The Upward Trend In Video Game Reviews

video-gamesWhen I was younger, reading a video game review in a new magazine or on a Web site was one of the most exciting experiences I could have as a gamer. To finally find out if the game I had been waiting for was worth playing was a moment of fear, excitement and trepidation. However, most of the joy has left this ritual in the last generation. Why is that? Because I already know that the score is going to be about 7.5 or above. It’s set in stone.

You see, these days, our perception on good video game reviews has changed. While the scale is supposed to theoretically range anywhere from 0 to 10, most often, the scale seems to start at about 7.5-8. As a result, what used to be a good score for a video game has changed, and expectations are through the roof for every AAA title. The real question is this: when did an 8.5 become a “meh” score in gamers’ minds?

If you want to know what I’m talking about, just visit any gaming Web site, and check out their video game reviews. So many games live in the 8-10 zone that it’s ridiculous. In my mind, anything living in that region is a good video game by definition. And anything in the 9-10 zone is genre and/or console defining.

Considering how many shooters have come out in recent years that hang out in that region, it’s just more than a little bit absurd. How can that many FPS games all be genre busters? To put it simply: they can’t. The system is broken.

According to Metacritic, there have been over 1900 games that were rated at 80 percent or above since 2005. Out of those, approximately 330 were rated at 90 percent or above. Does that seem like an awful lot to anybody else? That in less than 4 years, major review sites have deemed that there are 330 games out there that could be considered genre or generation defining? Let me put it this way: out of the active systems (PS2, Wii, XBox 360, PS3, PSP, PC, Nintendo DS), that’s an average of almost 12 games per system per year that are rated at 90 or above.

halo-warsIt’s so numerous that it’s become expected. While looking through a review of Halo Wars recently, which had received an 8.4 on the site in question, I saw several disappointed comments. One person even said he wouldn’t waste his money on such a lackluster game.

Really? Last I checked, a 7.0 or above would be average, and 8.0 or above would be good. And don’t even get me started on the stupidity of the numbering system. I’ve seen all kinds of fanboys arguing over Gears of War 2 being better than Killzone 2 because Gears of War 2 scored .1 or .2 better.

And what constitutes taking a .1 or .2 off of a game anyway? A particular bug? A bad texture? What?

I really hope that in the next few years, we see a lot of these review sites adopting newer and better formats for how they rate their games. In addition, I hope they start giving real scores to games, instead of just landing so many comfortably in the same region, over and over again. In my mind, anything that is a 7.5 or above is probably worth the time to at least check out and play. But unfortunately, game sites have showed us that we have to interpret that differently. I just want more honest reviews, and I think this particular issue is one important step in that direction.

What do you guys think about this issue? Are game reviews fine the way they are? Or are games being scored too highly these days?

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

19 thoughts on “The Upward Trend In Video Game Reviews”

  1. I give your review of a review an 8.5…in 1997 points. Just think of game reviews as a currency. Just like everything else, they experience inflation. MGS/GTA4 (both 10s by gamespot) probably would have been solid 9s back at the start of the millennium. Spore, on the other hand, scored an 8, which it probably deserved. It was a great game, just not genre-defining or terribly replayable. For the most part, though, a game has to be either excellent (9-10) or mediocre (5-7). The problem is, like with inflation, there’s no easy way to solve the problem without catching somebody in the shorts, so we’ll probably continue seeing these kinds of scores for some time to come. Moving to a letter-scale is probably the best step – it gives an opinion of the game, while still leaving the decision of whether or not to buy to the gamer. Another option would be a simple buy-rent-avoid rating, as seen on some blogs. Either option seems better than numbers at this point, though.

  2. agreed,if you look at reviews for movies, it is completely different, tdk got six reviews that were below 70% and an overall score of 82% on metacritic. you would never see gears or mgs 4 get a review that low. also movies over 80% are considered “universal acclaim” but games have to be over 90%???

  3. In my opinion, the rating system for games is inherently screwed. No two games are exactly the same, and thus should be judged on their own merit.

