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In my personal opinion, using a review score serves only to do a disservice to both the reader and game being reviewed. Many people often ask for objective reviews according to how good the various elements of the game actually are. The problem is, not many people agree on those facts alone. The fact is, all reviews are, are an opinion from the point of view of a reviewer. You cannot and should not trust any score given by anyone but yourself. That is to say, ideally speaking, a review should give as much factual information as it can, and leave the conclusion up to the reader if they choose to try it.

Some of you are saying, ‘but we want a quick way to decide if a game is worth paying for and playing’. I can understand that, but I think that that is in all honesty, a cop-out. Its saying you want reviewers to decide what is worth spending your money on, and you want to skip all of the research that a reviewer has done to come to a conclusion. Its saying that you do not care to read the explanation behind the score itself. That in itself, is a disservice to you, the reader.

The core problem of it comes down to subjectivity. What I see as ‘good graphics’ is not necessarily going to be the same as what anyone else sees as ‘good graphics’. Likewise, as an FPS player, I may be a lot more critical of sound than someone that plays RPGs or sports games. Some games may very well discard graphics and go with other gameplay elements to make the game unique.

For example, nobody plays Minecraft for the graphics. People play Minecraft because you can do a lot of interesting things in it. So how do you score something like that? Obviously, graphics aren’t a key part of the game. So, what weight should a review give to them, if they are given next to no weight by the original developers? The problem is, I just simply wouldn’t score it because it is bare bones as it is. Others however would score it and points would be deducted from the overall score by it. That is the kind of disservice that they do to some games. A lot of people will simply quantify good graphics as, ‘Does it run at x resolution at y frames every second?’. I won’t get into that argument in this article, but there is currently a huge disagreement on what the standard is between consoles and PCs games that can often outperform any console ever manufactured. Needless to say, opinions here are rampant, and very few will agree.

minecraft fortress

As far as sound goes, as an FPS junkie, I am infinitely more critical of sound in most games than many other people. I use sound cues to maintain spatial awareness in relation to any enemy I may encounter. An RPG focused player may not agree with my critique of sound, which like it or not, does carry over between genres. Likewise, as an audiophile, I do care about a game’s soundtrack. Other players may be inclined to say, ‘wait, game x has sound?!’ due to the fact many people play with sound off in order to listen to other things. For those that DO care about sound, my taste in music could and probably does differ from others tastes.

EVE has sound?

When it comes to scoring storytelling, the waters get even murkier. What is good storytelling? When you start talking about how good writing is, you start to tread into the realm of talking about something that is regarded by some as being close to a form of art. Does it matter if a story is predictable and cliche if its still immersive and well done? Some people hate the prequels of Star Wars and want to act as if they never happened. I am among them. However, there are those that think the prequels are even better than episodes four through six. Likewise, there are those that insist that Han Solo shot first (he did) while the creator of Star Wars insists that Greedo shot first (no he didn’t). Both versions, although minor in details changed (Greedo still dies), have huge implications for what it says about Han the character. Both are cliche. On one hand, Han shooting first portrays him as a bit of a rogue smuggler that isn’t afraid to shoot first in self defense to end a standoff. On the other, Han shooting second portrays him as a good guy that will defend himself, but only after being shot at. Which is better? Obviously, its the fact that Han shot first, because I’m the one reviewing it. This sort of argument is common in regards to pretty much every story ever told. Remember the Mass Effect brouhaha with Bioware pissing off a lot of people, and others ‘getting’ it? How do you judge that sort of thing? How do you score it fairly? I argue that it is close to impossible to be fair about it.

han shot first

Scoring gameplay makes the waters murkier still. What is good gameplay? What is fun? Fun is defined in the english language as, ‘Enjoyment, amusement or light-hearted pleasure’. What is fun to me, may very well be quite un-fun to you. I enjoy playing alongside and against other players of equal or better skill. There are other gamers I know that absolutely despise multi-player games. In all honesty, that is perfectly fine, because fun is subjective and no two people are likely to ever really agree on what fun is. I regard being in a top outfit in Planetside 1 and 2 to be one of the greatest experiences in gaming that I have ever had. Granted, there are a lot of people that would not enjoy the level of intensity that comes with it. On the same coin, I don’t really enjoy the same kind of day-to-day gameplay that beginners in Planetside 2 are greeted with. That is the gameplay that would have to be reviewed, because it is what is initially presented to any new player. For another example, take ArchAge, a review that I wrote. I had to break the score up for its general gameplay into several different categories to adequately quantify what I thought about it. The truth of it is that, for example, if you are a brand new player, you won’t be able to get into land ownership unless you are either extraordinarily lucky, or you outright buy someone’s plot from them. I scored it according to the assumption that that is what any new player would do. Not everyone would agree with me on it, but it is what it is.

