Let’s Look at Professional Review Scores

Today we are going to look at professional review scores. If you troll comments sections of major reviews you will see a whole bunch of people who simply don’t understand how review scores work. Despite the fact that, for most, review scores are very self explanatory, it doesn’t stop throngs of people complaining about games getting 10s or 7s from reputable sites. I have been around enough and read enough professional reviews to understand exactly what goes into these scores, and, today, I’m going to impart my wisdom with the hope that at least one or two people may learn something. Since professional reviews are so important to a game’s success, it is critical that people understand how they work. You shouldn’t always buy a 10 rated game, a 6 isn’t the end of the world, and the content of the review always matters more than the score at the end. However, scores serve a very useful purpose and it is important to be able to understand what that purpose is.

Trust me. Even if it scored a 10, if you don’t like basketball games, you won’t like this.

Most professional gaming sites out there use a 1-10 system with 1-100 and F-A+ systems being analogous. There are some sites and notable television programs that use a 1-5 system, but that is a whole other can of worms and I’ll deal with that later in the post. 1-10 system is the simplest system around and some sites allow parts marks such as a 9.5 or 6.7. The 1-100 scale is mostly the same, but often offers a more varied selection as it deals with bigger numbers. Finally, the F-A+ system is, again, nearly identical, but it refuses to put a definite hard score on a game, opting instead for a vague classification. Nevertheless, there is a good amount of variation so it still amounts to the same thing as a 1-10 system. It is important to remember that these scores are analogous. A 7 from one site is exactly the same as a 70 or a B- from another. This of course has to take into account site biases and the general site curve, as some sites have higher standards than others, so a 6 from one site may be worth more than a 7 from another. Learning site, and reviewer biases takes time so consult multiple reviews until you get the hang of it (And afterwards really).

80 on Metacritic and I’d rather claw my eyes out than play it.

One of the big myths that comes up every once and awhile is that a 5 is average. It makes some logical sense as 5 is the centre of the scale, but this myth is only really encouraged by fans of games that get really low scores. These systems use school rules. In other words, 5 is not the average but the bare minimum required to meet the standards of a workable game. In this system 7 is the average, meaning that the game is good, but not great. Anything above a 7 is good and anything below the 7 is a below average game. As I mentioned, the “5 is average” myth is not believed by a majority of gamers, but it still deserves a mention here as it comes up occasionally.

The second myth and one that is widely held by many, many gamers is that a 10 means the game is perfect. Many gamers believe that no game should get a 10 ranking as no game is perfect. A 10 does not denote a perfect game, but it is a hard to understand score. A 9 is an excellent game and giving a 10 doesn’t elevate it much higher than that. I suppose you could refer to 10s as a masterpiece, but 10s tend to be thrown more by personal bias than other scores, as these games often resonated heavily with the reviewer. In short, a 10 score should be seen as a game that the reviewer emphatically believes is worth your time. It does not mean the game is perfect, or that all games that score a 10 are equal. It simply means that the game is absent any major flaws and has something that really struck the reviewer, putting it above a mere 9 in his or her book.

68 on Metacritic and one of the greatest games I’ve played this generation.

Then there is Metacritic. Metacritic is both a wonderful and dangerous site. It is an aggregate website that compiles reviews from sites and publications and creates an average score. It is a great way of getting a very general look at how most review sites score a game, and to see where there is and is not consensus. It is not a very good place to go if you want to find out if a game is good or not. Scores are great things at a glance, but they are very fallible, as it relies heavily on personal biases. For example: do bugs bother you a lot? Bugs and glitches don’t bother me at all with few exceptions. When I see a game scoring below average because of screen tearing or occasional freezing, I know that the score instantly does not reflect how I would enjoy the game. Hard scores do not account for personal taste. Do you hate anime based games and tropes? Guess what? Despite the fact that Disgaea 4 has an 80 on Metacritic, you are very unlikely to like it and the reverse is true. Metacritic may give you the raw number, but it is no substitute for a real review, as the written aspect allows you to see where the review biases are.

Metacritic is very useful for identifying when certain reviews stand out. IGN gave this a conspicuously low review.

Review sites and publications that use a 1-5 system are a bit different. They are usually a lot more wishy-washy with 3-5 being good to excellent, 1 being bad and 2 being below average. These sites usually prefer the written review and the score is vague and of a small range to push the written work. These sites and publications misunderstand how to use scores appropriately. It is up to the gamer to read the full review, and by lumping so much information into such a small window (Realistically, most games are between 3-5), there is very little distinction drawn between games, which may be of a drastically different quality. The purpose of a score is to be useful to the reader at a glance. If your score variations are so small, they cannot serve that purpose and you might as well not provide any score at all.

Entertaining show with some good stuff, but do not rely on their reviews.

Finally, let’s go outside our purview today and look a bit at userscores. As a rule, these are not to be trusted, but they can be a valuable tool. Firstly, all scores from user-reviews are more or less useless unless you know the user is trustworthy and professional. Random strangers and fanboys/girls on the internet are not often trustworthy. However, occasionally, the content of these reviews can be very useful. A review from a fan with similar interests to you may be able to give you a better picture of how you may enjoy a game. For example, a fan who loves all of the 2D Final Fantasy games, but hates the 3D ones may be able to give you a better review of Final Fantasy Dimensions if you share his/her likes and dislikes. Then again, it is the content of these reviews that matter and even then it is dangerous to rely on them. Fanboy gushing, overzealous hatred, and genre bias are far more common in user reviews and some users can be very misleading with their reviews. I understand that I’m talking people out of looking at my own reviews, but you really have to be careful about every user review out there, including mine. Finally, Metacritic user reviews are entirely useless. People use Metacritic to make a statement, not to enlighten.

Above: a statement, not reality.

Scores are valuable. People, media, and companies use them to determine the relative successes and failures of games. However, it is important that you know how to read a score, as thinking that a 6 is above average can land you in trouble. At the same time, it is important to not rely to heavily on scores and inquire into how the score was made. Written reviews can show you how the score was made, and are that extra step for those who want more than just a general overview of how a game is. Both the score and the written review go hand and hand and both serve a very useful purpose, and it is critical that the reader knows what that is. No game is identical to another. Every 8 given will be of a different quality. Scores are the general, broad stroke ideas, while written reviews will give you the details should you desire it. As with all things, think critically, dig deeper, and you’ll get more out of your games. Don’t let a 6, or even a 5 stop you from enjoying a game you would like, and don’t let a 10 fool you into playing a game that simply isn’t for you.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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