How To Rate A Game(?)

Dolman's Law

By Degtyarev, Posted 03 Sep 2011

Ever heard of Godwin's Law? It's a rule that dictates that, as an online discussion grows longer, it is inevitable that, at one point, someone will bring up Hitler. While the upcoming parallel is, in a way, a fulfillment of this prophecy, I would hereby like to claim first dibs on Dolman's Law: as a discussion about a video game's quality grows longer, it is inevitable that, at one point, someone will bring up Metacritic or Gamerankings. These websites register review scores and use them to calculate the average rating of a video game.[1]

While Metacritic ratings can be a useful indication of a game's quality, it strikes me as odd that many people seem to think that a collection of opinions suddenly becomes fact. It's not only the seemingly prevalent idea that reviewers cannot be mistaken en masse that is logically flawed: the review system of video games itself is completely faulty, subject to inflation and at times even corrupted. Therefore, Metacritic averages are only useful to check if a game is functional. Beyond that point, any judgment distilled from these scores is based on assumptions and subjectivity.

Dolman, Rate, Game, Gaming, Metacritic, Gamerankings, Reviews

When I was a child, my equally video game-obsessed cousin and I would read this gaming monthly called N64 Magazine[2], which, as the name implies, dedicated itself exclusively to the coverage of Nintendo-related news and the reviewing of Nintendo 64 games. We used to obsess over the scores they gave out to our favourite games. Anything below 90% was considered a disappointment, and the both of us even freaked out when we found out that our beloved Perfect Dark scored 1% lower than Ocarina of Time (97% and 98% respectively, go figure...). My unhealthy score fetishism disappeared as soon as I reached a respectable age, but many reviewers and gamers alike still seem to be working with a 80-100 scale when rating games with respectable budgets: anything below 80 is considered poor and forgettable, it seems.

As a reviewer for this here lovely site, I occasionally run into this problem, as well. It is not uncommon for people to attach a great amount of value to the final score a game receives to a point where, at times, the merit of the entire review is based on this essentially minor detail. A grade assigned to a video game is, ideally, the quickest way to indicate the basic merits of the product in question. As such, that is about as much value as should be attached to what basically is the most primitive way of summarising a review. Games shouldn't be compared based solely on their review scores, not here nor on Metacritic, because the reason why they were given a certain score simply depends on too many factors. For example, it can be much harder for an FPS game to get a good score than for a 3D platformer, as there are far more games available for the former genre, meaning that it is more difficult to stand out in this category.

Dolman, Rate, Game, Gaming, Metacritic, Gamerankings, Reviews

F.E.A.R. 2 is a good example of a competent FPS that fails to stand out.

Another part of the problem is the absence of some sort of universal standard for what a certain score means. A score of 70 (out of 100) may be good by the standards of Site A, but utterly disappointing by the standards of Site B. Part of what causes this may be the different grading systems in different countries. In Holland, where I live, anything above 60 (and practically anything above 55, too) is considered sufficient, while in some other European countries, the limit is set at 70. Most Anglosaxon countries use the letter system, making things even more complicated. This doesn't mean, however, that Dutch students have an easier time than their European counterparts, because the same work that'd earn you a 55 in Holland, would get you a 70 elsewhere.

The difference in grading systems may reflect itself in the review scores given out by writers with different nationalities. When I give out a score between 70-80, it means that the game is quite good, and odds are I'll still play it after I'm done writing the review. Good examples of this are Far Cry 2 (72) and Grand Theft Auto IV (78), both of which are games which I actually love and still play fairly regularly, but which also contain some considerable flaws that will often make me ponder over how much better they could have been. Don't be fooled into thinking that these scores mean they're bad games in any way, though.

Dolman, Rate, Game, Gaming, Metacritic, Gamerankings, Reviews

Flawed fun is still fun.

Ideally, the grading system should be scrapped altogether. The review itself can never be summarised by an arbitrary number, and its omission would prevent people from skipping the text body and dismissing a review solely based on its score. It would also eliminate the problem of differing standards, allowing reviewers to elaborately give their opinion without running the risk of being misunderstood by the numeric fetishists that roam the internet. On the other hand, it can also be fun to wave the awesome score that your favourite game received in the face of the haters, as long as noone involved takes it too seriously. And we wouldn't want to put sites like Metacritic and Gamerankings out of business, now would we?

Jesse Dolman, NoobFeed.

[1] I don't want to be politically correct, but just to avoid confusion, let me point out that I am solely comparing the omnipresence of Unfriendly Germany in political discussions on the internet and that of Metacritic and Gamerankings in game-related e-wars. That's where the comparison ends.
[2] Years later, we found out that the N64 Magazine we read was actually a Dutch translation of the British magazine of the same name, which is now known as NGamer.

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  • good read.  the review system can be a pain sometimes.  i was on gamespots website reading the kingsom hearts birth  by sleep review a whiles back.  i read the review, and i flipped a gasket at the score.  the person who rote the review praised the game very much but only gave it a 7.5.  7.5 was still a good score, but instead of praising the crap out of it, write what made it get that 7.5  when i read the gta iv review here at noobfeed, the reviewer explained it's flaws the i agreed with it's score.  gta iv is still a fun game besides its flaws.  I would like to think thats why it's so hard to give good reviews, some reviewers are just flat out byast, others call it down the middle.


    Posted Sep 04, 2011

  • I agree with the article. It happened so many times with me as well, that I loved playing a game and think it's as good as a perfect game but the rating most sites gave annoyed the hell out of me. For example Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (GS: 6.5/10, IGN 7/10) deserved a better rating than what given in my opinion. But I understand the a game needs to have all sorts of element in it to reach certain scores. It is also a fact that rating varies in different country or region. For example if you go to Japan or Australia, you'll find violent games have lower rating than we see in USA or some European countries.


    Posted Sep 04, 2011
  • Yes the process is annoying and even more then the readers dont agree with the reviewer. There's always this thing works inside me when I play a game for reviewing, and because of that only I can justify the rating I give to any game. Readers might disagfe but that's not going to change the way I felt about that game.
    Posted Sep 04, 2011

  • @Amaya



    I totally agree with the ratings systems with other countries.  The USA and Europe have tendancys twards the violent games.  and most of the violent games get good reviews.  Now if you look at japan, the rpgs, puzzle games, otaku games, ect... get better reviews than violent games do.  Different cultures like different games.  Jesse Dolman is right.  Reviews should just be terminated all together, they might even impact the sales of certain games.  or if a review is going to come out, it should happen at least a week after a game is launched.


    Posted Sep 05, 2011

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