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Talking Point: Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Review Scores?

Posted by Sammy Barker

Magic numbers

The review embargo for God of War: Ascension lifted yesterday, prompting a cavalcade of forum posts regarding the status of Sony Santa Monica’s savage Spartan series. The title scored lower than previous entries, resulting in a Metacritic rating of 79 at the time of writing. According to the aggregate’s scale, that number suggests that the game received “generally favourable reviews” across the board. So, why are people acting like it’s the worst game of the year?

It’s true that the franchise has posted higher scores in the past. The first title in the series received universal acclaim, leading to an impressive Metacritic rating of 94. Meanwhile, even 2010’s likeable PlayStation Portable prequel God of War: Ghost of Sparta attained a solid 86. But does that really mean that the most recent release is the weakest in the series? It all depends on perspective.

We scored the impending PlayStation 3 entry an eight in our review yesterday. According to our metric, that number constitutes a game that can simply be described as ‘very good’. Our scoring policy explains: “If we award a game an eight, you can be sure if you like the genre this is a sound buy for you. Minor niggling factors or a badly judged difficulty spike may have made this game fall short of a nine, but it is not to be dismissed lightly.”

God of War: Ascension is a great game, then. But it needs to be taken in context. While the title refines previous entries, it’s not a colossal step-forward for the series overall, and it feels familiar as a result. If you’ve never played any of the previous titles in the franchise, we wouldn’t be surprised if it absolutely blew you away. But, for as impressive as the opening battle against the Hecatonchires is, it’s not necessarily an enormous improvement over God of War III’s spectacular Poseidon boss fight. And that same criticism can be attributed to almost every aspect of the game.

However, it still doesn’t mean that the release is bad. A similar debate cropped up in 2011 when Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception garnered a handful of scores lower than its predecessor. Naughty Dog’s sophomore outing delivered such a groundbreaking adventure that its sequel couldn’t quite live up to the expectations of its forerunner, and it ended up falling short as a result. But does it really matter?

In a recent review we scored Let’s Fish: Hooked On a three, describing it as “monotonous” in our conclusion. But while it’s far from a good game, and we don’t necessarily recommend it, there is at least the basis of an appealing product there if you’re a fan of fishing titles. The fact is that no assessment should be taken as a conclusive evaluation of a product’s qualities, because you have to make up your own mind on these things. Read the text and ask yourself, “Does this appeal to me?”

So, why is the score there in the first place? Like everything else, it’s a guideline. You can roughly summarise a thousand words of text with a simple number, and if you’re in a hurry, that can be enough. But the impetus is on both readers and reviewers to translate those figures correctly, and that’s something that both sides need to do better. It’s down to us to make sure that we’re always using five as an average, and it’s down to you to remember that a seven is not the end of the world.

The numbers serve a purpose, as do reviews in general – but never forget that your opinion, your tastes, and your judgement are the most important factors when it comes to buying advice. And while we’ll always strive to give you an accurate appraisal of every game that we cover, we can’t simply tell you what you should and shouldn't like – especially not with a number.

Have you ever been put off a game by a review score? What do you base your purchasing decisions on? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User Comments (32)

antdickensAdmin

#1

antdickens said:

Great article Sammy, it doesn't help that different sites have different scoring systems too - a review is always subjective so I guess you can't really compare two review scores anyway.

I like review scores, I think they are very useful, I also think a clear scoring policy (like here) is really helpful. It amazes me the amount of people that think a 6 or a 7 is a bad score, it's not. 5 is the average, so even a 5 could be a good game for you - its just less likely.

I always compare my behavior on this to films on IMDb, anything under a 6.0 and I'll start to question it. I guess its about time we introduced a similar user-rating system on here, I'm on it ;)

Rawk_Hawk

#2

Rawk_Hawk said:

I rarely rely on reviews any more. I do take a few into consideration, but I really have to like the website. What really sells me on a game is the demo and/or watching footage on Youtube

Gemuarto

#3

Gemuarto said:

Uhcharted 3 is much better than Uncharted 2 =)....

And yeah, it's time for Kratos to move forward =).

