I despise review scores. I really hate the way people will skip over thousands of words to find the dumb number plastered at the end that is somehow supposed to be representative of the previous four pages of writing. I hate that people will dismiss anything under a 7 because it’s not considered good.
Yet I still give a “score”.
Not by choice though, out of continuity for the websites I write for, I respect that these scores have been a traditional way for outlets to review not only video games but television shows, movies, songs and so forth. I can’t expect to write for sites and then have them bend rules around me, I’m grateful and privileged for any site that will take me on, and I’ll conform to their way of doing things if needs be.
Amazon have started adding Metacritic scores on to their site now, displaying a number alongside various video games. Yes, so now when a website gives an 7.5 or 84 or 3 and a half stars or whatever arbitrary decimal place it might be, it’s all collected and now displayed right next to the game itself.
Now don’t get me wrong, I see why Amazon are doing this, I see that it’s for the convenience of the public who need to justify spending their time and money on a product. Amazon aren’t coming out to try and harm the industry, not when they’re just about to partly get into it.
To begin with, there’s tons wrong with Metacritic.
For example, publications only get one shot on the site for each game. Once you put your score up there, that’s that. No second chances. Not even if your review is altered and has its score changed, or if the review itself is taken down.
Now, there’s understandable reasons for this. Some outlets might be pressured into giving the game a higher score by publishers, if they felt a reviewer’s initial score wasn’t to their liking, and while most have integrity, there are a select few who don’t. A higher Metacritic score means better PR for publishers and bonuses for the developer. Which, is yet another, major problem with Metacritic and publishers.
Firstly, even in the initial pitching of video game ideas, publishers will ask the developers what their Metacritic average is. Then in the development of a game, while maybe not directly responding to the call for a higher score, developers will find ways in which to identify core areas of their game and improve them, in order to gain a higher Metacritic score. So while there is no direct link between the two, its influence is there, and then, if the game receives a high score, it can be used advantageously in the pitching of an idea, going all the way back to publishers.
This is why you see shoddy online multiplayer added in to games late in development, it’s another area in which this arbitrary points can be scored. That’s why DLC is added, to “extend” the life and re-playability of the game, but not without a price of course.
Metacritic is hurting this industry and we have to stop caring about numbers and focus on the content. I could go on and on (and probably will at a later date) about Metacritic’s problems, but when you come down to the core, game reviewing is flawed.
Hell, reviewing is flawed. There is, of course, objectively things you can review; does the game work, does it control properly, are there any game breaking bugs? These and more are factual points that can be proved when the game is played by anyone. There is simply too much subjectivity after these points that a number can be created and then justified. Please, explain to me what the difference is between that 75 and 76. What quantifies that 1 point? Can, then, that same exact point be attributed to other games? No, of course not.
And there’s another point. We’re comparing games that cannot be compared legitimately.
Here’s a quick screengrab of the “highest rated games of all time”. The first is an action-adventure game, the next is a skateboarding game, then an open world, action-adventure, then a fighter, then a platformer and so on. Have all these games been reviewed with the same criteria, same regulations and rules? Of course not, you can’t apply the same set of standards to every single game, that’s just not fair and hurts the developers, consumer and reviewer, not to mention the game itself.
One of the most polarizing game series I know of is the Animal Crossing series. I bought the latest edition, New Leaf, day one. People either understand the game and love it, or understand the game and find it completely boring, which is fine! It’s personal, I understand the game, it’s relaxing and makes me feel mellow, how can that feeling be translated into a review and then used as a means to critique another game? It cannot, because reviews are subjective, and subjectivity is great, it allows us all to have differing opinions, to discuss and debate, what a boring world we would live in if everyone agreed with each other, which is why I find when big releases like GTA V get scores lower than 90 from a reviewer, I’ll read that one. Why didn’t it like up to expectations, why does this not conform with other people’s opinions? This discussion and debate is good, it allows for advancement, to exceed expectations the next time, a thought process that cannot be done by simply looking at a number that’s supposed to be representative of the entire “video game journalism” consensus. There’s a world of difference between an indie game made in a garage by 3 people and a “AAA” game with a budget that exceeds 9 figures made by a 1000 people. We absolutely cannot compare these two experiences with one, concluding number. Not ever.
5 — “Recommended with reservations.” Average. Your run-of-the-mill gaming experience. Genre devotees would give this a 6 or maybe a 7 on a good day, but even they would have to acknowledge that it’s got a lot of flaws and design issues that keep it from standing out from the crowd. Or maybe it’s justbland and uninspired. A 5 is still fun, but there’s just so many better experiences out there.
5 – Mediocre
5.0-5.9 – MEDIOCRE
This is the kind of bland, unremarkable game we’ve mostly forgotten about a day after we finish playing. A mediocre game isn’t something you should spend your time or money on if you consider either to be precious, but they’ll pass the time if you have nothing better to do.
Example: Dust 514, Time & Eternity, Game & Wario
A score of five indicates a bland, underwhelming game that’s functional but little else. These games might still possess quirks or aspects that appeal to certain players.
And now GameInformer:
Average. The game’s features may work, but are nothing that even casual players haven’t seen before. A decent game from beginning to end.
So GameSpot say a 5 is “of only moderate quality; not very good”, GI says it’s “average” but also a “decent game” (contradiction?), Polygon tells us it’s underwhelming but “might still possess quirks or aspects that appeal to certain players” (can’t games with other scores do that?), whereas IGN calls it “bland, unremarkable”.
Mediocre, average, decent, underwhelming, bland, unremarkable.
Are you then telling me that Metacritic then collects these totally different definitions and then “rounds it up” into one, singular number?
Game reviewing is flawed. I don’t have the perfect solution on me right now. I, instead, prefer to just end the review with a concluding paragraph, summarising my thoughts into a neatly crafted summary. A simple “Yes, you should buy this game” or “No, you should avoid this game” would suffice near the end of the review, and if we got everyone to do this, people who read game reviews can start to see if they will enjoy the game or not. Not by reading one, single number, but by assessing multiple, differing views.
I suppose then, a lot of us are a fault, whether it’s readers who are lazy and just want the number, whether it’s publishers who make crucial business decisions based on subjective and arbitrary numbers, or developers who are changing the way games are made to conform to this almighty aggregated number. One of my favourite people in gaming, Jason Schreier, sums it up perfectly. Metacritic is a useful tool, but video game publishers have turned it into a weapon. And something’s gotta change.
Video game scores need to go, and video game reviews need to change.
Or we could end reviews with gifs like so: