Fair Game: Review Scores are Redundant
A few weeks ago, review aggregation site Metacritic came under fire from disgruntled community members of NeoGaf and N4G after it posted an 8/10 summation from Variety magazine for Sony Computer Entertainment's potential PlayStation 3 killer app LittleBigPlanet.
While an undeniably fine points score, resulting fanboy accusations claimed Metacritic was guilty of favouring Sony's rivals by deliberately attempting to downgrade LittleBigPlanet's gathering acclaim. These knee-jerk allegations (placing a focus on "jerk") arose because Variety's respected entertainment reviews, be they for movies, television or videogames, do not carry scores.
Those choosing to look beyond idiotic conspiracy theories, which largely involved fat cheques and Microsoft's heavily-populated back pocket, may have had any lingering questions about the Variety review answered by an explanatory forum post offered up through Metacritic founder Marc Doyle. In his post, Doyle highlighted site policy by pointing out that videogame reviews submitted to Metacritic without accompanying scores are assigned one prior to online posting based solely on the tone of the review text.
However, despite Metacritic's explanation, which does appear to support its 8/10 evaluation, it does still seem fair to question the review score because it has not come from the source publication. This, in turn, begs the question: do we actually need scores and, if so, who needs them more?
While the likes of Metacritic and Game Rankings subsist on review scores and would be struck hard without them, when it comes to the game-playing public - the online demographic most likely to be trawling through individual reviews and collated scores - it would be difficult to find a single gamer who isn't guilty of dismissing a reviewer's worded appraisal in favour of skipping straight to its easily scanned concluding paragraph and points score.
Short attention spans aside, this general lack of respect for the reviewing process (something we do for you) could be attributed to an unwillingness to actually 'read' a review when many prominent review destinations offer quick-fix video appraisals to sate curiosity in the quickest possible time. Yet it could also be the result of gaping discrepancies in consistent and reliable videogame evaluation.
Specifically, GameTrailers recently ran its video review for survival horror epic Dead Space, during which the reviewing narrator spent several minutes espousing much praise in the direction of creator Electronic Arts before then awarded the game a score of 8.8/10. Similar to the LittleBigPlanet incident, site comments swiftly questioned why the final score had not been higher considering the reviewer's clearly ebullient gushing.
Now, without getting into the pathetic decimal and incremental scoring used through the respective 1/10 and 1/100 scales, there is clearly a growing tumour of belief across vast sways of today's gamers that 'good' releases should be scoring 9/10 by default. Wonderfully malignant as an ominous fanboy device designed to push one hardware platform's exclusives further than those of a rival, such a damaging yardstick of measurement is only likely to further consume the reputation assigned to a dubious scoring system already in danger of becoming completely inconsequential.
Clambering boldly atop my well-trodden soap box, I can say with concrete conviction that, after reviewing videogames for numerous publications over the past five years, scoring systems differ radically from place to place. It is my belief that they are not only guilty of being unreliable and misleading for the reader, but also of being wholly unnecessary when it comes to delivering solid objective appraisal.
Bottom line, it's how the writer conveys his or her words that counts, not how many points they choose to slap on at the end of the review; points that the reader will invariably misconstrue or criticise because everyone seems to have their own notion of point value. Once the reader passes the final full stop, internalisation of the writer's thoughts should then contribute to what is supposed to be 'an informed' decision as to whether the game in question is worthy of their time and money. An arbitrary score that is so obviously open to interpretation and vulnerable to dispute does anything but help in this sense.
For example, although a minority of review sites appear to rightly outline a system where 5/10 is deemed average, a great many seem to be keen on pandering to PR companies and publishers by using 7/10 - while others simply don't have a defined system at all. The latter reliance, whereby reviewers are left to follow their own paths of evaluation with no rigid guidelines, results in massive contradictions when it comes to score continuity, which is only likely to damage a publication's overall reputation.
And reputation plays a large part in building a faithful audience that's prepared to have faith in what your reviewers have to say. For evidence of this one need only look at unflappably stringent and highly respected UK publication EDGE magazine. Here, a score of 5/10 is absolutely average, a 7/10 is clearly hard-earned praise, 8/10 is nothing short of impressive, 9/10 is an uncommon mark of outstanding achievement, and 10/10 is a blessed rarity that bestows a tangible sense of genuine greatness upon a game.
Conversely, however, despite EDGE's best efforts, one look at Metacritic's increasingly cramped pages shows just how many bottom-feeder review sources are being given a voice with which to almost nullify those prepared to exercise an attuned critical eye and offer scores accordingly.