Fallout 76 is out and critics have spoken; it is a buggy, mess of a game that should largely be avoided. How we learned of this information is from review after review confirming the obvious to those who purchased it—Fallout 76 is bad. However, the game seems so bad that one review site in particular has opted to not review the game at all—Giant Bomb. On their recent podcast (Bombcast) episode, Gerstmann (one of the contributors) made the following statement in regards to reviewing Fallout 76:
“No one on staff wants to play any more of this video game [Fallout 76]. I’m not going to subject myself to another 20-30 hours of this [expletive] mess to just put a number on it. My number is ‘Don’t play this game’.”
While I can certainly understand the desire to not play a game anymore, this is the wrong attitude for a website that makes an effort to review a fair amount of games and sets a bad precedent for reviewing in general.
Consider for a moment what the point of reviewing a game is—to express one’s view on a particular subject so that others can use that information how they desire. Typically, most use game reviews to make a decision around whether to purchase the title or not. Everyone is different in this regard. Some like to look at multiple sites and get an average, other have a few select outlets to choose from, and for some—they have one particular source that matches their taste enough that they generally follow their advice. The more reviews and the more opinions that are available, but when a game is bad, and you abstain from reviewing it, you’re skewing the system that is already broken by removing a source.
Metacritic, Opencritic, and any other form of compiling reviews together require more reviews to gain what some may call “a consensus.” If a game is “good” and many feel so, then the compilation of scores will reflect that. The same should be true when a game is bad, if enough reviews deem a game as bad, its numbers will reflect that. But by abstaining from reviewing the game at all, especially from a prominent website, you are inadvertently skewing the game’s score higher than it deserves. This creates a natural imbalance when it comes to compiling various different reviews to create a single number that spans much farther than Fallout 76. Consider for a moment a scenario where one would be tasked to review a game:
There is a limited amount of time to play the two games available, so only one can be reviewed. There is Game A and Game B. Game A is enjoyable to play and Game B is not. Both games require the same amount of time to play and review, so which do review?
You choose Game B
This is an extremely crude scenario but it conveys an important concept. When left with limited time and a choice between something enjoyable and not, you’re going to go for the enjoyable route. This happens all the time through no fault of one’s own. We are human after all, so why wouldn’t we pick the more enjoyable option? Unfortunately, the human condition creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of skewing review scores higher than they should be because those reviewing it are more likely to enjoy it. We see part of this in current game reviews score today, outlet after outlet continually ranking games higher and higher, making lower scores almost a thing of the past. The vast majority of outlets that review games scores on a scale of 1-10, but how often do you see games that are actually a 5 or below?
This is why we need those who choose to not review games they don’t like to actually go and review them. In a perfect world, we would do away with review scores altogether, relying on the specifics of the written or spoken words to convey one’s feelings about a particular product. Sadly, we are not there yet, so until we can all move to such a system without facing consequences, we need review sites to make the time to review bad games. The system, if it has any hope of remaining even somewhat valuable, requires those who dislike a game to mark their stamp of disapproval so others know this is best to be avoided. Not just from a consumer standpoint, but from a developer’s view as well, enough poor scores send a signal to a company to “not do that again,” but that signal only gets sent if a review is eventually published.
Us little sites don’t have the time or resources to review every game under the sun, but for those who do, there is a duty to perform to let others know that if you feel passionate about a game being bad—let the world know. If you couldn’t get through the 20-30 hours you feel you needed to review the game, tell us that! Tell us the terrible experience you had that didn’t even make you want to play the game so we as the consumer can make an informed opinion. That in of itself is valuable information that others will want to hear when passing their own judgments regarding the game. Next time you face the same issue, don’t abstain. Tell your story of how bad an experience it was and let others decide if it was valuable or not; even if not everyone finds value with it, some will.