Why review scores are irrelevant

Posted on October 3, 2012 - 8:00am by StPatrick


If you TL;DR, you'll completely miss the point of this article.

But basically this is my opinion on why review scores are inacurate, irrelevant numbers that don't mean anything.

Most gamers are not idiots.

  • We know destroying Liberty City in a murderous rampage doesn't make us want to go out on a massacre in real life.
  • We know graphics aren't everything, and as long as the game mechanics are fun and well polished, it'll be worth the hours and money we put into it.
  • We know the large companies like EA and Activision and their investors don't care for one day about making good video games. They only care about making profit.
  • Most of us know that reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, as the reviewer in question always will have a somewhat biased view on the particular game being reviewed.
  • We are pretty damn smart, if I do say so myself. (And I do).So why are we still trying to measure games on a numetric scale from 1 to 10? Let me tell you what's wrong with what is considered to be the standard in regards to reviews.

1. We rely on reviewers to tell us what to think.

I am all for the reviewer having an opinion about the game - without that, what's the point in the review? But where I think reviewers go wrong is when they tell you what you should do. There's nothing particularily wrong with saying "I don't think you should buy this game, because...", but many sites - including this one - have a statement that says Buy it, Rent it, F*** it. Of  course you could just say "Well, that's just what he wants to do with the game", but in the wording you are explicitly told to do something, and that's something I generally don't like. Let me form my own opinion, the reviewer should simply point out their views on the pros and cons of the game, and as a somewhat intelligent individual I should be able to form my own opinion. Do I, for instance like that GTA IV had odd vehicle handling? I among others personally hated it, but a lot of reviewers liked it and said it added to the suspense in car chases - and that is certainly a valid point, but not one that I would agree with. Now, what the reviewer thought to be a pro, is suddenly a con for me.

2. Reviews are supposed to subjective, yet people don't seem to get that.

There is no definitive answer to what makes a game good. You simply cannot judge a game that way, because it can not be measured statiscticly, you cannot put numbers on it and say "Well, our graphics indicator tells us the graphics in this game are 8.7/10, so there's that I guess", because good graphics can mean different things. Sure you can probably measure how detailed the textures are and how many polygons make out the characters, but a game without proper asthetics that reflect the theme, lore and/or mechanics will appear dull. The reviewer can say wether they enjoy the asthetics of the game or don't and if the game has technical problems, but that's about it. There is no final answer.

3. The numerical review score system is built for ignorant people.

It is designed to make the process of forming an opinion as easy and accessible as possible. You don't have to read, listen or even think much for yourself to have an opinion about the game - which would be fine, if it was not completely biased as I pointed out before (There will always be bias, but limiting it as much as possible should be the ultimate goal).  Furthermore there's the problem that you'll actually skip what they review has to say just to get their final verdict - hence forming your own opinion becomes is practically non-existent.

When Mirror's Edge was about to come out I was really excited, because it was something brand new with a unique art style to it. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Then the review from Gameractor came out, giving it a 6/10. This ultimately led me to not buying it and just sticking to the demo, which I played over and over. I eventually decided to just buy the game and it turned out I loved it to death. Had I not been exposed to that number on that website I would've bought it straight away - this simply shows how much power a reviewer has by labeling a number on a game.

4. These inaccurate numbers affect the industry.

EA and Activision love going to Metacritic and checking their games' meta-scores. It makes ressource management so much easier for them in their minds, because if a studio gets a 7/10 they can pretty much just spare the whole studio and put money into something else, or just keep it. There might be insanely talented people working in that studio that are now left without jobs and have a hard time getting a new one, now that they're labeled a 7/10 because some reviewer didn't like an aspect of their game, or simply trying to gain views through being controversial, thus lowering the average score. There is also the problem that sites, such as this one (ScrewAttack) have a completely different opinion on what the average game should be set to. Here, the base line for an average good game is 5/10, whereas GameTrailers would probably label that as a 7/10, yet they're still in the same pot on Metacritic - this just makes the whole affair even less accurate. And don't get me started on the sites that use 5 as maximum.

5. With all of these problems, what should in my mind be considered a great review?

A great review should be indepth, the game in question should be completed, and if various branches exist in the storyline, if possible they should be explored. The review should be comparative, taking into consideration previous titles in the franchise and if there are/are not any improvements, taking competitors with similar style/game mechanics into consideration. It should not seek to condesend the viewer/reader to tell that person what take away from the review, they are completely capable of forming their own opinion based on your review. The conclusion should NOT be a numeric value or a simple boolean buy/don't buy statement, since we all have different pros and cons about games, but may include an opinion by the reviewer wether they think it's worth a purchase/rental.

To conclude I would also say these general rulesets should be applied to other forms of art such as movies, music, plays, paintings etc.

If you agree or disagree, I would love to get some feedback and maybe starting a discussion. This took some time to write, but I feel it's something that should be mentioned. I know a lot of people probably already have discussed this, but the subject is still relevant as long as the industry is plagued by these scores.

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