Videogame Review Scores: Pros, Cons, Why We Need Them and How We Can Fix It

Over the past year and a half there’s been a lot of chatterĀ regarding games journalism, and people have been questioning what a rating system really means. Is it a number crafted by a specific rubric? A rank based on the overall feel? A bought and sold pair of digits? While I’m sure it has been and will continue to be any of these things, I know that I personally try to keep it as a mixture between the first two: a number given to a game based on how complete and good it feels, without any major bias from outside sources. Unfortunately, this system seems to be failing and many are even suggesting that scores should be abolished. Not just Metacritic, but any sort of system that essentially ranks a game. Stars, thumbs up, points, gone. While I’m not against the idea completely, I do think that there is still room for scores in games journalism. Newcomers to the scene such as OpenCritic are trying to make good and relevant changes to how we consume reviews but there’s room for much more improvement in the industry as a whole.

So for now, let’s ignore bribery. You can ask everyone to be ethical, but there will always be those who refuse regardless of how harmful it can be to this industry. I’ll instead focus on problems that lie at the very root of the system. First of all, there is no coherent unified method. Every site, magazine, blogger, and vlogger is going to have a different system set up to figure out that number. People also view the 0-100 scale very differently. For example, someone who is easily impressed or happy with games might be much more prone to give out high scores, whereas others are much more critical and feel that the 80+ range should be reserved for only the best.

What I’m personally a big fan of is giving out individual scores alongside the overall rating. This let’s readers know where the game struggled and where it excelled. Perhaps the only reason something was given a 75 was because the reviewer was unimpressed by how it looked visually or didn’t like the story. However if he or she could show me that the game was still really fun to play and has great mechanics, I don’t really care if it doesn’t look as good as other current titles. Sometimes I really don’t care about the story at all, and just want to play something fun and simple. There needs to be more sharing of information regarding all aspects of a video game, because they can be incredibly diverse or unique. One number just doesn’t tend to tell the whole story.

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“First problem is there’s no coherent unified method. Every site, magazine, blogger, and vlogger is going to have a different system set up to figure out that number.”

The written portion of a review does help here. Those are the thoughts and experiences of the writer, where they can point out the flaws or praise the good portions. As much as it pains me to say it, there are just a large amount of people out there who don’t bother to read it and only go for the number. I wish these people would take the time but if they’re not going to anyway then you may as well cater to them as well with a more developed statistic to go by.

Another problem with the rating system is opinion and bias. You’re going to get people that run into personal problems when playing the games they’re reviewing and this can lead to some seriously skewed scores. Video games are experiences that we all take in differently. Just because I don’t like certain aspects of the game doesn’t mean they’re bad. Am I still going to mention the fact that I died on level 4 to what I thought was a poor mechanic or design? Absolutely, but there’s always the chance that I was just having some bad luck and nobody else will run into the same issue. I’ll have my rant, but at the end of the day my final score won’t be based solely around that issue, if at all.

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“I wish these people would take the time to read the review but if they’re not going to anyway then you may as well cater to them.”

So there are tons of ways to fix or change the system, but what if it was gotten rid of altogether? Some sites already have, and use more of a recommendation system instead. I really do like this approach and try to follow it somewhat when I write my own reviews. The reader is given pros and cons, things the writer liked or didn’t like about the game, and then basically a yes, no, or maybe at the end. Unfortunately for a lot of people that sort of just translates into 100, 0, or 50 and doesn’t entirely work. I think a slightly better approach that fixes that a bit, is instead try to associate with the core audience. Try to figure out other games that are similar, and make a recommendation based on that. For example, if I’m reviewing a new FPS then I’ll likely compare it to whatever big shooter is out right now. Most people have likely played it or at least have an opinion and can then get a much better handle on what something is like.

I firmly believe that what’s needed is a melding of everything to give a finished package. This tends to take the most work, but that’s where quality comes from. If I can see a rubric of scores, a written example of what the game looks and feels like, and then a recommendation based on other, similar games then I feel like I’m able to create an informed opinion. Isn’t that what a review is all about, giving the reader the ability to discern for themselves whether a game is worth buying? I like to think so.

Please, tell us what you think would be best. You’re the readers after all. Do you want a quick flashy number, or something more in-depth you can mull over? More text? Scores broken down, or taken out completely? We’re here to serve you, to help you decide how to spend that hard-earned dollar of yours. Help us help you, so that we can all just go back to what games should really be about: play.