Review Scores Are For Fanbois and Site Owners
In the gaming industry, ranking jobs by desirability, I would say that second from the bottom is the job of game reviewer. It is surpassed for undesirability only by the job of game tester. It is a thankless job that I would wish on no one. The sales pitch is that reviewers get the games early and get paid to play them. I do not exaggerate when I say, there are games that you couldn’t pay me to play. I would rather go to the dentist.
Though criticism of review scores is a cyclical affair*, most recently, Simon Parkin and Jim Sterling were called to task for their respective scoring of Uncharted 3 and Gears of War 3. I was going to wait for the current wave of interest to ebb, but Penny Arcade’s Tycho just highlighted a whole new volley of interviews on the subject. It is time for me to say what only a few seem to understand or are willing to admit.
The unfortunate fact is that Metacritic scores can be cause for individuals being canned and studios being shuttered. They matter to the publishers, regardless of their merit. Yet, of all the ways in which a game can be described, a single number or letter is the least desirable. The number itself is inherently arbitrary, no matter how “consistent” the author is within his/her own scale. Furthermore, though reviewers of all major sites include a written account of their experience with the game, the reality is that many consumers and industry stakeholders often jump straight to the numerical value at the end of the review. Metacritic makes things even easier by averaging all those numbers and letters for them.
In the movie industry, Siskel and Ebert knew what they were doing when they employed their thumbs up or down. It was a simple pass/fail system and they saved details and impressions for their dialogues and diatribes.
I think the video game industry would be served well to copy the thumbs up/down, rotten/fresh, pass/fail approach, as at least four sites do: ArsTechnica, Crispy Gamer, Kotaku, Gamecritics. It allows reviewers to focus more on the anecdotal and experiential and free them from the confines of a rating scale. It helps the consumer and industry stakeholders to focus more on the impressions of the reviewer, rather than encourage a speedy jump straight to the numerical value from a scale which represents different criteria for every reviewer. Dare I say, providing a thumbs up type rating might even serve to bring games closer to that elusive, and coveted “art” designation. (Imagine giving John Williams an B- for his Superman theme because there was no electric guitar, or Monet only an 8 out of 10 for his Water Lilies because he had painted them before. I can hear artists and art critics, internationally and in each their own languages singing in chorus,GTFO.)
This autumn, I stopped reading reviews that had scores attached to them. I no longer give site “hits” to any of those reviews or their authors, controversial or not. Scores serve only two purposes, neither of which is of benefit to the industry or its customers. I no longer hold any pity for any reviewer who complains that they are being unfairly accused of “bias” in their scores. Using any score system is unnecessary, unhelpful, and unconscionable. If Metacritic wants to objectify our wonderful games, let them. Journalists don’t have to assist them by providing a value.
*In an article I read a couple of months ago, someone mentioned the cyclical nature of games review criticism. I cannot find the reference though my personal experience as a consumer of games news supports the claim.