And yeah, people in our times want to play games only above 9 =). That's funny =)

get2sammybAdmin

#4

get2sammyb said:

I'm one of those strange people that tends to really, really enjoy mid-tier titles; the type of games that are objectively flawed, but have tons of personality. How many of you played Wheelman? Binary Domain? Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood? If I'd based my opinion purely on review scores, I probably would have missed out on those games, y'know?

Sometimes you find a gem when you make a decision based on what you like. However, I can see the flip side. If you can only afford to buy three or four games a year, then you're going to want the very best. It's a tricky subject.

brendon987

#5

brendon987 said:

I read review to see if there a common complaint between the reviews. But I take the scores with a grain of salt. I have seen many Vita games mark down because they are "not" as good as the console version. Reviewers forget that the vita is not a powerful, and you can do mobile gaming on it. They just mark the game lower. Compare the games to other mobile games, not high power consoles.
I feel that some big games like GOW,KillZone just receive worst score, because sony has a branding problem.
I also feel that reviews are lazy at time. I have a 3D tv, but many reviewers don't even comment on the 3D aspect off games i.e KillZone 3. I would like to know if its worthwhile in 3D.
Saying all that, this website does write up good, fair reviews :)

Ps4all

#6

Ps4all said:

Guilty pleasure, I love call of duty blops declassified. Its the lowest reviewed vita title on metacritic but its online multiplayer is fun on my lunch break@ work. Great article.

Ginkgo

#7

Ginkgo said:

For GoW Ascension - I think the people's comments relate to expectation. When a series has soared so high, even a small drop seems like a let down.

Personally I like review scores and do often check metacritic before buying a game. My general rule of thumb is that if I am interested in a game and it get 8s and up then I go for it. 7s, I will do some more reading, but it doesn't put me off. If it averages below 7 then I may reconsider or at least find out a lot more. A recent example is Aliens colonial marines. This was absolutely on my list, but I have not decided against it.

Alternatively if a game is scoring 9s and I wasn't interested then sometimes I will pick it up to see. A recent example is The Walking Dead, which I absolutely adored.

Sure reviews and scores are subjective, and so is my opinion. That is why metacritic is useful, because it gives a broad picture of subjective opinions.

To be honest, my biggest frustration with a 1-10 scoring system is that it is the same for a mini, to a casual release to a AAA title. It is meaningless to compare a mini that gets a 10 to a AAA title that gets an 8. I don't have a easy solution but believe that the "scope" of a release should be taken into account somehow. Not saying that minis should score lower, just saying that the 1-10 system falls down in this regard.

The Walking Dead is fantastic, but it is not Skyrim nor is it trying to be. but I digress...

NathanUC

#8

NathanUC said:

For me, the pros and cons of a game far outweigh a score. There are certain aspects of some games that I just don't care for at all. For example, some games lose points for difficulty or linearity. I like my games difficult and I don't mind a linear game as long as it works. I don't care for games that earn nearly all of their 'points' in multiplayer (cough cough CoD) because the single player experience usually suffers.

I like to see a number just as a baseline. When I see something less than a 4 on pushtendo life, I don't even both trying. Anything above, I do some more research or play a demo.

BornOfEvil

#9

BornOfEvil said:

I couldn't care less about reviews, some of my favorite games got pretty bad scores from metacritic.Some people really need to start thinking for themselves, otherwise they'll miss out on some pretty fantastic titles.

For instance, White Knight Chronicles got a pretty low score. But when I was hanging out with my friend, he convinced me to play and I do not regret it. I found myself at his house everyday playing it, until I finally made it to gamestop and bought my own copy. From that day on, I have never let reviewers decide what games I buy.

Azikira

#10

Azikira said:

I only REALLY start to worry when one of the reviewers whom I normally agree with gives a game a 5 or less. 6+ is fine for me, as I tend to like some unpopular games. XD

ShogunRokAdmin

#11

ShogunRok said:

For me it always comes down to telling people 'a 5 is average.' Average. Not good, not bad. Anything over a 5 and you're looking at a good game - it's better than the average. It baffles me how people can look at a 7 or 8 and say it's an awful score. It's like math doesn't apply to gaming.