Review Score Example

That all said, there was a time when review scores served a purpose. When gaming was much younger, there were fewer games being made, and it was easier to quantify each aspect against one another. It is an old industry standard. It had its time, but now it needs to be retired, because as gaming has grown up so too have the games being made. It now does more harm to each game being made, and to gamers that still rely on them. Sure, providing a short recap is good to summarize the facts around it, but quantifying them into numbers does nobody any good. Even Stephen Totilo, Editor in Chief of Kotaku agrees with me. In a talk with Totalbiscuit he says, “We’re skeptical that you can boil the essence of a game down to a number” and that, “it distorts more than illuminates.”

You can see that segment of the discussion here:

I get the feeling that scores really only exist anymore due to the politics behind industry standards. Infamously, Bethesda withheld a bonus payment from Obsidian Entertainment because Metacritic’s score for Fallout: New Vegas was 84, not 85. This is in spite of the fact it did well over $300 million in sales, and the fact that Bethesda had shipped five million copies by November of 2010. This was done over a number, calculated by people that aren’t held accountable to the public, with methods and practices held in complete secrecy. It doesn’t help you, the consumer, judge weather or not it is worthwhile to actually play a game. We give undue weight to these numbers, and seem to be blinded by dogma and tradition when greater detail about the games being reviewed should be held in higher regard. If we did that, it would give game creators the freedom to not target a number, but look at developing games differently. It would give them the ability to go in other directions and paths not taken. More weight would be put on the fun factor of the game by everyone concerned, and isn’t that what matters most when you talk about how enjoyable something is?


Keith Elwood

I have been a gamer ever since I can remember, starting with the Sega Genesis and original Nintendo consoles. I graduated to frogger on an ancient IBM home PC, and then onto Sim City 2000. In 2004, I got into shooters and MMOs. I haven't looked back since. Professionally, I am certified in private security. In my spare time, I dabble in information analysis and study geopolitics. I sometimes write at my own blog at keithelwood.com.



  • NoName

    Does this mean Techraptor is going to abolish its own scored reviews?

  • Red Lagoon

    They need to gtfo. It’s just a stupid justification for big companies to not give a bonus to developers.

  • David Kapostasy

    I’d agree that not every game should have the same criteria for quality, but numerical scoring on pertinent attributes is really the only way to go.

    Make up your own attributes for different genres.

  • I don’t think I necessarily agree with this.
    I feel that sites like Kotaku, who aim their reviews off of a bias or some sort of payment should get rid of theirs, because what they’re doing isn’t a review. I believe it’s more of their cultural agenda critic. They’re affecting the wages of employees for that company based off of a biased reasoning.

  • Your point of view is acceptable but the rationalization isn’t in my opinion.

    What is the purpose of a review? To inform a potential customer of the merits, or lack thereof of a product. That is the job of the reviewer, not the customer. I would have accepted this point you make if demos were a standard practice, games weren’t colossal downloads and internet wasn’t under restrictions in many parts of the world.

    Reviews are obviously the writer’s opinions and most of the points you make are weak. You make it sound like the review is only a number, however the number corresponds to what is written. Let me read why you think a given game has good graphics, sound and whatnot. Compare the game with others of it’s kind, contemporary or older. Let me know what kinds of games are your bread and butter. This is how the reader can be informed by the reviewer, not by removing a part of the equation.

    Just because the industry and underage kids (actually or mentally) get hung up on the number, doesn’t mean that the numerical score as a system is flawed. It means that it is used the wrong way and THIS is what should change. Your way of thinking on this is the easy way out. Why improve the situation, when it’s easier just to remove it?

  • Fenrir007

    I think this is a fair assession and I agree with most of it. Scores are a blight in gaming and absolutely everyone would be better served without them. These are my main beefs with it:

    – It breeds a culture of laziness and instant gratification between gamers too impatient to read through a well reasoned review while they maintain the exact same expectation of being properly informed as if they had read it fully. These same people will bitch endlessly when inevitably the score differs greatly from what was written.

