Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Gaming review scores: %%%% off!

Oh, percentage scores... Why we do we have them? How did they ever become so popular? Sure, at the end of a review it's nice to have those 1,000 words distilled into a simple grade, but one to a 100, that's a little excessive, isn't it? Is a game worthy of 81% or 82%? Who can actually argue such a fine difference?

In my experience reading magazines, I usually come away from a review with one of these five distinct reactions:

1. "Wow! If they're right, that looks like it might become the next Half-Life." (double checks to make sure it's not an 'Official' magazine of any sort/hopes the reviewer isn't being bribed by the game company)

2. "Looks amazing. I think I'll have to pick that up."

3. "Hmm. Looks good, but it didn't get top marks. I might pick it up if it's cheap."

4 . "What a disappointing score, unless I'm absolutely in love with this type of game and/or franchise, I'm going to give it a miss".

5. "I'm not buying that!"

With these five distinct reactions, why do we need 99 different scores? Why do we even need ten?

To me personally, a percentage score equates to the above reactions something like this:

#1 is reserved for a game that scores 97% or higher.
#2 is reserved for a game that scores 90% or higher.
#3 for 80% or higher.
#4 70% or higher.
#5 Anything below 70%.

I'm sure it's different for you, but to me, if the score is below 70% it may as well be 1%; I'm not buying the game based on the strength of the review.

Of course, the argument for keeping percentage scores is that people are used to them (even marks out of ten sort of equate to them), and they're right; people are used to them, but does that mean that a new system can never be introduced?

I'm not sure if anyone reading this is familiar with Halliwell's Film Guide (if not; it's an excellent reference book about movies - think the IMdB in book-form), in it, Leslie Halliwell developed a scoring system that, at first, confused and upset me, but once I got used to it, I realised how perfectly suited it was.

This was it:

- "Equally unremarkable or missable". (That's right, no stars.)

- "Contains things of merit, but overall, flawed".

- "Good".

- "Excellent".

- "A milestone in filming history." (Something that's difficult to assess immediately, really, but that doesn't put off gaming mags trying.)

His system can be boiled down to two excellent observations:

1. A scoring system should only really capture the reactions of the reader with its grades - additional grades are pointless (and too little grades, therefore, aren't good enough either).
2. The system shouldn't bother wasting time grading badness, as it means nothing to the reader; bad is bad, it doesn't matter to what degree.

It's a pretty unique system that I've never seen anywhere else, and yet it appears to be perfectly suited to the reviewing format. Why isn't it more popular?

It would be great if a similar scoring system could find its way into the gaming world, but for the time being it looks like we're all stuck with percentages. Thank god the once popular separate scores for graphics, sound and 'playability' (what is 'playability' anyway?) have gone. Maybe there's hope that percentage scores might go the same way, one day.


Jayel said...

My reaction when CGW started having review scores:

My reaction when CGW got rid of review scores last year:

My reaction when CGW changed its name to GFW and reintroduced review scores:

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Jayel. I guess you've got no option but to ignore those pesky review scores until they go away again. I'm surprised there was ever a gaming mag that didn't have them, though. Wow!

If anyone wants to discuss this post in more depth, there's a thread about it at Idle Thumbs.