TromboneGamer

#12

TromboneGamer said:

This is one reason why I've become a firm believer in taking everything you "hear" with a grain of salt.

Zombie_Barioth

#13

Zombie_Barioth said:

@get2sammyb I'm the same way, a lot of the games I play tend to be either rather niche or love/hate type games that usually end up with average/above average scores. When I read reviews I usually look at the score itself as is this game a good example of its genre or series, and the text as how and why the game received it.

I find reviews to be a good way to help prioritize the different games within a specific genre and to pick between different games in a series if they're very similar to one another. Then its just a matter of personal taste and what I feel like playing at the moment.

I do enjoy looking up reviews of some of my favorite games to see how they stack up, and find reviews like CGR to be very entertaining.

Savino

#14

Savino said:

I like concepts more than scores.
I worked in two big brazilian sites in the early 2000 as reviewer and I only used scores because I was told to do so... In my opinion, a conclusion explains more than the grade.
I like IGN style too, where they point out what was good or bad in a sort of sumary.
Grades makes people lazy... I know a lot of people that judge the game by the score and not by the words that preceeds it.

Slapshot

#15

Slapshot said:

I like review scores - they give biased fanboys something to whine about.

In all seriousness, people need to realise that objective reviews with a score slapped on them would make for a boring read. Sure, the game being reviewed might be a great game, but if it's the seventh entry in the series in half a decade, an objective review can't reflect this; people tire of things, too much of a good thing is actually a reality within the gaming industry.

Hetsumani

#16

Hetsumani said:

@antdickens and @ShogunRok I think that the reason I, and a lot of friends of mine, see a score of 6 or 7 as bad comes from our schools system grading scale (I'm from Mexico), it's supposed to be from 1 to 10 but 5 is the equivalent of an F, 6 and 7 a C, 8 and 9 a B, 10 an A.

Stuffgamer1

#17

Stuffgamer1 said:

Games cost money and time...especially time, IMO. If you're looking for games that'll be worth your time, and you have a wide taste in games, going for only 9's and 10's may seem like the only sensible solution. If your taste is more localized to one or two genres, it may be easier to consider lower scored games.

All that said, I really don't think scores should EVER be used out of context. Read the text and figure out WHY it got the score it did. Of course, some reviewers are better at making it feel like it fits than others, and I find that printed magazines tend to suffer from space and length restrictions. You need to be able to explain your score, and three paragraphs usually isn't enough.

Ginkgo

#18

Ginkgo said:

@Stuffgamer1 Agree 100%. My money and esp time are precious too. Sure, I could find a gem with a lowish score. But how many mediocre games would I have to wade through to find them? I try very hard to finish all the games I buy. I just don't have the time.

On average I would play about 10-12 games a year, so I choose very carefully with much research (one of the reasons I hand around this site). It's a competitive industry.

Zombie_Barioth

#19

Zombie_Barioth said:

Slapshot wrote:

Sure, the game being reviewed might be a great game, but if it's the seventh entry in the series in half a decade, an objective review can't reflect this

Definitely agree here, needless to say if your a big fan of something you'll be more excepting of receiving the same old thing. Reviews can be a good indication of fatigue.

@Hetsumani I've noticed that myself, its funny since many reviewers moved from a 5-point scale to a 10-point one to provide a broader range but hardly use the lower half.

What @Stuffgamer1 said is why I usually like video reviews better, since usually you get a good 10-minutes or so of game footage and feedback. They're not always equal either but the reviewers seem more keen on admitting where their tastes come into play and judging games on their own merit.

LDXD

#20

LDXD said:

I usually read the negative reviews to see what the main complaints are and watch a few gameplay vids this hasn't failed me yet. The score means absolutely nothing to me

Ginkgo

#21

Ginkgo said:

@ShogunRok To be honest I don't agree. A '5' is not an average score its a poor score. Citing Metacritic as a source, the average (by mathematical definition, sorry I'm a sciencey kind of guy) PS3 score for 2012 across all games was 70.3 (or a 7). That is the actual benchmark for an average game based off what reviewers actually give.