    For example (and this is hypothetical), let’s say that Halo 3 gets a ten out of ten. Then, Little Big Planet gets a eight or nine. Does that make it worse than Halo? Numerically, yes, but it’s also a completely different game, with characteristics that make it vastly different from Halo. Painting games with such broad generic brushstrokes is why IGN’s reviews are so messed up. (add that to the fact that they review every piece of shovel ware, and even mediocre games start to look like sevens and eights. Also, GTAIV = Oscar worthy script? Wtf))

    The letter grade system works better than a number based system, but it also runs into the problem of what differentiates a B RPG from a C- shooter. Both different genres with different benchmarks expected from each of them. In my mind, games should have no scores of any kind. Buy it, rent it, leave it. Not perfect, but criticism rarely is. It’s all based off of one person’s interpretation of a body of work, and nothing can be all things to all people.

    By the way, wox, I laughed at your review inflation theory. Pretty amusing.

  4. Yeah me and my friend fought about this a couple days ago. I like to think the a score for a game is like a score on test in school. Below a 6.0 is failing. 6-7 Passable. 7-8 Above Average. 8-9 you can brag about it to the people around you. 9-10 put that on the fridge and wait for mom to come home. I think some sites have noticed they are rating too high and some good games are going to suffer bad scores because they just want to bring down the average.

  5. I have bought games that got a 5 in EGM, which was always the last word for me in reviews.

    I loved the game I bought because I knew what kind of game it was. They panned it because it wasn’t different enough from the first game, but I just wanted more.

    The text of reviews is more important than the score, but Eddy is 100% right in this post. Reviews have trended upwards. MGS 4, GTA IV, GoW2 all are granted 9’s instantly, before they are played and then the score only goes upward.

    With games like that, established franchises, have two reviewers: one who has played the games and a newbie. Get diverse opinions. Every review I read about MGS 4 was from a long time fan of the series and each review said that even a newbie would enjoy the game.

    Guess what? I didn’t. So I think a larger array of viewpoints would be beneficial in that regard.

    Eddy, awesome job!

  6. While I agree with most of what you said the part when you read the comments on the Halo Wars Review was, well, the comments seemed justified to me. I mean in this day-and-age people don’t have much money to spend on a side hobby so they want to get the most out of the games they buy. They want to spend as much time on one game as they can before they get bored.

  7. Great article but hasent the same article already been made? mabey I just have deja vu. Nowaday’s it seem’s that unless the game is a total joke (wii music) then the game will be reviewed at least higher then 8 and I have seen some f’d up sh’t, Gaming reviewing is on a serious curve, and it seems, Like a bad math teacher, Games get a higher score if there willing to pucker up and blow the reviewer…..gamespy

  8. As always, it’s hard not agree with you, Eddy. Sadly, despite the loudest protests from editors and reviewers, I really tend to think that there is another factor at work here – the power of ad revenue. Not necessarily a question of Gerstmangate-esque blatant tactics, but something a bit more insidious – perhaps a discovery that raising the benchmark score for a mediocre game by a few (dozen) points, hey, suddenly that number looks much more pleasing to publishers, which leads to those same publishers being willing to throw more advertising cash your way as they like what they’re seeing. May be a bit jaded of me, but I strongly suspect that this is at least a small aspect of this issue.

  9. Well, If there was a game that everyone agreed was “forsure a 10, forsure a must-play and forsure a genre-defining title”, Then we could go forward and use that as the catalyst. I dont think because Half-Life 2 is a 10, that other games should be compared to Half-Life 2. If you just look at it as “yeah this game was good, i’d play it” than a 7.5 or 8 is fitting.

    Just like with movies, I have enough friends that most of the games (or movies) I’m interested in get played by one or more person(s) that I know, and they’re opinion means far more to me than a stranger’s. Your experience and understanding of a game will alter your own score, but I don’t think there have been too many “total and utter failures”, not any that make it to the big publishers like the ones most of us play. Even a lot of the indie stuff that you can snag for 5 – 10 bucks on Steam are pretty up-to-par in my books.

    They could give WarCraft 4 a 10, I wont buy it; they could give Half-Life 3 a 1, I’ll still look into it.

  10. I agree that 8’s are good games, and that people on forums don’t realize that they are, and only games that are in the 9’s are, but I disagree that games in the 9’s and 10’s HAVE to be genre-defining. I think they just have to be terrificly executed and innovative. A lot of times, sadly “good” games are given this “amazing” score.

  11. Nice to hear your guys’ thoughts on this. I have to say wox, your inflation theory is awesome. Thumbs up!

    It’s interesting that a few of you brought up movie reviews. For me, with a movie review, if a movie gets 3 stars, I’m definitely still interested in seeing it. When you think of that as a 7.5 out of 10, it’s interesting that we treat games so differently. Heck, I’d go see a 2 star or 2 1/2 star movie if the description sounded like something right up my alley.

