Discussions and arguments surrounding reviews are somewhere up there in the top five gamer grievances, at least for those of us who participate in the online gaming community.

The most common even that creates firestorms of this sort come when reviews (judged solely by their numbered score 1-10) don’t match up with what the public believes a game deserves. It can go either way: the game wasn’t good enough for such a high score or the reviewers are crazy for affixing a low score.

It can bring out the worst in us. People even turn to conspiracy theories about reviewers or web sites being paid off. This is, of course, absurd but there is no doubt review scores garner skepticism.

Take, for example, Game X which receives 9’s to 10’s all around except where Website Y is concerned. Website Y gives it a 6.5. That site is immediately flooded with fans come to defend the game and do some site and reviewer thumping. In the midst of this the question arises: did they do this just to get website traffic? After all, a gaming site lives and dies mostly by hits.

On the whole though, I believe reviewers do their best to provide the service honorably. Some simply have very different standards that seem deranged in comparison to general consensus. (cough Destructoid cough). If I had been assigned to review The Last of Us or Dragon Age: Inquisition I could see some eyebrows raising for instance, but I know I’d never sacrifice the trust of the people for popularity. I’m no Brian Williams, but I could have been accused of it. We must always remember that there are words and ideas behind those scores. If the words and ideas are Ludacris then it’s safer and easier to dismiss the review and the reviewer.

So what are we to do? Scores seem tainted by mistrust, and on top of that they aren’t functioning properly any more. Site owner Nick Calandra and I once worked on a site using the 1-5 star scale, trying to condense things into a general sense of quality. The 1-10 scale just didn’t seem to be used properly anymore, so it didn’t mean much.

I figured that due to the major rise in quality of games since the good ol days the middle of the scoring range has been cored out. Sure, you’ll see a 5 now and then, but think about how the populace really sees things. To the masses, a game getting a 7 has failed, it “sucks”. It often feels like the actual scoring for reviewers to work with is 7-10. That’s pretty condensed. We know many trust us to tell them what is worth buying and so there’s an invisible force holding scores up in that range for anything that isn’t terrible. A 6 really shouldn’t be considered terrible but it is doomed to low sales even if it is “good not great”. Consider a shinier game that does the same things and you’re back in the 7-10 bubble.

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What is the solution? Some do numberless reviews, but it’s hard to support a site that way since you want beacons of traffic. There’s the five star route, but a lot of games end up with the same middling score and there is less excitement over a high score.

Or do you think we have no problem and review scores don’t need to adjust to changing industry standards?

Please discuss, but I’m afraid I have to punt. Something is off but I’m not the man to fix it. There may yet be a way to drag that 7-10 bubble backward to encompass the full scale.

[alert type=white ]Note: This is an opinion based editorial which expresses the author’s views, and as such does not represent the views of OnlySP as an organization.[/alert]

David D. Nelson
David D. Nelson is a polymath with a BA in English working as an independent writing and editing professional. He enjoys gaming, literature, and a good hat.

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1 Comment

  1. Personally, I feel Eurogamer’s move to have a 1-line (could be extended to 2-3 lines) summary for those who just can’t handle reading a few paragraphs is great. I think any kind of ranking, be it numbers, stars or foxes will only have the same results when it comes to viewer complaints and also same inaccuracies.

    You could divide it by category, as you have been doing, but then what if an element of a game that makes it worth trying is just less easy to define? If a game lacks a story in the conventional sense, but takes to environmental storytelling, does that go into the story or gameplay? And which one would each reader expect to see it in and which one they’d call a lie? All nuance is gone with numbers and there is always the risk most folks will just look at the big visible final one and not even pay attention to the individual scores.

    I don’t think asking people to at least read a few lines is bad. Progress comes from all sides. Audiences won’t suddenly stop being spoiled and willingly inconvenience themselves. I think it is gaming sites which need to ease folks back into actually researching their purchases, even if by reading a few lines at the top of a review. Smaller waste of money for gamers, easier to capture the essence of a game for reviewers. I think most folks would eventually prefer that small initial inconvenience to flawed data.

    Now, I am usually pro-convenience and support making things as easy as possible, but when the means to do that starts misrepresenting the product and dulling the audience, I do think it’s time to reassess things.

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