The proliferation of gaming as an entertainment medium has brought a ton of changes to the industry. One of these changes is the added significance that review scores have for games with many publishers using these scores to decide if a developer gets a bonus for their hard work. Even in a perfect world, this practice would be far from a fair practice because review scores are very subjective. This week I will take a look at four of the issues I have with the way other sites review games and discuss some ways the system could be improved.
Perhaps the biggest issue with many review systems is the score itself. Many sites have become a slave to concluding their reviews with a rating, usually a number, that often seems like it was pulled out of the reviewer’s ass. Although a rating system gives readers a convenient way to quickly summarize the reviewer’s opinion of a game, they also have the effect of undermining the body of a review. Further complicating the use of these rating systems is that every author has a different definition of what an average game would score on their respective system, with many feeling that a 7/10 represents an average game. The arbitrary nature of these review scores not only makes it extremely difficult to discern the true quality of a game, but it also makes these scores little more than a shortcut for lazy readers.
While the scoring system certainly is a big issue, it is also important for the reader to know how much of the reviewed game was played. Although I can see big sites like IGN and GameSpot playing the newest AAA title through before reviewing, the same can not said with smaller titles. Many times it seems as if the reviewer merely played what they felt was enough of the title to sufficiently review it, whether they actually completed the game’s story. This issue has been a source of contention on many message boards the last generation because many people feel that after a certain point a game is out of surprises and once that point is hit, there is little reason for the reviewer to continue. However, I think it is very important that reviewers play through the game’s story entirely because it may take the full length of the game for certain problems to become apparent.
Another issue that pops up with smaller titles is that the person reviewing the game is not a fan of the genre. It always pains me to read a review for a new JRPG only to realize midway through that the reviewer obviously does not enjoy the genre. While a case can be made that truly great games will speak across genres, most games do not reach this level and they should be reviewed by a person that does not instantly dislike a game merely because of its genre. Many times these mismatched review pairings come off as unprofessional work because the reviewer is unable to get past their disdain for certain elements common in a genre (JRPGs with turn-based battles in particular are something that WRPG fans usually hate with a passion).
Although the previous issues had to do with a site’s review policy, this last one is more of an ethics issue. As the audience for video games has grown, so to have the pools of money that they generate. Publishers use a portion of this money to advertise for their upcoming games, and there is not a better way hit the gamer audience than advertising on the big gaming websites. Publishers can use this advertising money that they pump into the website as a way to influence the final score a game receives with some even pulling the ads altogether if they do not agree with a game’s score. Besides pulling advertising dollars, some publishers have been known to use other shady methods to get a couple extra points on their reviews. One example of this is when Topware threatened to blacklist any site that had the balls to give Two Worlds II anything below 7/10.
I think these issues could be at least partially fixed by doing two things, abolishing the points system and having a greater degree of transparency for reviews. Doing away with review scores, like we do here, would force people to read the full review and develop their own opinion on whether a game is worth their purchase or not. While abolishing review scores would be easy to do, I think getting these sites to have more transparency would be a difficult battle. Having reviewers admit that they did not fully complete a game or that they were flown to a swanky hotel by the game’s publisher while penning the review would at least give readers the chance to formulate their opinions based on the truth rather than the rumors that fly around. Even a bit of text at the end of the review that discloses this information would be better than current method of keeping everything shrouded in secrecy. Still, I feel that sites like IGN and Gamespot would sooner get rid of their scoring systems before they disclose all the perks they get for reviewing games.
Lastly, I would like to announce that after over a year of working for Lusipurr.com, this will be my final article for the site. It has been a tremendous amount of fun working for this site but my busy life beckons me to focus on other things. I want to thank all of the site’s readers as well as each member of staff for making this such a great experience. With that out of the way, what things do you think could be done to make reviews more worthwhile? Do you agree with me or am I just off my rocker? Let me know in the comments!