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A Simple Question: Review Scores

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.

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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.

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  • Brent Nelson

    I’m glad you brought this up. Game review scores are often inflated like you mentioned, where anything below an 8/10 raises alarms. It also makes a score of 4/10 no better than 2/10 – you’re going to pass it on regardless. Most people wouldn’t consider a 3/5 movie review a bad score, so its a shame that games have to be rated unreasonably high for people to check them out. I’m hoping for a paradigm shift where game scores are scaled back – last year especially saw many games given perfect scores.

  • Derek Kupper

    I like how Destructoid does it – it’s a mix.  For instance, here’s their “9″ description:

    Final Verdict:9.0 Superb: 9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won’t cause massive damage to what is a supreme title in its *genre*.Above a 9 gets in to “ultimate game” territory.  I’d give the game a 9.But fundamentally, anyone who simply reads the review score and ignores the text is missing the point. 

    • http://twitter.com/vttym Tym Kaywork

      Thanks for the comments—

       I guess that’s what I am getting at – what do people think of when they just see a number, and there isn’t guidance as to what that number means? Think Metacritic, where it’s just an average of all the scores.  Every site may use different criteria for their scores.  I was curious to know what the readers thought when they see a score, and have no context.

  • http://twitter.com/MeredithKniest Meredith Kniest

    I think for me, the score itself actually dictates whether it’s a genre-defining or a medium-defining game.

    So a 7/10 often means a game is pretty good for its genre, but if you’re not into the genre, you might not love it.

    An 8/10 means it’s an awesome installment in its genre (or, if its a big budget title, it’s a pretty good installment in its genre–since those games usualy get extra points for pretty graphics and a streamlined experience).

    A 9/10 means its one of the best installments in its genre in recent history, and most people should check it out, whether or not they’re interested in that genre.

    And a 10/10 means that every gamer should buy it. Now.

    That being said, I agree with Brent that a surprising number of games got very high scores last year. It could be that games are always improving, so people are judging by yesterday’s standards. It could also be that the rating systems are becoming inflated because reviewers feel bad giving anything less than a 7 to a “decent” game.

  • http://twitter.com/DeanM1978 Dean M.

    There’s too many factors that can influence the final score to consider it as the main deciding factor whether to buy a game or if too consider it good. I never look at the actual review score itself, I read as many reviews as possible for info(about the controls, gameplay, sound, story, multiplayer), look at game footage, play the demo if possible or just rent first.

    You can’t look at number alone. If your adding up the average of certain categories such as sound, graphics and gameplay for example a game could be rated an overall 7.3 out of 10 or 73 of 100 but have a gameplay score of 5/50, a graphics score of 7/70 & a sound score of 10/100 but play like play like crap, look decent, and sound great.

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