When I started out reviewing games for Gamestyle it was to do just that. Play some games and give them a review score. A chance to play some free games for just handing out a score.
Since those early days though, things changed. I actually grew to despise the idea of a review score. I reached out to publishers and PR firms when I took over the reigns at Gamestyle and they all suggested to me that they needed them,
There was a reliance on the review score. Yet over the years I have seen why this is a bad thing. Not only for those who make games, but also those who write about them. It is why there are never going to be any scores on Mental Health Gaming.
There were controversies, relating to developers having bonuses withheld for not meeting Metacritic expectations. Which is something that really concerned me.
I get it when a publisher says a game needs to reach a certain standard to get a bonus. But such is the weight of expectation, it feels like it becomes harder and harder for developers to match them.
Setting a target of 85 on Metacritic, but falling short for only hitting 84 shouldn’t see a bonus withheld. Nor should an expectation be hit so high. Yet the reason the bar is as high as it is, was due to the unfair weighting of the review score.
You see, on a scale of 1-10 a 5 should be average. With anything above being above average and anything below being… well, below average. Something that gets a 7 out 10 review score is above average. It may have some faults, but is still a high quality thing to be enjoyed.
Yet we hit a point in games where the getting a 7 was deemed the lowest end of an average score. With anything below that being poor to disastrous. An 8 out of 10 was the new ‘above average’ and a 9 being the acceptable ‘you should play this it is very good but there may be some faults’.
Yet getting a 10 was still seen as a game needing to be nigh on perfect. Of which no such thing should every exist, as we cannot hit perfection. Sorry, but it is true.
This put huge amounts of pressure on everyone. The developers at the larger publishers had to start making games by the numbers, purely to hit the good review score averages.
Reviewers were put under pressure to give flagship titles certain scores to show the wider audience they are worth buying.
Gamers themselves were also put under pressure to buy the next big game, or you’d be missing out. There was pressure aimed at everyone and it was all based on a review score.
Such was skewed nature of this, that if certain personalities gave certain games, a certain review score. Then they’d better watch their backs. Jim Sterling as an example gave Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a 7 out of 10.
He explained his reasons and whilst personally I didn’t agree with some of them, they were all fair criticisms of the game. A 7 out of 10 in Jim’s mind was a game that was well above average. A good game. He concluded that Breath of the Wild was a good game, just not an amazingly great or perfect one.
The reaction to that score was disgusting. Leading to all kinds of horrid treatment and abuse aimed in his direction. It is ok to disagree with someone and it is ok to debate it with them. But it is never ok to abuse someone for an opinion. Especially when it is well reasoned and argued, just because you disagree.
For most people when pressure is ramped up on something you do it can be difficult mentally. But when you suffer with confidence issues, self loathing or any other number of mental health related worries. It can be far more damaging.
I remember having to defend one of my writers against a publisher after they gave a game a less than stellar review. The publisher in question wasn’t a major one, but they wanted the review changed. Also wanting the writer removed from said review. I refused and we never got content from them again.
Now, I disagreed with the review and really enjoyed the game they disliked. Well, I say disliked, as they enjoyed aspects of the game. Yet had issues with others and gave it an above average score. Only slightly above average, but above average all the same.
See that is the thing isn’t it. It doesn’t matter what is written in a review in the end. It is the score that matters. People will scroll to the bottom and see if the score matches their own views. Then maybe will they read what was put before it. Then take to the various social media platforms to scream about it.
It’s why there will not be a single review score here on this site. There will be opinion and there will be discussion. But there will be no score to back any of it up. It isn’t needed as it needs you to pick fault with things and find reasons to justify a score. A lot of the time that isn’t possible or even really needed.
I could pick apart a game in a written review for all the little things that are wrong. It could be poorly written, poorly acted, have crap graphics, but still be bloody enjoyable. The main take away from that is said game for all its numerous faults is still fun and enjoyable. I don’t want to mark that game out of 10, because it wouldn’t feel right.
So yeah, I’d happily see the end of the review score. Sorry to Metacritic and friends.