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Buying A Present For A 'Gamer'? Here's What You Need To Know About 'Reviews'

Dec 13, 2016 03:22PM ● Published by Kieran Gilman

Kiwi of the Dead

Review scores are a staple of gaming review websites.  They’re usually in a huge font on the review page with a fancy graphic.  Every gaming magazine and website has their own way of doing scores.  Some do one through five stars, some on a scale of one to ten, and some will even do a score out of 100.  Some will even grade different aspects of a game, usually five or six categories, and then average that out to get the game’s final score.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing websites, magazines, and writers who use this system.  I’m criticizing the system in general, but I understand why it’s used.  It’s convenient.  It summarizes the writer’s opinion in a score.  It turns a potentially vague review into a clear opinion, even if the review itself does point out the game’s successes and shortcomings.

And it’s convenient to the reader as well.  We’re in an age where the attention span of a person reading an online article is only a few minutes.  We like quick, concise information.  If a reader goes onto a website for a review and clicks the link with the intention of looking at the score and not reading the full evaluation, they may navigate away to a different site if the site doesn’t provide a score.  If the site provides a score, they’ll navigate away, but be more likely to come back for additional reviews for other games.

Having a score attached to a review increases readership.  But a review score isn’t an accurate evaluation of a game.

Honestly, you never stop practicing. There’s always new things to learn.

You may have noticed on my reviews that I don’t list a score.  I’m not the first to do this.  Kill Screen stopped review scores for a while after the catastrophe that was Duke Nukem Forever.  The review was actually a phenomenal evaluation of not just the game, but the circumstances surrounding it’s decade long delay and why it was disappointing on release.  It’s the best review I’ve ever read, honestly.

When I write a review on anything, I always have an overall opinion in mind.  My most recent review of Pokemon Sun and Moon was written from the perspective of someone who adores the game.  I thought it was absolutely phenomenal, and while writing, I tried to make sure that opinion shows through.  However, that’s no excuse to ignore the game’s flaws.  Every game has flaws, and for me to not write about those flaws for the sake of making sure the review sounds positive would be dishonest.

So as a writer, I try to make sure my overall opinion is known while still being able to honestly report on a game’s features and faults.  If my overall opinion gets lost, then that just shows I need more practice in my writing.  And while review scores would be a way of making sure that my overall opinion is visible, I don’t believe review scores are accurate, and I’d rather get better at my writing so that I can express a clear, concise opinion while still highlighting everything notable about a game.

That’s not saying people who use review scores are bad writers who’s reviews aren’t showing a clear opinion.  On the contrary, many writers who use review scores write fabulous evaluations of a game’s strengths and weaknesses.  I just want to make it clear again that I’m not bashing the writers who post review scores.  I just don’t agree with using them.

What do the numbers on a scale of one to ten mean when it comes to reviews?  A one is obviously bad.  A ten is obviously good.  And there’s a clear difference between a game with a nine and a game with a four.  But what’s the difference between a six and seven?  Or an eight and nine?

That’s what I think about when it comes to review scores.  Let’s say I rate a game an eight out of ten.  Then I find a game I like better that the first one.  But what if I don’t think that new game is deserving of a nine?  If I rate the game an eight, I’m effectively saying the games are of equal quality.  But if I rate it a nine, I’m saying it’s just shy of perfect.

Then, could I ever even rate a game a ten?  No game is flawless.  To me, giving a game a perfect score is saying that it’s perfect.  And if I did rate a game a ten, what if there’s a game that I clearly like more than that game?  The scale is kind of meaningless, in the end.  It can compare games, but the scores themselves are meaningless.

$63.74 after tax, actually.

The sites that break a game into different categories are on the right track.  It’s a little more accurate, but the same concept applies.  What makes the gameplay score of an RPG better or worse than the gameplay score of a shooter?  What if I just don’t like shooters?  I can’t express that in a score.  I can’t express my disdain for the Call of Duty series and my praise for the innovation in Call of Duty: Black Ops III in numbers.

Those are the types of opinions that go into the full evaluation.  But if I put a review score, there’s a chance people will simply look at the score and ignore the actual evaluation.  In that case, readers may be persuaded to buy something based on just my review score without reading the full evaluation.  But if the evaluation contained information that would have let the reader know they wouldn’t like the game, then by just going off of the score, they would have wasted $60.

The new Pokemon games are a great example here, and are really what inspired me to write this.  The new games have a very different feel than past games.  Even though I highly praise and recommend Pokemon Sun and Moon, people who are expecting a game more similar to Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald may be disappointed, and I mention that in the evaluation.  However, were I to give it a score, the reader would probably never know.

So that’s why I don’t do scores.  They’re just not accurate, and I’d really rather people read my full evaluations.  If you’re really worried about the quality of the game you’re thinking about buying, you can get a lot of information by reading multiple reviews.  You may notice a trend in what reviewers are saying.

I’m just as guilty as everyone else on the internet.  I love quick, easy to access information.  Scores are so easy to just look at and move on.  But this attitude also leads us to bad things like clickbait and misinformation.  Try to at least skim through the whole review instead.  You’ll get some great insight from leading experts in the industry (and me).

(Kiwi is a writer who writes about games, reviews games, makes videos about games, and obsesses over games. And I guess he does some other things too.)

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