POSITION PAPER OF THE GLORIOUS JAGOFF REPUBLIC TO THE INTERNETS ON VIDYA REVIEW SCORES
So the thinking that numerical game review scores are stupid or pointless is far from a new thing. This sentiment stirs and bubbles on forums everywhere from time to time, but it boiled over with Eurogamer's recent announcement that they're dropping review scores entirely, with mostly (from what I've seen thus far) chest-beating from the All-Knowing Nerds of the Interwebs about how review scores are awful and this should have happened everywhere long ago.
Review scores often are pretty pointless and arbitrary, but not always and not entirely. I think they're being scapegoated to some degree for much deeper problems in the coverage of games. Other mediums have been using similarly capricious numbering systems for literal decades now and haven't ever been put on blast for it to this degree.
First of all, I like Eurogamer. They're one of three or four major publications left standing whose reviews I take at all seriously. This is with the caveat that most of the reviews I look at are pre-2012 or so, though, so I also like them because they're one of the few sites listed on Metacritic/Gamerankings whose URLs that are older than 2 years or so STILL FUCKING WORK. So I'm not interested at all in trashing them for this decision. I'd rather trash the dicks using this decision to smugly stroke their e-peen at the rest of us, if I have to trash somebody. But that isn't really what we're here for.
No, we're here for a clarification/statement on how the scoring system used here works. Which I will present forthwith:
5 = I think everyone will like it
4 = I think most people will like it
3 = I think some people will like it
2 = I think a few weird but probably well-meaning people will like it
1 = I think jerks will like it
0 = AIEEE THE VOID
This brings us to a couple of questions. First, why even use a numerical scoring system? I can't speak for the big boys but for this site, honestly, it's traffic. I've looked it over and the amount of newcomers who will take one quick look, say "What? No NUMBERS? What manner of operation is this?" and spin on their heels is very significant. This is a site that struggles just to pay for its annual hosting. You do the math. Also, when I first switched over from the old system (which was actually similar to Eurogamer's new system, just way goofier), I admittedly had some designs on getting listed with Metacritic and Gamerankings. I never made much of a push for it because I figured the reviews here scored generally too low (too honest) for their tastes, but then they changed their requirements for monthly publishing and page views to limits I can't hope to keep up with, so I completely abandoned that idea.
That's not to say that I don't think the system is useful. But it only works if you're familiar with the reviewer's work. I've been the only one writing reviews here for years now, so picking out any 10 or so at random and reading them probably gives you a good idea if our outlooks are sympatico enough to be useful to you (and make no mistake, no critic can reach absolutely everyone). So I think that five-point system is actually a useful shorthand here that helps to put the review in context.
That same system doesn't work at a lot of publications not because it's inherently flawed, but because they don't have that kind of consistency. Publications sometimes lean on a revolving door of "independent contractor" freelance writers to whom they don't have to pay living wages and health benefits and all that. So their review content just kind of blurs together until it all seems like it's written by Kwrftwsh Kyroceraktffngbd. The numerical shorthand becomes meaningless if you don't have some level of ongoing familiarity with the writer.
That's one of our systemic core problems that I think the surface manifestation of numerical scores is getting blamed for. And it ties into greater economic problems, at least here in the United States ("independent contracting" is increasingly popular in pretty much everything that can get away with it). Calling arbitrary numbers a "cancer" on gaming is more than a little over-the-top, though. Publications never being able to come up with a consistent revenue model that doesn't require relying on the largesse of the companies they're covering isn't a worse problem? Publications prioritizing hiring people who ran popular gaming websites over people who have actual journalism training and experience for their editorial staff isn't a worse problem? Those people turning around and hiring their forum buddies also? How about the squeeing fanboy/girlism from those covering events? How about the very liberal attitude toward payola? Reviewers scared to criticize a game's difficulty because of Internet troll dick-waving backlash? If vague and arbitrary numbers pulled out of someone's bum are "cancer" then what the hell do you call the rest of these things?
Number systems don't absolutely have to be terrible at the bigger publications. When I think over the scoring systems of the beloved game rags of my youth, I think my favorite concept was EGM's "Review Crew" of the '90s. Super Metroid selected for your Feels pleasure:
You had a consistent group of personalities from month to month, they even got a little bio about their tastes and what types of games they were good at in case you were new. You got a numerical score, but the written review was superimposed right over it. The one weakness of this system is that you'd like a long-form review with a bunch of screenshots, somewhere, at some point. In '90s print media there wasn't enough space for that for every game, but with the miracle of the Interbutts you could get these at the website or even through author blogs. And there's no need to pay for five full-length reviews -- let the author host their long-form on their personal blog/site and get their own ad revenue for it. This is probably what I'd go with if I was running a magazine. Hard to see anyone open to this idea these days what with the unwillingness to pay enough money to live in good health and with a modicum of dignity on.
We all dog on the 100-point systems, and they are the most capricious of the bunch, but I also understand the rationale behind them: they're a quick reference to the systems most of us were subject to in our formal education. A game that gets a 72 is like that crappy C- essay you had to write about Boo Radley in 7th grade English that one time. But you can distill that down to the 10-point system without really losing much of the nuance. 10 is about the upper limit of what I personally think is useful, but five is what I prefer, and we'll continue to roll with it here.
- C. M0use