Game Journalism: Why Reviews Should Not Have Grading Scales (or why I no longer read game reviews)
Game journalism, in my mind, seems like an awesome job. Imagine getting paid to write about something you love (probably some things you don’t love too!); nevertheless, it seems like a pretty sweet gig. If I had a shred of interest in writing that wasn’t more than what blogging is, I would definitely pursue it. However, I want to make games. I want to be the one journalists interview and write columns about. That’s a different post though! This post is about why I am simply getting tired of what game journalism has evolved into. Every year I distance myself further and further from it. My biggest beef the past few years has been game reviews. Not just game reviews in general, but ones that place a value on that game. Ratings, scores, etc.
I think reviewing any creative content from a person(s) and giving it some arbitrary value is wrong. It is unnecessary and only a hindrance to the industry and community.
It bothers me that Metacritic exists. It bothers me that Metacritic may influence sales and stocks (e.g. here). I don’t think that someone should go to Metacritic to find out opinions of a game. Looking at an averaged number surrounded by a selective color to portray positive, average, or negative is not okay. The reason why Metacritic even exists and has some influence is because different magazines and online sites have their own grading scale. It is easy to blame Metacritic, but the problem lies with the reviews in the first place.
Reviews, in my opinion, should inform the reader(s) about personal opinion, facts (there are definitely some universal don’t in game development that get done), and some reflection from a different standpoint. I know, as a gamer myself, that my opinion on a game changes throughout the time I am playing it, but well after. It is just something that is inevitable. People’s feeling can affect a game review, as can other people’s opinions. What people write and say about a game should be what they think, not what others think.
On that same note, gamers should not formulate their opinion based on a review. I think it is okay so reference a review, saying that so-and-so thought this game was pretty good. I don’t think it is okay to take so-and-so’s opinion and make it your own, unless you actually played the game and of course agreed with so-and-so.
I understand why reviews exist, and it is important they exist. So many games come out weekly that it is hard to judge a game by just the cover. It often times impossible to warrant whether it is worth the money. How can the worth of a video game be measured though? A number from a review can’t tell that. I paid $60.00 for Vanquish. I feel that it was worth $60.00. I got around 16 hours of genuine fun from it. I talked to a friend about Vanquish, and he felt that it wasn’t worth $60.00 because it was only a single-player game. That is his opinion, and that is what he measures the worth of a game on.
You cannot measure the worth of a game based on a 4/5 from [insert-one-of-dozens-gaming-sites]. Each editor, each columnist, each journalist, each reader all have their own way of determining what a game is worth. It is important to distinguish your view of reviews, as a reader, before letting it have a major impact on your gaming purchases. You, the player, know what you like most. Often, reviewers state what they like and don’t like about games in general at some point within the review. What you, the reader, don’t know is what a 76% on Metacritic means. Also, who determines the scale each publication or site uses? That still blows my mind. What executive is is like, “Hmm, do we use numbers or letters? Fuck it, let’s use stars!”
How do sites and magazines determine that scale? Most of them make no sense. There are no standards. Some use a one to five scale, with only whole numbers. Others use one to five with whole numbers and halves. Some use one to ten. Some use one to ten with halves. Some use one to 100. Others use decimals. Some spice it up with letter grades! Kind of like middle school. It just makes no sense. What is the difference between a game rated 4/5 and another 85/100? No one knows because if they are different games, lets say of a different genre, studio, or platform, how can they be compared? If similarities and differences exist, that’s a great way to give readers an idea of the game. However, comparing two scores of a game is not the way to do that.
As for negative game reviews, I don’t think it is acceptable to bash something that people have spent months of their life working on. It’s something that any creator would (or should?) take pride in. Slapping some number on it isn’t respectful.
The solution is to eliminate scores in game reviews. It’s the simple. The game journalism space would be a better place. It would also help eliminate some of the corruption of publishers paying off sites to give them a good score. That’s not what it’s about. If no scores existed, then there wouldn’t be that corruption. The critique of a game would be enough. Instead of a score, use a bullet list of pros and cons. Instead of a score, take advantage of the written word and summarize the entire review in a few sentences. End it at that. The too long, didn’t read crowd will be happy. The length, in-depth people who care about what the author says will be happy.
Also, for the sites that will always have scores, it’s okay to make amends. It’s okay to change opinions and view points. That’s the beauty of the internet, almost anything and everything can be changed in a matter of minutes. There could also be a return reflect of the game, just to see how it sits. I know this won’t change in the big names; I know it is a business. The writers are assigned the games to review, plow through the ones they need to, and move on with their lives. A much more constructive and open-minded gaming community would exist if numerical scales to grade games on didn’t.