The Value of Game Review Scores - No One's Winning This One
Game review scores have always been a hot topic for discussion, but the value of a score has dwindled just as much as the value of a dollar in recent years. It's time to take a look at our attitudes and really wonder why nothing is good enough, and why we won't let it be good enough.
Any gaming forum has a discussion somewhere about review scores and whether they are accurate. This usually isn't so much based on an individual's opinion, but rather groups of people wondering why some titles get perfect (or nearly perfect) scores despite not being anything truly special.
I admit this is something I wonder about with every AAA game that gets universally praised. There have been so many games that reviewers have praised as being stellar, remarkable experiences; and yet during play, they fall short of what the reviewer claimed and leave me feeling unfulfilled. It's unfortunate, but it's not something that's going to change because we, as a demographic, are in general not mature enough to accept the reality of the quality in games we enjoy.
We're not going to discuss how all of that icky, (sometimes) shady business goes down, but rather how the dishing out of perfect scores has become the norm because that is what the consumer wants to hear. While publishers and their marketing departments are not angels here, one has to consider the type of attitude that has plagued the gaming industry and those that follow it for decades: Brand loyalty and the craving for dominance.
The video game industry is competitive from the bottom up. There is competition to get into the industry, competition between companies, and competition between players in-game and between fanbases. The further down the pipeline we get, the more the industry resembles a sort of proverbial, three-legged battlefield.
Competing against individuals in a game is one thing: It's a direct competition, with the better player (or team) usually coming out on top. Competing against fans of other platforms or series is another thing entirely, as the pawns on the board are not something the individual has much control over. You can watch, you can root for your favorite team, but in the end you don't have any control over the results.
But what if the results, regardless of how they actually are, are reported as being good no matter the side you're on? You can't complain because the game you dished out $60 for is getting good reviews. You are validated in your purchase, and you are allowed to be proud to enjoy it.
If you find the game in question to be -- frankly -- shit, then we're veering into grey territory and you feel scorned. You can complain, but who is going to listen to you? No one, because look at all these websites that say 9/10! You're wrong and have bad taste. Give up video games. Etc.
The admittance that you have bad taste or made a poor purchasing decision is looked down on within the gaming community. You've shown weakness, and it's your peers' job to tear into you to teach you a lesson. This is also the case should the game you enjoy get a bad score, but the problem here is that your average gamer perceives a 7 out of 10 to mean a game is bad.
There are three points on the 1 to 10 scale that are considered acceptable among a developer or franchise's fanbase: 8, 9, and 10. A score of 8 is borderline, and is often used as a reference as a bad score for a big-name title. A score of 9 or 10 is the only truly safe score. No one will throw a hissy fit about their favorite company being wronged, because everything is good! The game is good -- a milestone this generation! How dare you complain.
No, not how dare you complain. If anything, the complaining about this practice is not loud enough. The practice of tossing out high scores isn't simply something you can fuss at gaming journalists about and expect it to stop. The reason this is how things are is because of the prevalent competition between the gamers themselves and their desire to have their tastes validated.
A10 B9 C8
Over the past few years, I've heard from some that the 1 to 10 scoring scale can be translated into school grades. A 10 would be an A, a 9 would be a B, and so on -- but consider this:
- If a 10 is an A..
- If a 9 is a B..
- If an 8 is a C..
- If a 7 is a D..
- If a 6 is an F..
- What are numbers 1 through 5?
On most school grading scales, there is no lower than an F (with some rare exceptions). How can a scale with five choices be related to a scale with ten choices, unless those on the 1 to 10 scale are doubled-up on the letter-based grading scale? To accurately match the two, it would be more like this:
- 10 and 9 reflect an A+ and an A
- 8 and 7 reflect a B+ and a B
- 6 and 5 reflect a C+ and a C
- 4 and 3 reflect a D+ and a D
- 2 and 1 reflect an F
This is the type of grading scale we used to see gaming publications use. Plenty of good games would get scores of 7 or 8 because they weren't perfect, but they were solid titles in their own right.
I'm about to hop off my soapbox here, but I want you to answer this question: Why can't you just be happy with a 7? Logically, a 7 is a good score. Why does every big title need to be a 9 or a 10? Most of us are adults now, guys. It shouldn't be the gaming press's job to coddle our tastes.
I am by no means claiming that the press is innocent here. PR and marketing run deep to the point where a low metascore means some developers don't get bonuses. Some sites don't get first dibs on exclusives or freebies if they don't pony up the coveted 9 or 10. Advertising can get pulled as well -- it's a complicated affair, and no one is innocent.
If you want realistic review scores, you first have to convince yourself a score of 7 is acceptable, even if a direct rival title got a 9 on your preferred site. Can you do that? Can you really and truly toss the competition aside and just enjoy your games?
To be honest, I don't know if I can either.
(Images from my TERA folder because lazy.)