Why Video Game Review Scores Matter

There’s been quite a buzz about review scores lately. Some people decry the practice, claiming that it oversimplifies a game review and can give readers the wrong impression. Other people support the use of such scores as a quick and easy way to gain an idea of a game’s quality. I’m in favor of using them, but not depending on them.

Before I explain my viewpoint, let me point out some of the critiques of such a position. Several sites have recently sworn off of review scores. Some examples include Eurogamer, which has done away with them entirely in favor of using “Avoid, Recommended, or Essential,” and Kotaku, which currently offers a simple “Yes, you should play this game,” “No, you shouldn’t play this game,” or “Not Yet” designation at the bottom of their reviews.

There are several reasons behind these decisions. Some are purely functional in nature; for example, many ambitious games seemed to ship “broken” over the past year, requiring patches to work properly, and online functionality is not able to be accurately tested until large volumes of users are engaged in play simultaneously.

Apart from these more technical concerns, readers may unfairly judge a game based on a score and decide to not play it because it didn’t meet a certain threshold. This means that some people might miss out on games that are a perfect fit for their tastes, simply because it received a “6” instead of a “7.” What appears bronze to a reviewer might be platinum for the right gamer.

These are valid points, and there are others that I haven’t detailed here, such as problems about combining scores from a wide variety of reviewers on metacritic. The metacritic issue is a much longer discussion than I plan to get into in this article, but suffice to say that a few misuses of the meta site don’t completely sway me. Despite all of these concerns, I personally still find value in using a scoring system.

I’m a very busy person. As much as I’d like to, I simply don’t have time to read the entire review of every single game that I’m interested in playing. For me, I use the review scores to gain a quick glimpse into the quality of a game. If the score falls within my expectation for a game that I wanted to buy, then I usually won’t bother reading the full review; I prefer experiencing the journey firsthand.

However, if there is a game that I’m really unsure about, but looks promising, and has been given a decent review score, then I’ll read the article for more details. Those are the reviews that I prioritize to read.

I’m aware that scores are the opinion of that specific reviewer (albeit, the opinion of someone who is immersed in the industry and likely better understands the pros and cons of gaming than I do), and that I shouldn’t base my decision to buy a game entirely on the numerical score. In fact, there are several games on my favorite game list that scored fairly low in reviews. But that doesn’t detract from the value of having a reviewer’s opinion in a quick easy-to-digest number.

I appreciate sites trying to take a different approach. In a way, what Eurogamer and Kotaku are doing is similarly ranking games in a manner that I also feel useful. However, I’d personally prefer to have a slightly more detailed summary of a reviewer’s opinion on a game, which I feel can be quickly accomplished through the use of a numerical score. I will say that I find the 100-point scale a little excessive, as it’s hard to distinguish between a 8.2 and an 8.3. I greatly prefer either a 10 or 20-point scale, which allows for elaboration in a more defensible manner.

At the end of the day, I use review scores as a heuristic to decide whether or not to give a game a shot. If that means that I occasionally miss a game that I would have really enjoyed playing, that’s ok. We live in an age where there is an unconsumable amount of content out there, and there’s a ton of games that I simply won’t have time to play. Review scores help me decide, with what I would say is roughly a 95% confidence interval, which games I want to play, and I’m ok with missing out on that other 5%.

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