    – A reviewer putting out an extremely well thought out review will have the ungrateful task of converting his long exposition into numerical values through a system that will be hard or completely impossible to explain to the readers, thus making it seem arbitrary. It will look even more arbitrary as the same “internal scoring system” will require further undisclosed adaptations for each genre or even game title reviewed. This inevitably leads to inconsistencies across the board, like a game the reviewer seemingly enjoyed more scoring lower than a game he dispensed harsher criticism upon (and telling the audience they should treat each game review in a void will be seen as incompetence or disonesty). People will expect you to forever hold the same, immutable standards as this would be linked to the “reviewing method”, and that would be immutable law to everyone (but this law will be only deduced by your readership since it will never be disclosed in full, as a review is simply not quantifiable down to the minutia of its writing), and will subject your past history to the scrutiny of the eidetic memory of the internet by comparing any new work you put out with every single review you ever wrote, even those you have long since forgotten.

    – It feeds on the clickbait culture. Clicks are money. Money is good. Controversies generates clicks. Will you feel tempted to slap a dissonant review score on something even though you don’t agree with that value only to get more exposure or generate admoney for your website? Or maybe your boss will force you to do it?

    – At the same time, however, it slowly makes the websites themselves irrelevants as the lazy culture + ease of access to the final scores of multiple websites through a single aggregator (or even third party mentions, like screenshots, tweets, articles on other sites or even a friend mentioning it) slowly drive these people away from the very sites that would benefit from the clickbait manipulation (not to mention alienating the gamer who still wants well thought out commentary on games – these will go to competitors or youtubers). In the end, the gaming press shoots itself on the foot in the long run.

    – It causes problems for game developers that end up at the mercy of Metacritic to put food on the table, and this, in turn, influences game design – and we all know that external forces wrestling the control away from the developers is usually a very bad thing.

    – It gives game publishers / devs even more of a reason to be chummy with the gaming press since a score is a lot more visible than simply a glowing review.

    The sooner the industry does away with those for good, the better. The gamers that don’t feel like reading everything can still be served with bullet points at the end showing the pros and cons of it. Doing away with them will also mean that a more politically charged review wont have this aspect affecting the score.

    Regarding objectivity in reviews, I’m only going to say that I do believe it is something that you should strive to do, but that complete objectivity is unatainable. Good reviews should try and cover as many aspects as possible of any game (including things that you may not consider relevant), while still trying to keep your emotions at bay as much as possible. Too much passion can spoil it. This is why I, personally, think disclosure that you are a very, very big fan of a given series can be a boon to the consumer. I don’t necessarily think said person should recuse from the review because his/her intrinsic knowledge of the mechanics, story and evolution of the series is good to the objective of informing the consumer. It is, however, important to know when certain things would be better served in an op ed piece instead of the review. How to separate both can be challenging, but one thing is for sure – if you are spending far too much reading time of the review on one single issue, then you may wish to take it elsewhere instead.

  • bdp

    Simple review system: Buy it, rent it, skip it. You can expand on those as necessary. For example maybe a game is worth buying but not for full price. Renting is something i’d suggest for a game with little to no replay value but one that may not be worth waiting for a price drop for either or a game series that gets yearly releases or even a game that’s a love or hate kind of game that not everyone may enjoy.

  • I disagree. The idea behind scores is to let people know at a quick glance whether something is worth their time/closer look or not and some people misuse that to push their own biases and agendas People don’t have time nor will to go through dozens of reviews since you can’t trust a single reviewer (just look at all the bs going on with games media) unless you followed him/her for a while and are familiar with their criteria and biases. I personally stopped caring about a professional reviewers long time ago and prefer user reviews but them again I’ve been gaming since 90’s so I have a pretty good idea whether I’m gonna like something or not (at least when it comes to traditional games). As someone who uses metacritic all the time I do wish to know how exactly the calculations work. When I decide what score I’m going to give a game the 2 most important things are technical side of the game and did the game entertain me/was it fun/enjoyable and then comes everything else.

  • Ryan Juel

    Jennie Bharaj has taken to starting up a Rotten Tomatoes-esque site that aggregates positive vs. negative review scores. This could be beneficial…