  12. Movie reviews are such a different beast. You know that movie that just came out, I Love You Man? So many reviewers referred to it as a Judd Apatow production because it has Paul Rudd and Jason Segal in it.

    BUT…he had nothing to do with the movie! I mean, it’s your freaking job to know this stuff! And oftentimes, reviewers are older and not into what I am. So screw em.

  13. The rating systems that most reviewers (IGN, GI, etc.) use is simply pathetic. It goes from 7.5 to 10.0, the numbers themselves are always so exact, it makes so little sense, and most games just buy their way to a 10 and the reviewers exaggerate the pros and forget about the cons. There’s no doubt that this rating system is horrible. All gamers know that, however deep down.
    There are several replacement rating systems that work smoother and more effectively. the 5 Stars system is simple, doesn’t deal with .5’s and .2456874950383286843838006372’s, and there’s no way to leave out a star – 1 star is terrible, 2 stars is poor, 3 stars is average, 4 stars is great, and 5 stars is awesome.
    Also, you could eliminate the numbers in the equation. In Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee says he never understood the significance of numbers in an abstract issue – reviews. I agree. My idea is that you have a list of Major and Minor Pros, and Major and Minor Cons. For those people who love numbers, add up the Pros and Cons, and see which side has more pros or cons, or more major or minor pros and cons. It’s straightforward, addresses all the aspects, and it works numbers into it.

  14. Even though the rating system has flaws, I must admit that theoretically, it makes sense that most games would be 7.0-10 today. This runs along the lines of the “wow” factor thread. Most games today are good. Really good. Great. Epically great. 5 Years ago we’d be smacking the roof with our faces with glee great. But nowadays, there are so many face-smacking epically great games, that they all seem good. It’s not like games don’t have good stories, or good graphics, or good controls, but we expect better. Even though some games deserve 10’s, there may be 30+ other games that deserve that same 10 for the same reasons, and thus that game gets an 8. Because it’s average-ly awesome. Rare do we find a game today that trancends, and thats why there are hardly 10’s, or people push to get a 10. Games are similar, systems are similar, etc. etc. So yeah, it makes sense, in a way.

  15. Not a whole lot i can add here, but i did review games back in the day. So lets get down to it.

    I never, ever ageed with rating systems. The only one i really ever thought you could do was a 5-Star system. Its simple. You don’t get to say “OMG 10 10 8 8 9.7 5 10 10 10”

    My method included simply discussing the game for what it was – not rating it to make it stand out but be more like a specifications list.

    This is of course, unpopular. Tl;DR all that sort of dribble. So i stopped reviewing things. Now days it looks like thats what people want. Go figure.

  16. I’ve been noticing this too. I think the system is too flawed. My guess is that game magazines and sites tend to give it a slightly more generous score than a game deserves just so that when the next big release by a publisher comes out then they’ll be rewarded for their sucking up and they will get a ‘World Exclusive Review’ which gets them attention.

  17. Another thing – a few months (maybe half a year) ago, I was reading I like Game Informer, and it had an article where they re-reviewed old games, as sort of a nostalgic thing. With all the games, they listed the score they got back then and their new score. Most of the games had 7’s-9’s, with the best having 9’s. These were top-of-the-line games, which would now fetch 10’s without having to pay any Benjamins. The new scores were in keeping with today’s titles, and were all 9’s and I think one title got a 10. I mean, that says a lot about the rating system. Frankly this rating inflation is all recursive and futile. What’s the point of all the exactness? Is a 9.1 that much worse than a 9.2? That kind of exactness takes away from the meaning of the number. With a 5 Star system, 5 means BUY IT NOW, and 1 means NEVER BUY IT. 9.1 means…I don’t know what it means! Because of the inflation, I don’t know if Gears of War 2 is a better buy than Tetris. And with my Pros vs Cons system I talked about above, major pros are added with minor pros and compared with the major and minor cons to give a simple numerical value which hols meaning – a major pro +2, a minor pro is +1; a major con is -2, a minor con is -1. It’s simple, and that’s what a rating system needs to be.

  18. Know how on an iPod it lets you rate songs? 1-5 stars? I only use 3-5 stars.

    3 means don’t like it.

    4 means like it.

    5 means love it.

    Simple and easy.

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