What Do Game Review Scores Really Mean?
I always find it kind of difficult to give the final score to a game. It's guaranteed that there will be a lot of people who disagree with the score no matter what. On one hand, it is kind of necessary to give a general review score for a game, while on the other, it is also good if you factor in things like price tag, studio size, genre.
I will go through the scoring, and comment on how I decide which games belong to which category. Since it is a one to ten scale here at GameSkinny, I will use that for an example, but it can be applied to any kind of scoring system.
Below Five Stars
I really would not go into one to four star categories in detail. Let's just say these are all bad games. Generally, there is no audience that would enjoy these titles, or in some cases maybe a very few people. However, I would personally only rate a game below five if it is broken. Below five for me is a game that is already a bad game to begin with, but it is also incredibly broken. If the main mechanics don't work properly, the game is full of bugs, and there are constant stability issues that won't even let you play, then that's a below five star rated game. Below five is a bad place to be.
Prime example would be Bad Rats. It's a physics puzzler. Except the physics in it are broken. The whole game seems to be absolutely random, with little to no relation to real physics.
A five star game works, or at least is not completely broken. Needless to say, it is still not a great game. However, at this stage it's playable and it might even be a little bit of fun (even if it's only for 10 minutes, that's still better than nothing). These games are generally uninteresting and lack real content or depth. Earning your game a five star rating is still not a very nice place to be, but at least your game isn't broken. Congratulations.
Zombies on a Plane would be a perfect example. All the mechanics in the game are actually working as intended, yet the gameplay is just not appealing to the desktop market. It would be hard to find anyone who can enjoy it more than 10 minutes.
Games here are much better than the contestants of previous categories (at least for some people). Games that are targeted to a very specific subculture, or group of people who will enjoy it greatly, usually belong in this rating. However, for most of us, these titles are still relatively unappealing. But there might be an audience for a six star game. Some games that could be great can also be brought down to this level by bugs. For a game that otherwise would be good, the bugs would have to be major to get a six rating; some minor bugs or annoyances won't get the game this far down the rating scale. There might be some gems for some people in six. You know, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Little Racers STREET would be a great example. It's a game I can enjoy greatly, but it's also a game that I know others wouldn't even care about. It's an OK game. Anyone could get at least some enjoyment out of it.
Now we are getting somewhere! Seven star games are generally good. Most people can enjoy them--some may get more enjoyment than others, though. For me, there is a line under seven, where anything above that line has the potential to be interesting, very enjoyable. The reason behind not getting a higher grade is simple. It is a good game, but it is just not quite there. Maybe there are some minor bugs. Maybe the main mechanic gets boring after a while. Maybe the story is a little bit too simple. Maybe the controls are a bit jerky. Maybe it's just a little bit too short. There can be many reasons why it is not graded better. When dealing with games rated a seven, always keep in mind that it might be a good game, but it might also be stinking somewhere. It might not be an issue to you personally, but it might be to other people.
The perfect example for this is Remember Me. It is almost a great game. Sadly it is brought down by some minor annoyances, and repetitive gameplay. It could have easily been a really good game with just a little more care from the developers.
Anything with an eight star rating is a good game. They're all well put together; there isn't any content missing or any bugs that will make you scratch your head. Eight-star games can generally be enjoyed by anyone. There is only one problem with them: they are not extraordinary. All the games here are simply good. There is nothing wrong with that, and if you are a developer and your game gets a solid eight you've done a very good job. Some games do not even want to be innovative, but that's okay. Eight is a good number.
It's hard to find a good example for this one. Basically every game that is really enjoyable in its own genre. Payday 2, Grid Autosport, Orcs Must Die! 2 and a lot more can fit this category.
This is the top. There might be one more level above, but you should not care about that level. Instead, you should handle it like it does not even exists. Believe me when I say this is the top. The game is really good. All the issues that might be there are just very minor and don't have a real effect on the enjoyment people can get out of the game. The game is just there. It has made the leap from eight to nine. It has a small feature that makes a great game into a very great one. You can't really go wrong with a title that has nine stars. Well done.
Games that belong here are the top of its genre. Titles like Divinity Original Sin, Borderlands 2, Left4Dead 2, Portal.
This place is like heaven. It might exist, but it might not. Few games can say that they're a ten. There are legends about it. Legends that every five years, there can be only a handful of games that can call themselves a ten. Anything here is close to perfect.
Anything that I will put here will make people disagree. Basically games that can extend beyond its own genre. Examples include: Portal 2, GTAV.
There are all the other factors to mind when rating games that I didn't mention above. For example, a low price tag can sometimes give a slight boost to a reviewer's score (and the same idea goes for overpriced games, as they could easily get lower scores than what they would deserve with a more appropriate price). Scoring games is the opinion of the person who did the review. Some people might enjoy a five star rated game more then a title with seven. It is all relative and about personal preference.