A review score says a lot about a game. It’s often a gamer’s first impression of the quality of the game before they can actually play it, can be used to dictate bonuses for employees, and could even be used as a gauge as to whether or not to work on a sequel. Review scores and gaming are pretty much synonymous at this point, and while a debate can (and often does) rage on as to whether the score is a fair indicator of success, the fact is that right now, low scores translate to a failed product and sometimes lost jobs. What’s worse: gamers now tend to take ratings of below 8/10 as a low quality game, regardless of the reasons for such a rating.
The problem with all this is: what does the final rating of a game really mean?
I’m running into a dilemma right now with a review I’m working on, Alaware’s latest hidden object game Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers. I’ve completed the game, loved it, and find it was a very high quality experience, with a decent story, varied puzzles, good gameplay, and in general, just plain fun (yes, my review will be more eloquent than that). So what’s my dilemma with the score? How do I rate a hidden object game up against something like Witcher 2, Deus Ex:Human Revolution, or Dungeon Siege III? Should my score be an indicator of how a hidden object game stacks up against all games? Games in the genre? Or should it just be a measure of whether you should buy it? I’ve already asked the question, but let’s make it official:
If a publication does not explicitly state their review score policy, what do you assume a final review score means?
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To further explain the options above: quality of the game relative to all other games means that a game rated a 10/10 has no peer, and is to be considered one of the greatest games ever made. A rating that is relative to other games in the genre means that a 10/10 rating for a game indicates that it’s the best game of its genre, but may not necessarily be the best game overall (and, in fact, may not even be close). If you consider a review score to be a purchase indicator, then a 10/10 means the game is a must-own game, even if it’s neither perfect, nor the best in its genre. However, the game is simply something you must buy (Deadly Premonition comes to mind).
Remember the question: If you don’t have any other context, and are just going by a review score (think MetaCritic), what does that review number mean to you?
So taking all of this into consideration, if I were to give a review score for Dark Stokes, then if it was relative to all other games, it’d probably be a 5/10. Relative to all other games in the genre, a 9/10. Purchase indicator, a 10/10. See the difference here? If you don’t know what your reviewer is intending when they put a number to a review, then you could be making assumptions about a game score that could lead to incorrect conclusions about the actual quality of the game. Sure, you can get context through the reading of a review, but do you think CEOs are reading reviews? No, they’re looking at the MetaCritic score, and deciding the fates of jobs based on a composite scale whose parts are not using the same criteria consistently.
In evaluating this question, and being honest with myself, I think I have been inconsistent even between reviews. I want to say I’m reviewing the game relative to other games in the genre, but I can think of a few where I was perhaps using the purchase intent as the review criteria. I don’t think I’ve ever put a game up against all others as best ever, but when giving high scores (10/10 in particular), I will usually qualify the score with some comparisons against those great games. But to answer the question, which is what I think that number means with other publications, I will have to say that the score is relative to all other games, regardless of genre. I don’t think that’s the right way to do it, but that’s the first thought that goes through my head when I see a score.
So what do you think? How do you view game reviews, and had you ever considered that there might be different meanings behind a final score? How would you review a game? Vote above, and let us know below.
A Simple Question (ASQ) is a weekly segment for Platform Nation. Give a response and let the world know what you think; there is no right or wrong answer here. If you have a suggestion for a question, hit me up on twitter @vttym.