Opinion: The Video Game Review Scale Has Problems

By | 8 months ago 

One editor talks about the current scale in which video games are rated, and how many reviewers opt to limit scores based on the norms of the industry.

Let me preface this entire piece with the fact that I don’t disagree with the scores that any of my peers within the gaming industry have assigned titles. That is, obviously, their opinion about any given piece of software that they’ve been tasked with reviewing, and to say they’re wrong for having it would be one of the stupider and just plain incorrect things that anyone could ever write. With that said, the system that others and myself score games on has been warped and limited through the expectations of the industry, leaving a majority of the scale untouched in the process.

At this point in time, avid gamers know how a good game scores. Anywhere from 70-79% means the title is solid or entertaining, but has a few issues that prevented it from being better than it had the potential to be. Meanwhile, 80-89% traditional means that a game is worth checking out, and anything that finds itself higher than that is immediately trumpeted as a Game of the Year candidate. Software that finds itself outside of those ratings, however, probably isn’t worthwhile in any form, with 50-69% ratings being viewed as incredibly poor in quality to lacklustre. This is where the problem lies.

There is an entire half of the scale that remains largely unused, and it’s not very often that anyone bothers to address why this is the case. It’s not like I look at the scale and choose to ignore the lower half of it, but I stand on the shoulders of those that have come before me. I’ve learned after over half a decade in the industry how to rate a game I’ve played based on various aspects, and more often than not they fall within the parameters of what I’ve learned were proper ways to score a title. This is with the sole exception of my Asphalt 3D review, in which I gave the game a 1.5 out of 5 because it was just awful.

Metacritic Logo

My point: what’s really the purpose of having a point scale if we don’t make full use of it? For example, television show scores (based on Metacritic’s accumulation of reviews) are scaled very differently. A show sitting on or above an average of 65 finds itself in the “green,” meaning that it’s still considered an entertaining and generally approved broadcast. Meanwhile, that same “green” certification for gaming holds only for titles that sit at an average of 75 and up. Now, I realize that these are two very different mediums, with one traditionally occupying 30 minutes of one’s day compared to the potentially hundreds of hours in any given video game. That much is unquestionable.

The train of thought I’m trying to present, however, is that reviewers in the market of critiquing television aren’t afraid of using the lower end of the exact same point scale found on so many entertainment and gaming websites. As a result, they have a lot more canvas in which to paint an accurate picture for curious consumers and fans alike, which is far from a bad thing given that these lower numbers exist on the board for a reason.

Some may read this and think that scores really don’t impact their view of a new game anyway, which is a totally valid opinion for one to have. In fact, some sites, like Eurogamer, have backed this philosophy and done away with review scores altogether, which is a rather easy way to completely erase the issue. By allowing words to carry the value of a product rather than a report card-esque evaluation, publications totally bypass the entire scale. It’s a great alternative, and those who enjoy reading reviews can make their own assessment based on another person’s… err assessment.

ps4 vs xbox one console controller

Even then, there’s a reason that almost every other major publication within the industry isn’t singing the same tune, and that’s because a broad range of consumers love seeing a concrete score put in front of them. That’s largely why people come to check out a review in the first place, as they want to be told whether or not a game is worth getting. They usually want this information as soon as possible as well, and a numeric evaluation can be processed within the fraction of a second it takes to look at it.

This all ties into the current layout of reviews as a whole, as consumers are able to assess a game’s worth based on the aforementioned and traditionally inflated scores. Working the top half of the scale, though, can create confusion and blurring as a result. For example, the current Metacritic score for the Playstation 4 version of Watch Dogs – a title that many critics would agree fell short of its lofty ambitions – is sitting at an 80 on the site, while the critically-praised Fallout 4 is set at an 87 on the same platform. Now, I can only offer my own take on this 7 point gap, but I feel safe in stating that this seems a little off.

Fallout 4 Wasteland Workshop Official

What this indicates to me is a sense of overcrowding with the current review system. Too many games are sharing sevens and eights out of ten, separated only by decimal points. We here at Game Rant have eleven options based on a five-star scale (yes, that means we can totally give a game a zero), with half-star ratings readily available at our discretion, which translates into solid numbers when converted to a ten point overview. This helps a little as it solidifies numbers rather than breaking them up, but even we adhere to standard review practices of the industry.

There’s no simple way to change this. It’s not like reviewers will all, in unison, change the way they assign scores to games in a bid to make better use of the scale. Perhaps the reality is that the industry is still significantly younger than that of television or film, and the average will slowly descend in time. Some may even preach that games are just of a higher quality given their budgets and depth of interactivity, but if that’s that case then it’s probably time to raise our standards as a whole.

Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that the video game review scale has problems. Still, as a critic, acting within these lines ensures that I am able to better communicate my feelings about a game with the reader. At the end of the day, perhaps that’s all that really matters.

tags:3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One