There were 204 PS3 games reviewed in 2012. So if a game scored 7 out of 10. Roughly 100 games (half) scored the same or better.

If, for arguments sake, I buy 20 games in a year (which would be very rare for me). I am buying less than 10% of total releases. Why should I not be looking within the top 10-20% of games to maximise my spend and limited playing time? For me that is just common sense.

http://www.metacritic.com/feature/best-video-games-of-2012

ShogunRokAdmin

#22

ShogunRok said:

@Ginkgo Your math is right - maybe I shouldn't use the word average in this regard. What I meant to say is a 5 represents neither a good or bad game - it's slap bang in the middle.

If we're going to use a 1-10 scale then a 5 has to be the neutral ground. If, like you pointed out, the average score for games in 2012 is a 7, that should mean it was a good year for games. Unfortunately, it usually means most sites have turned 7 into the middle ground for whatever illogical reason.

It all comes down to people's perspective. A 5 shouldn't be a bad score - that's the wrong view to take. But somehow (especially when it comes to gaming) people disregard anything under a 7. It's a horrible stigma that has plagued games journalism for years, and it really just illustrates how twisted the 1-10 scale has become.

rjejr

#23

rjejr said:

I like review scores, it's good to get a quick look at something when you don't have an hour to read the Tomb Raider review (did it take longer to write that then to play the game?). But I don't get all nit-picky about it either. If a game got an 8, 9 or 10 then it's a good game, 6 or 7 it's a maybe, 5 or less fegediboutit.

Gamer83

#24

Gamer83 said:

I think we probably do put too much into numbers but I can't think of a better system. A simple 'play' or 'don't play' or 'buy,' 'rent,' 'don't bother' would probably get even more people crazy.

FluffyNinja

#25

FluffyNinja said:

First thing I do is look at the numbers, then I read why that game got that score. Generally, the scores don't matter to me as much as knowing why a game got a particular score.
There were too many incidences where I purchase a game that I felt overrated or missed a game that was "underrated." So now, I feel that I must do the developer justice by at least reading multiple reviews and trying their demos out at least.

FullbringIchigo

#26

FullbringIchigo said:

i don't take any notice of scores i read or listen to what the review is saying and use it as help to make my decision on buying a game or not because after all the review is the point of view of the reviewer and just because they didn't like something about the game they give it a lower score but what they didn't like might be the thing i look for in a game because we all have different tastes

in short they are a good guide to help but are not definitive facts set in stone

rastamadeus

#27

rastamadeus said:

As I said in a comment under the actual review scores shouldn't count or even be in a review. I wish more sites/magazines would just do away with them. I know Edge has come close to doing it with each new redesign and GameCentral were talking of doing it before Teletext shut them down.

charlesnarles

#28

charlesnarles said:

Was anyone under the impression that review scores are completely subjective and arbitrary by nature?

SirCrush

#29

SirCrush said:

My PERSONAL gripes with the widespread review scores being "less than" God of War 3 are that multiplayer is now included (and has CONSIDERABLE depth judging by the beta demo I played) and everything else - combat, visuals, flow - felt MUCH improved in the single player demo. I fail to see how an improvement can score so FAR below the prior entry. Was God of War 3 a 9? GIve Ascension an 8.5 and mention that while it may be a better experience OVERALL, it loses points for not quite having that "oomph" that GoW3 had. Is it REALLY a foll 1 to 2 points lower than the previous entry into the franchise? It seems unfair to give it that score when it is every bit the experience the prior game was, even EVOLVED, and yet the disparity in the score doesn't reflect that.

I will be reviewing the game myself when I get my hands on it. Maybe my mind will change after I play the full game but the reviews seem to unfairly undermine the game itself for being an improved entry into the franchise by a full point or more.

It seems so unfair. I wonder if the scores would be higher if this was called a reboot. I'm just sayin.

SigourneyBeaver

#30

SigourneyBeaver said:

I look at review scores and don't read reviews. If the scores are consistent then the standard of the game can be determined.

fishwilson

#32

fishwilson said:

And I still want that Lets FisH! Hooked On! Even though its probably a pretty crappy game, something just draws me in....

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