What's Wrong with Video Game Review Scores & How You Can Help
5... out of 5?
Have you ever been upset at a game review? Thought the reviewer was completely off base or even straight up wrong? When your favourite game gets a 2 out of 5 or a game you hate is rated 90% it's easy to feel annoyed, but if you take a different approach to reviews things can be better. In this article we talk about scoring systems, what's wrong with them, their importance, and how you can help make everything better.
Different Types of Scoring Systems
First, let's quickly go over the different ways a video game can be rated. Common ones are a score out of 5 or 10, a percentage, and sometimes using icons like stars. They all tend to have their place, like in a review by a single person, a score out of 5 or 10 are common, whereas public opinion like Steam reviews or Metacritic that tries to average everyone's opinions are often a percentage system. For reviews done by a single person, the score they come up with are usually based on what's called 'rubrics' or the criteria that a game is judged by. This can, for example, be based on graphical quality, storytelling, and uniqueness where each criteria can get a score and then it's combined into a final score.
It might sound pretty straightforward at this point but problems arise when you actually think about how these scores matter to you and if they're actually of any use at all.
Problems With Review Scores
Here are some issues that come with a simple score trying to tell you how good or bad a video game is:
1. What People Value is Different
The exact same game can split people's opinions. Some people care about graphics while others don't care what it looks like. There are those who are all about the storyline but other people are in it for the action and explosions. Game reviewers, being human and all, have similar differences in opinions. Whether you're looking at an averaging of percentages on Steam or a specifically scored review, it's almost never going to exactly represent what you would think of the game if you played it yourself.
2. Quality Doesn't Mean Enjoyment
If you ask people, 'Which is a better game, Chess or Candy Crush?', you will hear a lot of people say that Chess is 'better' or a 'more important' game. Ask which one they feel like playing right now if they had to choose and many would pick Candy Crush, even ones who said Chess was a better game. That's because Chess can be highly stressful and takes a lot of energy to play when many are just looking for a fun time to chill out, and that's totally fine. Just because something is 'better' doesn't mean we should enjoy it more, so we can hate games that are well reviewed and love games that are critical failures.
3. Converting Experience to Numbers is Weird
If you think back to your school exams and how you scored a percentage, let's say 73%, it doesn't actually make a lot of sense, does it? Is 73% good? Is the difference between 73% and 81% going to matter at all anywhere in the real world? If both 73% and 81% students applied for a job later on, is it guaranteed that the 81% student would do better at that job? Of course not and the same is true for video game ratings. The numbers are so vague that they can border on meaningless if you try to specify what they mean. There's just no way a single number can communicate all the details and intricacies of something as complex as a video game experience. It's just a broad brush stroke.
Why We Still Need Review Scores
It's about TIME and MONEY! Despite having so many problems, review scores are still a thing and many people find them useful and important. That's because review scores try to communicate value and reduce risk to potential buyers, like reviews for which hotel to stay at, which university to go to, or which movie to watch. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to judge a video game by their own standards, but to judge a video game you would have to spend money to buy it and spend time playing it, which defeats the purpose of a review. We want to check a review BEFORE buying and playing because our time and money is limited and we don't want to waste them.
What Makes a Review Itself 'Good' or 'Bad'
Reviewing the reviewer! Before we get into what you can do, we need to make sure that the reviewer is doing their job in making a good review. Sometimes a review is just unfair or vague, making it not a good assessment of the game and generally not very useful or even misleading.
Objectivity, subjectivity, context, and facts.
A good review will tell you what you need to know about what the game is and also provide the reviewer's opinions that are clearly personal opinions of the reviewer for you to take as you like. It will also justify those opinions with context by comparing the game to other games and the industry in general. For example, saying 'in Game A the combat is not that good because it was clearly done better in Game B because of so and so'. It will also give allowances for differing opinions when an issue is borderline, like saying 'some people would enjoy X if they played Y but many would not like it'.
Feelings, vagueness, bias, and subjectivity disguised as objectivity.
A bad review would base a lot of its judgement solely on feelings and would not make things very clear to people about what the game is actually like. A common issue in bad reviews or arguments as to why something is good or bad is stating personal opinions as if they were objective facts and failing to justify them with any comparison or context. There's also no room for differing opinions. For example, stating 'the combat in the game is bad and if you like it you have bad taste' and never actually explaining why. Bias is another problem, where a reviewer simply likes another game better and hates a new game because it's not the old game, or their opinions are overwhelmingly influenced by sponsorship or money.
How You Can Make Things Better
Overall, what I'm getting at is that reviews are inherently flawed even at their best, so it's on us to make things better. Here are three things you can do:
1. Understand Objectivity & Subjectivity
The first step that you can do is to understand what is objective and what is subjective, along with being prepared to spot it when you encounter a review. It's easy to get angry at a reviewer for saying that they didn't like something you liked but if you realise that it's just one opinion, you can let it slide. You have your own opinion. Objective things are just facts and information and use those to just get a clearer picture of what the game is like.
2. Figure Out What You & Others Value
Understanding what you like and what others like is handy too. Some people need high quality graphics while others are fine with pixel art. Remember when I talked about 'rubrics' or criteria for a game to be judged? I found it useful to come up with my own and realise that not everyone looks for the same things, even professional reviewers. For example, I enjoy a sense of consequence, the need for exploration, and moral ambiguity in a game. When I'm reading a review, the reviewer may not even talk about these things at all and give the game a low rating. Realising the reviewer and I have different tastes, I check other reviews to see if the things I like are in the game.
3. Think of Reviews as Personality-based Reviews
When looking at a review, don't just look at the brand or company behind it. Seeing that it's from a certain company might give you a general idea of how they review things but it's better to look at the author of the review. Note the actual person behind the review and try to find a reviewer that matches your tastes because that person's reviews will be more useful to you. Reviewers are their own personalities and have unique preferences too, so if you can find a reviewer that almost always matches your opinions, then when a new game comes out you can look up that reviewer and see what they had to say about it rather than relying on random reviews or Steam ratings.
So there you have it! The next time you see a game review you'll be able to make more use of it with a better understanding and express your opinions more effectively. With your help we can reduce some of the hate and toxicity in the gaming community directed at reviews and we all know that we need less of that in our scene.