Review scores are back in the headlines. Following in the footsteps of Joystiq, Eurogamer decided to sensationally abandon review scores in favour of a more descriptive system earlier this week, leaving readers free to engage with the text and draw their own conclusions -- Metacritic be damned.
As you'd expect, the internet exploded for a minute there. Now it's fixed. So it's probably high time we talked about those controversial little numbers, seeing as a growing number of gamers believe that they do more harm than good, from publishers withholding bonuses to 'hate out of ten' debacles.
Don't worry, we're not jumping on a bandwagon. Rather the three of us resident reviewers put our heads together to talk about why we both love and loathe review scores, the benefits and limitations of numerical ratings and encourage you to let us know what you think of our status quo.
"There are times when I genuinely hate the tyranny of review scores, because we don't have the luxury of reviewing games in a vacuum... I love Salvation Prophecy, but my hands are tied when it comes to the score." - Salvation Prophecy review
"It might interest you to know that we came up with our Editor's Choice award in order to redress the balance, since Dragon's Dogma is one of my favourite games of this generation, and we felt that we needed to provide something beyond numerical scores." - Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen review
I've lost count of the number of times I've complained about review scores. They're ridiculous on paper, aren't they? Now that Matt is gone and the reign of Jon is at hand, you might be wondering why I haven't already abolished our numerical scoring system in a demonstration of my incredibly limited, basically non-existent new power.
Well, here's the thing. I actually like review scores, the big fat hypocrite that I am.
Once I've agonised over a score and scheduled the article, the benefits suddenly become apparent. For readers, it's the convenience of knowing at-a-glance whether a game is reasonable or terrible, the ability to check in at work and then pore over the text later, working out how the reviewer came to the final score. It's the fact that you can tie-break tough decisions when you can only buy one game at full price, or get an idea for how much the reviewer might enjoy a shonky game when the text and score collide. Plus, let's face it, the bickering and squabbling can be fun, as is the secret yet satisfying feeling that the opinion you formed throughout the development cycle has been borne out by a nice big number. Or just ignore it and read the text. It's there if you want it.
I'm convinced that there are benefits for us reviewers too. Review scores help us think more critically and analytically about games, challenging us to look beyond our own likes and dislikes to ask whether a game is good or not, whether for us, its price or its target audience. As opposed to reams and reams of poetic, compelling yet utterly meaningless anecdotes. To be completely honest I also worry that removing scores would affect viewing figures, since saying that you're happy to read through a scoreless wall of text is easy compared to actually doing it. Of course, that would be our bad.
But to my mind, review scores aren't the real problem here. Stupid people are the problem.
Don't worry, I'm not talking about you. You've already made one smart decision today by reading this roundtable. Rather I'm talking about sites that don't bother to explain what their scores actually mean, therefore rendering them meaningless, as opposed to telling readers what each specific number represents. You know, like we've done for years. Our '7' means that a game is "Good" with a detailed description of what that word means, made clear in every review. Not just a random number plucked out of thin air, because a game is mediocre and sod it you gave a slightly better game a 7 last week so why not.
Then there are people who take review scores out of context. Anyone who takes the Metascore seriously, for example. Scores only make sense when they're compared to other scores from the same outlet, since a 7 for one site might be the same as a 5 or 9 on another. Or a 70%. Or 3.5 stars. Metacritic is a fantastic way of conveniently browsing through reviews, but beyond that it's pointless. And then, of course, there are those to internalise their favourite console exclusive not getting a perfect 10 as a personal insult, resulting in a stream of childish yet admittedly hilarious anger. But that's not the score's fault. So long as they're used responsibly and consumed responsibly, I don't see the harm.
We will have to address the way we review games as more and more release with online components, not to mention patches. We'll have to become more flexible and willing to adapt as games become more flexible and adaptable. Perhaps our scores will eventually disappear too. Until then, though, fairly happy with the way things are... but I'd love to get your take on it.
I think we here at Dealspwn have been quite lucky in regards to how we do review scores. The guidelines forged by our former editorial overlord made it quite easy to assign numeric rankings to our opinions, but as a rule (and one I’ve been quite vocal about in the past) I dislike review scores immensely. The interpretation of a number verses its worth to an individual causes too many unnecessary arguments. The old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may as well be “one man’s 7 is another man’s 8.”
The fact there is such a perceived divide between 7 and 8 scores is the root of the problem, and one that, despite our best efforts to remove, hasn’t been irradiated. Then again, with games costing more and more upon release I can’t blame consumers for being so methodical in their purchasing decisions. After all, you only want to buy the best, for time is ultimately money, but because we all see things in different lights it can be difficult to assign worth, especially as prices crumble over time. Take Deadly Premonition, for example – a game with clunky controls and a bizarre storyline that many, including our own Jon Lester, would call a masterpiece.
It all comes down to time, though. With the age of instant gratification through social media and achievements it makes reading entire reviews (especially long ones like the sort I usually churn out) a chore when you just want to know “IS IT ANY GOOD?!” It’s why we have our Short Versions at the end of our reviews so people will (hopefully) dive into the review proper to see our justifications. Ultimately, I hope that this discussion will get more people to take the time to read reviews, or at least wait for them to be issued before buying games. Again, we’re lucky here at Dealspwn in that most of our audience does exactly that (and we love you for it) but if more consumers out there did it do we might see our industry change for the better.
A guy can dream, right?
I'm generally in favour of review scores if I'm honest. They're a good way to gather a quick opinion on how the world is reacting to a new release. But I by no means hold them as sacred and neither should you. If I'm reading reviews of a new game that I've not had the chance to play during development or won't be reviewing myself, scores are a useful time-saving indicator of whether I may be interesting in purchasing them.
Sites like Metacritic are incredibly useful in gathering a range of different scores, that allow us to read reviews on different ends of the scoring scale and I think most of us can see when a game is being over or under scored. Of course, you could argue that some sites aim to be near the top or bottom end of the scoring scales, just in order to get a visit. And to be fair, I'll often read the highest and lowest scored reviews. There are plenty of games or films with ratings, be it on Metacritic or even Netflix's star ratings that are polar opposites to my own personal tastes. And that doesn't matter one bit really.
Consistency and a thorough understanding is key though. For example, 7/10 is a good score but one that in some areas is associated with a game being a bit 'average'. Maybe I've just been warped by University assignment scoring where anything above 70% is a 'first', the highest grade attainable. I think the water's become muddied with scores out of 5 though, particularly when struggling between 2 and 3 stars, which often bugs the hell out of me on Netflix.
Review scores aren't always immediately appropriate though. Maybe we'll split a review in two, giving you our verdict on the single-player side of the game, then after playing online for a while, give you part 2 with our opinion on the multiplayer and only then stick a score on it. Episodic content has always been something I've steered clear of reviewing until recently. I've enjoyed scoring whole season reviews of Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, but seeing as I'm now reviewing Life is Strange individually, I've decided I won't be giving it a score until the very end. I wouldn't score a book after reading a few chapters after all.
Giving ourselves time to put a score on a game is important too. For example, I waited a few weeks after DriveClub's release to give it chance to sort out its many online issues, which I thought was reasonable enough. But eventually I had to commit to a number reflecting the highs and lows of a game that had been on shelves for over a fortnight. The same goes for Destiny, there was no point trying to get a review out at launch, so we waited until we'd played it in the same way that you'd experience it.
Obviously, I'm honored whenever any of our readers take the time to read our reviews in full. But hey, not everyone has the time or the inclination. That's why we at least have a Pros/Cons list and a short version of the review with the score. I'm all for keeping review scores, everyone else is welcome to getting splinters in their behind for sitting on that fence.