The Power of the Number: Review Scores

Most video game retailers have a policy on the purchase of new games where a consumer cannot return it if the packaging has been opened. This makes video game reviews one of the most important things gamers look into before they make new game purchases. Today gamers have access to reviews for brand new games on release day due to the advent of the internet. A huge improvement from the days of old when they had to wait for the next issue of Nintendo Power or actually play the game to determine if a game is good or not. Now gamers have the ability to make informed decisions based on these reviews and, hopefully, not have to worry about purchasing bad games. But are gamers really making informed decisions? Have they set the bar too high, leading most games to never meet the high expectations?

What do gamers really pay attention to in a review?

@BenRiddick most just look at the grade

— PlayStation Nation (@PSNation) March 24, 2014

The number

The number. The grade. The score.

The problem with how gamers look at a review is that too many of them focus on the number associated with the review as opposed to the actual review itself. Not only does this do a great disservice to the people who review that games, but it also does the consumer a great disservice.

The number is probably the biggest problem with reviews because they are not self-explanatory. The number does not mention that the characters are fantastic, but the environment they are in could be better. It fails to bring up that fans of a franchise may continue to love the game even if the reviewer did not.

Spec Ops makes an admirable attempt to inject morality into a standard shooter experience. The narrative unravels at the end and the controls are subpar compared to the top-tier competitors, but the journey into madness is unlike anything I’ve played before.

Game Informer - Spec Ops: The Line - 7.75

The meat of the review is the written explanation and journey through the thought process of the writer, the number is just gravy. Everyone loves gravy, but do they love to just sit with a gravy boat in front of them and pour it in their mouths? If so they're disgusting, but that's okay as long as they understand that they will not be left completely full and satisfied.

south-park-stick-of-truth-crop
south-park-stick-of-truth-crop

If you come to The Stick of Truth for the South Park-ness of it all--for Cartman's aggressive profanity, for Butters' good intentions, for Randy Marsh's masturbation addiction--then you'll enjoy 10 or so hours of hysterical, offensive, gross buffoonery... As role-playing games go, however, The Stick of Truth is notably light on, well, everything. It's light on challenge: on medium difficulty, combat is a cakewalk, entertaining to watch but rarely engaging your mental faculties. (If you were hoping to turn your brain off and laugh at abortion jokes, you might see this as a mark in the game's favor.) It's also light on depth: if it weren't for the profanity, cartoon genitalia, and the sight of a grown man engaged in gentle coitus with a farm animal, you might have retitled The Stick of Truth as Baby's First RPG.

GameSpot - South Park: The Stick of Truth - 7.0

Problem number two with the number, is that gamers set their idea of a good number too high. Titanfall is a great example of this, where the hype was so high that the game was branded to be a system seller for Microsoft. Here is a game that received an average score of an 86% on Metacritic (not the most accurate rating site but it will suffice for the point we are trying to make), a great score for most games, yet fans are upset by this score because they believe it should be higher to be considered a system seller. Here are a few excerpts from the reviews of the places that gave Titanfall a lower score.

Titanfall_news_image_582x200
Titanfall_news_image_582x200

A consummate multiplayer shooter, Titanfall has little to offer those interested in story — but for everyone else, it’s a must-play.

Official Xbox Magazine - Titanfall - 85

The "perfect" score The number has more problems than just the lower scores. Gamers also tend to misinterpret the high numbers as well. 10/10. 100%. 5-Stars. These are three examples of the highest rating a game can receive. What do they mean though? Does it mean that a game is perfect? Does it mean that everyone in their right mind will love it?

NO!!!

High scores are just as misunderstood as the low scores and can be just as hurtful to a game because it adds on the the hype and raises expectations. A perfect score does not mean a perfect game, it means that the game was everything it had to be. "Perfect" scores mean that the story was engaging, the gameplay was not broken, and it was technically beautiful.

uncharted-3
uncharted-3

When I rant about why Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is better than just about anything on the market -- about why I think it's my new favorite game of all time -- I don't talk about the firefights, the new ability to throw grenades back at enemies or collecting the game's 101 well-hidden treasures. I talk about the heart-wrenching section where Drake is by himself and completely lost. He's on his last legs, he's desperate, and I'm right there with him. I'm pushing him through the journey at hand and it's clear that it's a game, but as he stumbles, seeks shelter and loses hope, my heart breaks.

IGN - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - 10

So, the next time you are looking to reviews to make purchase decisions, don't just skip to the rating. Read the review and use it to make better decisions. This in no way means that the numbered rating system is obsolete or not necessary, it just means that gamers have to pay attention to the difference between a rating and a review. Do the reviewers a favor as well:

@BenRiddick yes, yes it does

— PlayStation Nation (@PSNation) March 24, 2014

What do you think of ratings in reviews? What kind of score do you look for when purchasing a game? Does a low score discourage you from purchasing a game? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!