract of course.

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      March 15, 2012 4:38 PM

      Well if Obsidian goes under I can only hope that Bethesda snags their writers.

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        March 15, 2012 5:05 PM

        If these are the same writers responsible for Alpha Protocol, that would be a very bad move. I don't care how fond anyone thinks of that game, its story (like a lot of other things in that game) was absolute shit.

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          March 15, 2012 5:30 PM

          I was thinking about the same writers that were on the NV team. The companions and characters for the most part were more interesting.

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            March 15, 2012 5:34 PM

            Oh. I haven't played that yet. Hopefully this year sometime.

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              March 15, 2012 6:36 PM

              Obsidian has a lot of people that worked on the first two.

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            March 15, 2012 7:18 PM

            This metacritic crap is enough to turn Lily into Leo for good.

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          March 15, 2012 8:55 PM

          Want to explain why?

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            March 16, 2012 12:58 AM

            Just a lot of non-nonsensical stuff on top of a convoluted "flexible story". Most of the time they tried to be so open to give you a choice in how the story unfolded that sometimes those decisions or how to get to that decision made no sense. And the organizations wrapped up in the middle largely made no sense either. Both were so secretive and bland - their true purpose was to narratively either help you or stop you along your journey. No reason for either. That was really it. The characters are ridiculously one-dimensional. They have backstories. It's all alluded too, but it never goes into any sort of detail because we're trying to be flexible enough in how the story unfolds.

            Another big reason why I don't like the story is that there's no challenge to it. Michael Thornton is on the run from the very organization that employs him so where does he hide? In their safehouse in multiple cities where you're given everything. Being a burned spy is hard (and interesting) as hell. There's a reason why it's a recurring theme with practically ever espionage tale. It takes money, resources - gear, allies and a little thing called assets (people you just flat out use for information - this is typically where the moral compass of our protagonist goes to shit because they generally have to sacrifice someone or something for the "bigger picture"). Thornton didn't have to do anything. The game just gives you the gear, and your allies just freely give you all the information. So much wasted opportunity. What about side missions? Nope. Main mission > safe house > main mission > safe house......

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      March 15, 2012 5:24 PM

      Bonuses should be tied to copies sold, not metacritic.

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        March 15, 2012 5:51 PM

        Meh. there are *a lot* of garbage games out there that sell like crazy. Look at CoD. Garbage, but the console kiddies eat that shit up and pay 10x for DLC.

        Problem is too many idiot consumers. I am in shock and awe at what people will buy. I don't know why the IQ of the modern consumer has dropped below 20 in the past 5 years.

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        March 15, 2012 6:15 PM

        But NV sold like 5 million copies and brought over $300 million in revenue. Why should Bethesda give any of that money to Obsidian? Don't be silly, 84 Metacritic score is what's important.

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      March 15, 2012 5:31 PM

      Game reviews are a fucking joke, sucks that serious life-changing things ride on them.

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        March 15, 2012 6:31 PM

        The only slightly redeeming thing is that Metacritic scores are detached from revenue, and slightly attached to how good an actual game is. Metacritic scores are still bullshit, but if video games were purely revenue driven, that would really suck for the ecosystem of games. We complain about things like the annualization of Call of Duty, all of the Capcom franchises, and MMOs, but a purely-revenue-driven industry would be far worse without brave developers with enough funding and guts to challenge the norm.

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      March 15, 2012 5:55 PM

      One of my favorite games of all-time and I had almost no problems with glitches in 120 hours and with mods. Obsidian has some serious talent on its staff going back to Black Isle and Metacritic is a trash web site.

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      March 15, 2012 5:58 PM

      that sucks - but wtf is going on in that screen shot?

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      March 15, 2012 6:24 PM

      No living soul on Gaia can comprehend the intensity with which my fury doth burn.

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      March 15, 2012 6:25 PM

      You know, I like Obsidian, and this sucks a lot. But god damn, a quick glance at the Metacritic page shows some lower reviews bitching about bugs, and it's pretty common knowledge around here that Obsidian games have shipped with a lot of bugs. If we accept that a few of those lower reviews bitching about bugs would have awarded a higher rating if the game weren't so buggy, then...

      They got screwed out of their bonuses because the game was buggy.

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        March 15, 2012 6:32 PM

        I see what you're saying here, but I have bought Bioware other other big developer games that shipped with game stopping bugs that later had to be patched. Maybe Obsidian doesn't get as much benefit of the doubt, I don't know. Oh and also I hate Metacritic.

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        March 15, 2012 6:42 PM

        Skyrim was horrendously buggy on PS3 for a while and to a lesser extent on OC and 360 but of course it was SKYRIM and we all(critics included) looked over that fact.


        The fact that metacritic holds this much weight in the industry is alarming and it clearly reveals the inherent problem in the way games are reviewed. If you aren't and 85 or above, you as a developer risk lost pay and, at this point and time, developers need as much financial support as they can get.

        If a movie gets the worst reviews but still pulls big at the box office, Hollywood signs on for a sequel and then some. Same goes for books, same goes for music. I know video games are a young medium for entertainment, and its nice to think you hold yourself to high standards of quality, but when there is no room to fail, no room to experiment and mess up, what happens to that medium? If a game that sells gangbusters has a low review score, why do publishers care? You made the profit you so desperately seek. It seems that this Metacritic wall is an arbitrary means to stiff hard working developers.

