Should they still be a thing?
Almost since the advent of video games, people have reviewed them. And with those reviews came review scores. We’ve all seen them used and we all have probably disagreed with a few over the years. The thing I want to discuss here today is whether or not review scores are still relevant. Have they run their course and need to be retired? Or should we (or, in particular, I) continue to use them?
Even before starting this blog, I debated whether or not I should use scores when I did reviews. As should be obvious now, I am still holding this debate with myself. What prompted me to bring it out into the open is the fact that Polygon, a video games website (in case you didn’t know), recently announced it is doing away with its numbered score system. Polygon’s editors make an interesting case for the change. On the one hand, the argument could be boiled down to the old “change for change’s sake” while on the other, Polygon could be on to something. Maybe reviewers should seek new ways of evaluating a game’s merits instead of simply reducing it to a simple score.
Of course, the removal of scores isn’t necessarily a new idea. Many independent reviewers (including fairly well-known YouTubers Jim Sterling and Colin Moriarty) don’t assign scores when giving their thoughts on games. Both of them do produce a list of their favorite games at the end of the year that highlight specific games. Polygon seems to be following in their footsteps in this regard as it will be providing Polygon Recommends and Essentials lists from now on. It is significant that a major games website would do this as it means that the discussion is probably happening at other outlets as well.
As you have hopefully noticed by now, I use a ten-point scoring system for all the games I review (with .5s added when I feel the game warrants it). You may be wondering what my criteria is for assigning a game a certain score since I don’t have a page explaining my rationale. This is because I have struggled to define my reasoning even to myself and thus I didn’t feel comfortable writing up a page explaining my system to others. Thus far, I have been assigning a score based on what my gut has been telling me about a game. It is, I admit, an arbitrary way of doing things but I stand by my scores.
Although I haven’t explained my scoring criteria, it doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. I have tried many times, in fact, but I was never happy with the way it came together. I have even looked at how major websites (like IGN) do their scores. Their arguments are nicely organized and well-reasoned. Mine never appeared so whenever I wrote them up. Thus, I did not post it. I believe I will have to sit down one day soon to really think about it. Maybe the fifteenth time is the charm?
One of the main stumbling blocks I encountered while trying to write up review criteria was the fact that my enjoyment of a game is often at odds with the criticisms I have of it. Let me explain using my Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Season Pass Review (which you should all read). In those reviews, I said that if you had to pick a piece of DLC to play out of the season pass, I said you should choose A Criminal Past. Now, I gave A Criminal Past an 8 while System Rift received a 9, yet I recommend everyone should play Criminal Past instead of System Rift. Why? Well, from the written portion of the review, I enjoyed the story and the characters a little more despite there being a few flaws with the overall gameplay design. As you can see, there seems to be a disconnect between the scores and which piece of content I enjoyed the most. That set of reviews gave me the most to think about when considering getting rid of review scores. Should I find some way to factor my overall enjoyment into the score? Or should I just state that I really enjoyed a game despite its flaws? The only problem with this last approach is that some people may skip the written portion and just look at the end score and miss the nuance of the review (I myself have been guilty of this in the past).
Despite all my misgivings I have with review scores, they do have their merits. First and foremost, they allow people who don’t want to read a review (or don’t have the time) to get a sense of a game without having to scroll through a wall of text. In that regard, they are most effective. In addition, scores allow different games to be compared relatively quickly and easily. Although I would argue that this can only be done with games of a similar genre so this once again shows the limitations of review scores.
I hope all I have talked about here today makes sense and doesn’t sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I have been mulling the usefulness of review scores for a while now and wanted to get it off my chest. I haven’t decided if I’m going to ditch the scores yet but I’ll let you all know if I do. I may simply start adding a pros and cons section with each review so if people do just skip to the end of my reviews then they can easily get more information about the score. I know this is a simple fix (that, to be honest, most websites do anyways) to my supposed problem but I like to operate under the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Therefore, I may just do the pros/cons section instead of ditching scores altogether.
Thanks for reading and what do you all think about review scores? Should they stay or should they go? And do they serve a purpose? And, if I keep the scores, should I actually explain the criteria for each score on the ten-point scale? Let me know!