In defense of review scores

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Competition score

I am currently preparing my review for Evolve. I’m mulling over the good and the bad, I’m discussing my opinions with the rest of the lazygamer crew, and of course we are debating the most visible part, the score. While it’s difficult to quantify an opinion, it’s one facet of the job as a games critic. Many sites are choosing not to use numerical scores, but I think they are working against their own aims.

In recent months, many influential sites have dropped review scores. Ranging from Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun to Eurogamer and the now-closed Joystiq, each announced that scores were bad. Why? According to them, the finger is largely at Metacritic.

For those who live under a rock, Metacritic takes a range of reviews from a variety of reputable sources and runs them through its top secret weighting system to give a meta-score for games and movies. Much like how Rotten Tomatoes uses this to give an average score for movies, Metacritic is a tool that gamers and publishers can use to assess a game’s quality. According to these other sites, developers and publishers abuse Metacritic – it can impact on developer bonuses or even affect which publishers are willing to sign on for sequels to games.

Disappointment

By taking away review scores and instead converting them into words like “recommended” or “Yes”, news outlet believe that players will take more away from the review. At the moment, anything less than 8 (or sometimes even less than 9) will be perceived as a bad game. However, often a game can only get a 6 or a 7 and still be a lot of fun to play. While score inflation is definitely a problem, getting rid of the numbers feels like a poor excuse for letting reviewers off the hook about their scores. Putting a number next to a game means that the reviewer needs to really consider the full impact of the game and stand by their words and numbers.

The main thing to consider is what is the point of a review? We generally write many words for a review. I believe the average is around 800-1500 words depending on the size of the game. With those words, we seek to answer all your burning questions: what’s the game about? Does it tell an interesting story with cool characters? Are levels well designed? Are the controls well thought out? How does it look? Is it worth my money? However, we know that many people skip all those words and scroll straight to the bottom. They don’t do this because our reviews are poorly written or because we don’t consider nuance. They do it because when push comes to shove, they want to know one thing – is it a good game?

Top score

The one number can say it all. The game you were looking forward to scored a 9? You probably won’t even bother reading the review to find out why – you’ll just go buy it. But if it scores a 7, that doesn’t mean you won’t buy it; it means you’ll read the words so that you can see if maybe the thing that Darryn hated is what you would most enjoy. Numbers are also a quick and easy way of assessing how one game stacks up against another. Are scores for Assassin’s Creed steadily declining? Did everyone rate Destiny somewhere in the 7s? This should be a good indication to gamers of what’s happening on the whole.

Recently in chat, Geoff has been raving about Dying Light. That doesn’t mean he disagrees with Alessandro’s score of 7.5 – there is a lot wrong with the game, but Geoff is still having a ton of fun. This is something clearly explained by Alessandro if you bother to read his words. Or, you could see 7.5 and come to the same assumption that I did – it’s a game with a bunch of cool things, but falls short in other areas.

Obama disappoint

Removing review scores doesn’t help clarify opinions on games, it muddies the water even more. Several games might get “recommended” or “yes”, but without a number I don’t know if that vote barely scraped by or is a wholehearted stamp of approval. Readers who used to scroll to the bottom and read the score won’t suddenly start reading every carefully selected word in a review – they will find someone else who can quantify how much fun a game can provide.

Picking a number isn’t easy. Often, we can only really give a game a number after we’ve written all the words. However, it’s part of the job. It’s the job of a reviewer to explain to a fellow gamer why a game is good or not and if it’s worthwhile. If we can’t rate the game on an easily understandable numerical scale, we are failing our readers and we aren’t doing our job properly. If you’re looking for nuance, read the words; if you just want to know if a game is worthwhile or not, feel free to scroll to the bottom for the score and three sentence summary.

Last Updated: February 11, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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