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          March 15, 2012 6:48 PM

          What he said ^^

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          March 15, 2012 8:34 PM

          However, like the archvile mentioned above, tying developers to revenue can be bad for the industry as well. Then nobody risks a new IP because making FPS2013 is easy guaranteed money comparatively.

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            March 15, 2012 11:02 PM

            It's an "it depends"

            Developers may make more sequels than new IP, but they do that to rake in the cash to spend on a new IP or make an existing one like new

            I think most people underestimate the incredible challenge of making a truly NEW game and have it cover the cost of employees, marketing, distribution etc...

            That's where good ol' publisher's come in. However, now you have another level of management/opinions/concerns/and marketing direction.

            I think games, at least the big AAA titles cost too fricking much to make. Yet, a lot of this is due to the investment in new technologies and the rising salaries that experienced game devs/artists etc are demanding/are due. Once technology reaches a place where it gets incrementally better and there is more of a real floor to stand on, development costs will decrease and reliance on that multi million dollar publisher contract will be less common. Until then, you either have cheap to make indie games/cheap to make mobile games/expensive Console/PC blockbusters.....and what else?

            There needs to be more options for developers that want to make certain kind of games and more ways for them to get revenue.


            In this situation, using metacritic is flawed because critics are themselves flawed. As I said before, everyone loved Skyrim despite is bugs/shortcummings. The critcs LOVE Tod Howard. Critics LOVE the Elder Scrolls series and they love Bethesda as a developer. Critics already go into this game with positive feels and that reflects on the game score.

            Obsidian is known for what? Mainly making sequels to highly successful RPGs. People know its a sequel not made by their beloved star dev(also see KOTOR II). While it maybe just as good as the original, its just not "the same". Critics can tell its not Bethesda, its not Bioware, its Obsidian. That gets them knocked a few points.

            Then when your bonus on a game you worked your ass off for is decided by critics scores on a flawed site, what is the industry thinking? Where is the expensive marketing team showing the graphs of high metacritic scores to game sales? How many well reviewed games DON'T sell? Do you still get your bonus because you made a good game? probably NOT. So you're screwed if you're not perfection and you're screwed if you can't sell your perfection. Where is the sense in all of this.

        • Zek legacy 10 years
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          March 16, 2012 7:36 AM

          Are you saying that if the game gets perfect scores and is a commercial failure, the devs should be punished for that instead?

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            March 16, 2012 10:17 AM

            The bonuses should be tied to both, not just one. Traditionally software development bonuses are tied to revenue, product reviews (if there are any), and performance evaluations. I think not getting a bonus just because of product reviews is bogus. Revenue and performance evals should be taken into account, too. A single developer has no control over the review, but can perform well, which increases the chance of good revenue and a good review. Additionally, a review's bonus payout should be percentage based, not all-or-nothing.

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      March 15, 2012 6:29 PM

      I played that game a heck of a lot and I don't remember any glitches. Love that game.

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        March 15, 2012 7:03 PM

        i also did not find it to be notably buggy. it had some but not more than, say, skyrim.

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      March 15, 2012 6:40 PM

      So they'll offer bonuses for that, but wouldn't give them more time so it wouldn't be a buggy mess? Me no understand.

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      March 15, 2012 8:01 PM

      fallout is my favorite series. including new vegas

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      March 15, 2012 8:02 PM

      The industry's overreliance on Metacrtic's trite and shallow form of "assessment" is pathetic.

      Gonna echo Fred Garvin and say that the industry needs to grow up.

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      March 15, 2012 9:27 PM

      i fucking love this shitty industry for this kinda thing, i love it so much.

      im trying desperately to remember why i bother purchasing games because when a game like NV comes along that i buy day one and all the dlc and heavily encourage my friends to buy (who do, then buy all the dlc) and this is how the creators are rewarded i mean jesus fucking christ

      i like zenimax, but i guess even the best publisher in the business is only slightly less awful then The Other Ones

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      March 15, 2012 9:35 PM

      Fucking bullshit, that's what this is. In my opinion New Vegas was one of the best games ever, easily up there with Fallout 1 and 2. Basing a decision like this on something fucking stupid like Metacritic is just childish and wrong. A really dick move.

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      March 15, 2012 10:38 PM

      What a shame, because Fallout New Vegas is great. Yeah the bugs were annoying but I didn't think it was bad as others made it out to be.

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        March 16, 2012 3:43 AM

        never got out of the first area. After the second mission of walking somewhere and shooting bugs (with clunky shooting mechanics) and watching weird character animations that gave me a headache I was reminded why I hate RPGs

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      March 16, 2012 12:24 PM

      Thats ok kids, Im sure the producers and owners, who didnt actually produce much of anything, will still get paid very well and will get their own special bonuses, and for you stupid asshole developers, here are some more layoffs!!! I cant wait til game studios are just 4-5 leads, a few producers and a massive team of overseas outsource slave labor! Good times!

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      March 20, 2012 8:13 AM

      The execs got a bonus for not paying bonuses out to their subordinates.

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