The main problem that I see with review scores is that it takes any kind of finesse that a written review may have had and bludgeons it. Assigning a numerical, scaled score to a game or any kind of media immediately places all examples of them in equal standing with each other in the most simplistic and uninformative way possible. While it may not have been the intention, it inadvertently does this, making it wholly useless as an indicator of a games’ merits and follies.
It’s an issue that’s cropped up recently in the form of Destructoid’s review of Mario Kart 7, and minor controversies concerning the score aggregation website, Metacritic.
A five doesn’t tell a reader of the game’s merits, and what it did better or worse than other games: it simply screams "don’t buy this game".
Jim Sterling’s argument was that the series had become static, that ‘sticking to tradition has not worked in Nintendo’s favor’. The fairly opinionated review that follows suggests that he simply finds it dull overall.
"Not even I can justify how formulaic Mario Kart has become."
This is all very well and good, and a reviewer is entitled to their own opinion concerning video games. Unfortunately, this review is far too personal, simply lambasting features of the game that Sterling dislikes, rather than an in-depth critique of its techniques and styles in comparison to similar titles. However, this is not the problem I have with it.
The review is capped off with a score of 5.0 out of 10, which has sent commenters on the site reeling (454 comments and counting, and the highest commented article that week). Seeing a review score of five instantly portrays any game as, simply, bad, due to years of perceptions built up around the incongruous use of a scaled point system. A five doesn’t tell a reader of the game’s merits, and what it did better or worse than other games: it simply screams "don’t buy this game".
This kind of overly simplistic summary is an extremely poor way of recognising the work that has gone into the creation of a video game. Yes, some games are worse than others, but giving the duties of informing buyers about those follies to a basic score is irresponsible.
Yes, some games are worse than others, but giving the duties of informing buyers about those follies to a basic score is irresponsible.
On the flip side, it’s a system that’s incredibly easy to abuse, and Metacritic is the prime suspect. Two particular issues come to mind: the average user score of Modern Warfare 3, and the story that broke recently that three Telltale Games employees had ‘reviewed’ their game Jurassic Park: The Game with an improbably high score, despite the litany of ‘average’ scores culminated from the gaming press.
If a single review score fails to actually review a game, how can an average of review scores do any better? It’s taking an already blunt object and flattening it behind all recognition. How does a review like the following actually inform your choices as a consumer?
"sigh. i thought this was gonna get good reviews but guess what? no when i played single player on the shop it was the same old crap looks like this is a Money wasted 3rd time game, glad i didn’t buy it. Get milked hard."
That particular ‘review’ was followed by a score of 0 out of 10.
Perhaps it’s a problem with Metacritic, but to me, it highlights how utterly useless a score actually is. To get preachy for a moment, it’s unlikely this will change any time soon, as there is a vast conglomerate of professional ‘reviewers’ who aren’t aware of what a review should actually do. To those, I sincerely hope they watch Extra Credit’s take on game reviews and wise up: I certainly would prefer to read the reviews that they talk about, rather than what we’ve got.
A number of times I’ve considered writing a game review. Hell, I’ve even actually done a few, though they’re unpublished – and they’ll stay that way. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s extremely difficult to review a game without bias. In fact, it’s probably impossible. I have enough journalistic pride to know when to stop – which is why I’m writing opinionated articles rather than reviews. Sure, I’m going to touch on several aspects that game reviews cover – but I’m never going to assign an arbitrary number to ‘score’ a game based on how much I like it.
But here’s the issue – games are highly subjective.
So that’s me – one person who isn’t going to give a score to a game. But there are plenty of people out there who will – almost every game publication, online or not, with only a few exceptions, will give a game a number to rate it on a scale from "bad" to "good".
But here’s the issue – games are highly subjective – even more than, say, movies – because not only are you watching them, you’re actually playing them. The problem with review scores is that they’re almost always a reflection on the reviewer’s taste in games, rather than a reflection of the game itself.
I’m not going to dive into lengthy examples, but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at. Reviewers are going to score the game based on their personal enjoyment of the game – but since that is a metric that fluctuates wildly from person to person, it’s a pointless task, and does more harm than good – especially for the reader.
I know what you’re thinking – some professional reviewers are aware of this, so they try to assess a game fairly even when they didn’t like it, and they score them based on their possible merits, rather than their own bias. …Well, they can try, but their scores still won’t be any more useful than the scores of some biased idiot reviewer.
Reviewers are going to score the game based on their personal enjoyment of the game – but since that is a metric that fluctuates wildly from person to person, it’s a pointless task.
The reviewers that try to be "fair" are a big part of the problem – in the last ten years or so, the number scale that has been applied to game reviews has changed – a score of ‘5’ used to mean it was an ‘average’ game – not bad, but nothing special about it either. Now, ‘5’ means ‘absolutely terrible’ and the ‘average’ score is sitting at about 7 or 8. This happened mostly because of the "fair" reviewers pushing up the scores of games – I mean, who knows if you just don’t like the game, or if the game really is rubbish?
It’s a silly cycle, and it’s a load of crap, really. Scoring systems are not helping the games industry, not even a little bit. A more reliable system is to find a website that compares the games to others (which, ideally, you would have played), so you can compare your own tastes against themselves, and form your own opinion.