Review Scores Are Bad! Let’s Fix Them!

Original Author: Andrew Meade

Earlier this week I asked Forrest Smith challenged me to talk about something completely original.

Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to write the week before my next post, making it just a matter of taking what I’ve written in my head and sending it out to you fine folks. With just recently moving, starting a new job, and school in full force, I’m afraid I can’t switch gears that rapidly, but my next post will rise to Mr. Smith’s call for originality. I’m nothing if not easily goaded into doing things for the challenge, so this week, Mr. Smith, this post isn’t for you.

But for everyone else – HELLO! Let’s talk Review Scores.

Lately reviews have come under serious fire – partly because some reviewers aren’t reviewing with the impartiality that they should, partly because some developers felt that they deserved better, and partly because the entire system is broken. I’m not here to talk about the how, what, and why – I’m here to talk about how we can fix it.

Before we do this, let’s look at irrefutable proof that the scoring system is invalid and useless in its current state to make sure that nobody can come around and yell at us for reinventing the wheel.

Here is the criteria for a 10/10 score in Game Informer –

Outstanding. A truly elite title that is nearly perfect in every way. This score is given out rarely and indicates a game that cannot be missed.

Already I’m having problems. “Nearly perfect?” Traditionally a 10/10 or “Perfect Ten” is used to grade something that has no flaws or imperfections – hence the perceived rarity.

Now let’s look at the most recent 10/10 that Game Informer handed out. It was for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and the review was mostly glowing. However, about 10% of the entire review was negative feedback. Let’s look.

Despite my love for it, I can recognize a few elements of this latest Zelda adventure that some gamers are going to dislike. The much-vaunted Skyloft proves to be a fascinating starting locale with tons of sidequests and secrets to discover, but flying to different floating islands takes a bit of time. It’s much faster and generally less annoying than Wind Waker’s sailing, but there were times where the pull of my next object was so strong that I would have gladly accepted a fast warp to that location.

            The vast, open Hyrule Field is replaced by tinier, more disconnected, and more puzzle-centric ground areas leading up to dungeons. Although Skyward Sword is lengthy – my first playthrough took just over 40 hours – the physical size of the game world is smaller than Twilight Princess. As such, the game occasionally tasks you with backtracking through areas you’ve already competed while on fetch quests, but it usually changes the environment in interesting ways or throws out new challenges.

 Interesting review, eh? It seems to me that the reviewer was extremely hesitant to say anything bad about the game – mostly retracting negative statements with counters to invalidate the bad. Bottom line, it doesn’t seem like a 10/10 to me by reading that score – maybe a 9.9/10, but a 10/10? No way.

And here we come to the beauty of this entire argument. Somebody, somewhere, is going to read this and say that I’m being way too critical of the review, that the reviewer was splitting hairs to make it look like it wasn’t lip service, etc. Someone else will read this and say that I am being too generous with my amended score, and suggest maybe a 9.5/10.

You see what I did there? I just made you paint yourself into my corner of right, the tiny little area where I’m infallible and totally rocking an awesome argument. It’s ok to relax – enjoy your stay in Andrew’s Corner of Right – there’s an honor-bar with macadamia nuts and tiny bottles of Southern Comfort, and it’s totally comped…kind of like a free GDC drinking binge.

Ok, so now that I have proven that review scores are 100% subjective and broken, let’s move on to fixing them. And yes, I know that this was information that 99.9% of you already knew, but it’s always important to back up your argument on the Internet!

Here is what I propose. We write a manifesto that we circulate to friends and coworkers. Much like a GDD, this will be a comprehensive document detailing how to fix the problem. Maybe I’m feeling inspired from all the OWS stuff going on, but let’s start a revolution, man!

I’m going to start up a few categories and add in a handful of bullet points to get the doc started, and then you guys take it and evolve it. This is a community document, not just some ranting post where I talk about how awesome I am (although I am pretty awesome if you get me on a good day).

Reviewers

  • Reviewers should not seek revenue from publishers – this includes banners and page backgrounds – this is vital to journalistic integrity.
  • Reviewers should make their reviewer Gamertag known at the beginning of every review, so players can look them up and see just how far into the game they got.
  • Reviewers should keep their reviews 100% player-centric. Don’t talk like developers, and don’t use flashy terminology. Give the reader enough information so that they can judge whether or not the game is something they want to look into, not a dissertation on the state of gaming that screams “I COULDA BEEN A GAME DESIGNER!”
  • Don’t forget that people worked hard on the game. Don’t be a douche.

Scores

  • Scores are banished from the land. This includes stars, numbers, thumbs, little joystick icons, etc. Banished.
  • Reviewers may use a “Game of the Month” system, or something similar to that. These top picks will let the player know what games went over best without arbitrary scores.

Terminology

  • For the love of all that is good and holy, stop saying things like “The controls were floaty”. What does that mean? I mean, we know what it means, but the average player may not equate it to the proper context. For instance, you want the flying in Skyward Sword to feel floaty, but you don’t want gunplay in MW3 to feel floaty.
  • Use clear terminology that tells the player in no uncertain terms what you are saying. Be specific.

Players

  • Don’t razz reviewers for having differing opinions. Their job is to absorb the entire piece and summarize its worth to the individual reading it. You don’t like it, by all means make a thoughtful rebuke, but please don’t go “OMG U R THE SUCKZ”. It makes us all look bad.
  • Don’t take reviewers as gospel. Pierce the veil and make your own decision, because that’s what reviewers are there for – to help your decision, not give you a decision.

Developers

  • Take reviews for what they are – an opinion. Without review scores, there should be no need to freak out over getting an 8 or 9 anymore.

Seems like a pretty decent start, eh? Our medium is a fantastic one. We deserve a little better when it comes to reviews. We deserve it, the players deserve it, and the reviewers… well…they are better than what they have been churning out recently. At least I hope they are.

Anyways, let’s evolve this. Keep adding ideas to it – maybe we can get something going. Maybe we can inspire an intrepid journalist to start the first great review rag of our time. Or maybe I just typed out 1300 words for nothing.