We here at Critical Coins have always had a contentious relationship when it comes to reviews. On one hand, we feel we should offer them as part of our content. Conversely, we don’t want to make them part of our primary content and on some level, feel they are a requirement to be able to compete in the gaming blog space. With that concession then comes our next, how do we review those games? I am not talking about the literal act of reviewing, but rather the scoring system we use to define our opinions outside of the words themselves.
Using numbers has been a long standard when it comes to reviewing games with various different scales. Some use a 5 point scale, others 10, a few use 100, and then there is a myriad of everyone else (we included) who use something in-between. These numbers have always been a contentious point when it comes to reviewing games, people arguing over if a game deserves X and the one writing the review defending it. Reviewers wrestling with the idea of what exactly is the difference between an 81 and an 82 or even how one should weigh remasters in today’s modern market using a point scale. At the end of the day, all of this is arbitrary and is purely based on the confines that the reviewer sets themselves and where the contention arises. Not only is the review score that is “awarded” to the game itself brought into question, but also how that compares with other games and if that score is deserving based on that.
In short, it’s a mess that often breeds confusion and anger among everyone involved.
In response, some outlets have begun abandoning number scales for reviews, in favor of recommendations. Eurogamer, is perhaps one of the most notable outlets in recent memory, has removed numbered reviews into a simple badge system.
Until 10th February 2015, Eurogamer.net scored games out of 10. Since this date, we no longer use reviews scores. Instead we offer a single sentence summary, plus an additional recommendation badge, if appropriate:
Recommended games are just that. They’re the games that we find most interesting, most exciting and most fun; the games that we want to bring to your attention.
Essential games are the best of the best. They’re games that thrill us to the core, that get to the heart of what video gaming can and should be. We only expect to see a handful of Essential games every year.
Avoid is not so much for games that aren’t to our taste as games that have serious flaws in design, technology or concept – flaws that make them impossible to recommend spending your money or time on. Again, we expect to use this badge only rarely.
Many games will not be tagged with any of these badges. This does not mean we think they’re bad games. They will cover a pretty broad spectrum of quality, but typically they’ll be games with some qualities to recommend them but about which we have reservations. Those reservations will be significant, but perhaps not significant enough to dissuade players with a particular interest in the game….
An excerpt of Eurogamer’s review policy.
By using a system that is not numerical, and relies more on the words written (or spoken), it removes much of confusion and anger that comes with the previous scoring system. The reason for this is how we interpret numbers versus words. When it comes to numbers we view them as absolute, the number two is always two and worth exactly what two is worth; it is why 1 + 1 = 2 and not 3. There are rules that must be adhered to or it’s not valid. Words have always had a far more mercurial interpretation compared to numbers: words, phrases, sentences, all of these take on different meanings based on multiple different factors. It could be cultural, the sources, the time of day, and even just the person reading it—all of these influence how the meaning of words are perceived; context matters.
The internet, unfortunately, isn’t currently designed to display this information in a manner that is easy to understand. After all, this is part of the reason why numbers are used, it’s a system everyone understands on some level and is far easier to explain that 2000 words explaining a review. When an outlet undertakes a review system that abstains from using numbers, there is a portion of information that is lost when references by the rest of the internet. Take for example a search for a review on Google, currently, there is no method by Google to display a recommendation by Eurogame except by converting the recommendation into a score. Other review compilation websites such as Metacritic run into the same exact issue, a recommendation might become a 4/5 or a 5/5, no recommendation might equal a 3/5 but because the site uses a one hundred point scale, gets converted to 60/100. Now not only is the benefit of removing review scores omitted when looking outside the site itself, but the score is also warped even further as it needs to be converted to the other’s site system—a far from perfect compromise.
Luckily, OpenCritic looks to take the first steps in finally solving this problem. OpenCritic already made an effort to display reviews by outlets who don’t use numerical systems for their reviews and provided a way for displaying recommendations. At the time, it was a step in the right direction but was still missing displaying these in a meaningful manner unless you went looking for individual reviews. With their recent announcements, OpenCritic will soon be adding percentage-based numbers at the top of their reviews that give a percentage of how many outlets recommend the game in question. Further yet, for outlets that use a numerically based system, they will have the ability to set the threshold individually for games that are considered “recommended.”
This may seem like a slight change from before, but this goes miles in terms of creating a simple and easy to understand method for both readers and other websites to see how many have recommended a title without placing a specific score. For fledgling sites like ourselves, it presents a path for us to provide reviews the way we want without feeling the need to compromise for the sake of everything else. Gamers will benefit by being provided a value that better represents the overall opinion of outlets by removing much of the conversions and ambiguity surrounding reviews when using numbers. It’s an advancement that benefits everyone involved, and one that was long overdue that will empower the written word rather than the arbitrary score at the end of a review.