Sunday, April 4, 2010

Professional reviews

The state of professional reviews is currently in a bad spot.

Are reviews from media outlets like IGN, Gamespot, 1up, etc. credible anymore? Were they ever? I’m going to muse about some thoughts regarding professional reviews, and why I think they are essentially useless.

First off, these outlets simply do not know how to use a rating scale. Take the typical 1-10 scale used by most outlets. Generally, the stated breakdown will be something like this:

10-Some hyperbolic adjective






4-really bad

3-really really bad, etc.

The first problem with ranking games like this is it places all the variation on the low end of the scale. As a gamer, I want to know what separates a great game from a good one, not what separates a bad one from a really bad one. What are the qualities of a game that can elevate it from a 9 to a 10? Who cares what sets apart a 3 from a 2? I think this problem stems from people (consciously or un) applying the American education system to game scores. An A is 90-100, B is 80, C is 70, and anything below that is pretty much a failure. That’s not inherently bad; it just means that a 10-point scale has too many gradations.

Let’s think about knocking down the amount of gradations. This is pretty much now the media rates games anyway though, no? A 9-10 is Outstanding, 8 (maybe 7) is good, and anything 7 or below is seen as pure shit. This leads to outlets largely rating games on a 7-9 scale. The average review is about a 7, and this is justified by outlets saying “The average game on the shelf is good, so a good game gets the average review score. Um, no. That’s not what average means.

Second, media outlets are scared to give games a bad score, period. When a media outlet gives a bad review to a hyped game, it has two negative effects. One, gamers will see the outlet as losing credibility. Giving a 7 (or an 8, or a 9.6, or anything short of a 10 for that matter) to Joe Gamer’s new, favorite game leads to Joe using the following logic:

[Game] is awesome.

[Outlet] didn’t like game.

Therefore, [Outlet] has no idea what they are talking about, and are therefore not credible.

So the media outlets know that if you give a bad review, the unwashed masses (which is another blog entry) will hate you. Two, and the bigger problem, is you run the risk of offending the company who made the game, and having them pull their advertising, costing you money, and possibly not letting you review any more of their games. Case in point, the Kane and Lynch controversy. After that happened, individual reviewers are fearing for their jobs. Give a game a bad review, get fired.

There are many other issues that I don’t have time to discuss today, but let me give some short term solutions:

-Make narrower scales. You don’t need 10 points of gradations. I personally use three: Two thumbs up means one of my all time favorites. One thumb up means I mostly enjoyed the game. Thumbs down means I mostly didn’t enjoy the game.

-Skip major media reviews. They’re not going to be honest about games, so why bother putting much stock onto them? If you really need to see people’s impressions of games or want to see what the game is like, read independent reviews or look at the trillions of previews/movies out there.

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