I’ve seen two people writing about review scores on games recently, its not an uncommon discussion. Brad at Mental Health Gaming (whom you should all keep an eye on) recently wrote about why he will never have review scores on his website. Whilst Lottie Bevan in issue 27 of Wireframe Magazine discussed the correlation between boobs being a prominent feature in a games design and that game having a higher than expected score on Steam. (Wireframe should also be a must-read, in my opinion, I subscribe to the magazine and get it through the door every fortnight, but they also allow anyone to download pdf’s of the magazine absolutely free, so there’s not much of an excuse to not check it out!).
It got me thinking, they’re an odd thing review scores, and they often lead to a lot of debate. They were one of the biggest stressors I had when I was writing reviews regularly on bitparade, because really, what makes a game a 7 out of 10 and not an 8? I did go through a spell where I tried to have them dropped from the site, and regular readers of this page may have noticed I don’t apply a score to anything. When people debate these things it can easily lead down the road of abuse, just as was mentioned by Brad on Mental Health Gaming, and this happens even more so when the game in question is from a much-loved series.
Then there’s the pressure of the writer feeling like they should maybe score higher than they were considering doing, purely to appease a publisher. To me, it always felt like something that went unsaid/unwritten, after all, no one really wants anything out there telling the world that their latest offering doesn’t cut it, but as writers we’d rather our opinion was valued more than an arbitrary number applied to the end of an 800+ word review where we go into reasons why we like or don’t like certain aspects of a game, sometimes things work, sometimes the ideas are genuinely forward-thinking but the application of those ideas just doesn’t quite cut the mustard and required more time to get them to a stage where they could have made more of a difference to the game overall.
Those things are all taken into account when writers write about games, take my review of Decay of Logos from back in September. Personally, I really, really enjoyed Amplify Creations take on the Soulslike style of action-adventure games, it had some glaring problems that more manpower, time and money could have fixed, but they tried to do things differently, they tried not to just clone FROM Software’s recipe, and apply a few other influences to boot. They didn’t quite pull everything off, there were bugs there that maybe shouldn’t have been and the game got ripped apart on social media, unfairly so in my opinion.
I’d rather talk about what I think the developer is trying to do and then whether I think they’ve succeeded in that or not, rather than write a bit about the game then go meh – 7/10 because no one gets anything from that. But if the writer has put some work into studying the games design and can get that across to the reader, who knows, it may surprise its publisher and the studio get the green light and an increased budget to make their next game more in line with what their original vision was.
When you factor in stuff surrounding bonuses based upon Metacritic scores, then that, again, puts pressure onto the reviewer to score a game favourably, because (and I’m sure I’m not speaking for myself here) the last thing any person who writes about games, be it for a professional publication or a hobbyist like myself, wants is for the creators of a game to be punished based upon a fucking number thrown at the end of a piece of writing.
Obviously, the counter to this is “well, people don’t read reviews”, well, then maybe they fucking should rather than sending death threats over Twitter because Endless Tale of Sorrow: The Word of Man only got an 89% when it clearly deserved a 90%.