Gamerankings, all that important?
These days I'm eagerly refreshing gamerankings.com to see when the first review will pop up for The Darkness. In just a couple of years that site (along with metacritics) has become extremely important to the games-industry. It took some time before the games-industry found a way to measure the quality of a game, but now it seems to be here to stay.
So, why has gamerankings become so important? There are a number of reasons. The obvious is from a sales standpoint, where there seem to be a great correlation between the review score and sales, even though you still need a marketing campaign to back it up. From what I've heard some publishers have even started to write into the contract that if the game doesn't reach this or that combined review-score, the developer is financially penalized.
The second reason is from the developer perspective. You are only as good as your last game and with a game taking two years to finish, that makes scoring well quite important. Especially for the smaller independent developers where it affects what opportunities you will get until your next game comes out (and not to mention the number of new friends you'll get on your next game-conventions).
So, is it a good thing then? I think so. There are of course other ways of calculating a score. Imdb.com was a model that a few sites tried to use a couple of years back and I'm still not sure why it won't work, or if it would be better. Also, there are some problems with the current setup as well, where budget titles and XBLA/PSN titles doesn't really fit. But there is one thing that I think is really great with the current setup: It encourages innovation. Professional reviews usually embrace new and innovative things. Gamerankings effectively gives them even more power to encourage publishers and developers to innovate, and at this time when budgets are huge and risk-taking is minimized, that is something really valuable.
I agree with you on all points, except one thing. Sadly, I think that review scores have very little to do with sales figures compared to marketing (also read it on some report a while ago). Both Riddick and Psychonauts are good examples of that. Another proof of that are for example the recent games Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Carribean, which are both quite crappy games but have very good sales numbers thanks to very good marketing. Game reviews simply don't reach the big mass, marketing does.
Another good example is SouthEnd Interactive's "Deathrow". It got great reviews almost everywhere, but poor sales due to bad marketing by Ubisoft. (Gamerankings doesn't load for me at the moment, but I'll check the game's ranking as soon as possible...)