Scoring video games out of 10 (or 100) in professional reviews has been discussed and debated probably too many times to count.
There’s a large contingent of people that believe they shouldn’t be scored at all, that reviews are merely opinion and that averaging sites like Metacritic hurt the industry.
But before we consider the purpose of scores, let’s take a look at one thing most people agree is a problem with the current ratings system:
The 7-10 scale
Scoring games has generally evolved, for better or worse, into this standard. Most of the scale is not really used, with almost all games receiving a score between 7 and 10. But they do tend to communicate something about a game to the reader, if we examine each score range:
0.0 – 6.9 – Avoid this game. Whether it’s Watchmen: The End Is Nigh or Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing – you shouldn’t play this game. Chances are, you haven’t. And yes, this makes over half of the scale redundantly the same.
7.0 – 7.9 – Mathematically questionable score reserved for ‘average’ games. A game you’ve probably heard of but that did not impress. Vaguely playable, but low-quality. The kind of game you’re recommended not to pay full price for.
8.0 – 8.9 – It’s kind of fun and has potential, but too many flaws hold it back. In other words: the standard Ubisoft game score. If you have a genre preference, or the gameplay sounds worth suffering the problems, it might be worth buying.
9.0 – 10 – The top quality, “AAA” games. The ones you should get. Also where the difference in a score can matter a lot more to people and where we get into opinion territory…
Are scores needed?
More specific preferences and opinions could be communicated in the review text, or get an extra score. A fairly abstract point-something score isn’t going to tell you that anyway.
But I believe scores are useful for getting a clear indication of the quality of a game. Because they can be scored objectively to an extent.
A score is not necessarily just ‘opinion’. There are certain things we can agree on. Does a mechanic work correctly? Unskippable cutscenes? Does the game have a lot of glitches?
(Remember how everyone criticised the mining mini-game in Mass Effect 2 to the point where Bioware released a patch to improve it?)
Scores are not perfect, opinion will have some influence and there are occasional cases where hype, publisher pressure or other factors can affect them. But at the same time there is a reason that an averaging site can work. Reviews don’t tend to give wildly varying scores.
My personal suggestion for a better scoring system would be to adopt film critic Roger Ebert’s (Yes, that “video games can’t be art” Roger Ebert) ‘four star’ or thumbs review style. It conforms well to the four score ranges identified earlier.
- 1/4 stars or two thumbs down: Games no one should play.
- 2/4 stars or one thumb down: These are your ‘average’ 7/10 games.
- 3/4 stars or one thumb up: Flawed, but good. 8/10 games.
- 4/4 stars or two thumbs up: Top of the line games. Your Red Dead Redemptions and your Mass Effect 2s.
But a majority of publications would have to agree to use it as a standard and since console fanboys wouldn’t be able to flip out over why Halozone 4 got a 9.0 instead of a 9.8, it would unfortunately mean a lot more similarity between sites and magazines and probably less business.
So it’d probably never happen. God forbid anyone actually find some reviews to properly read rather than just going to the score and then complaining about it, eh?