Why do gamers care so much about review scores?

It seems like every couple of weeks there’s a new game released that causes the entire gaming community to go insane. Reviews start trickling out and whether the game is given a high score, a middling score or a low score, people are going to complain.

It’s one of three certainties in life; death, taxes and video game fans getting worked up over a review score.

If the game receives critical praise from someone, Internet commenters immediately scream that the reviewer is overrating it. They lose their minds because one game was more highly scored than another and start claiming whoever reviewed the game must’ve been paid off by the publisher or developer.

If a game receives a score around the seven mark people start acting like the game is a disappointment and not worth playing, despite most review scales equating a seven to a game that is good and something that you should pick up if you are interested.

The last of the extreme reactions is the worst of all; when a game receives a bad score. Gamers lose their minds in a number of ways when they see a high profile game has been given a score that they deem as bad. It ranges from claims that the reviewer isn’t a fan of the series or genre, or that they’re just bad at the game, to the reviewer having ulterior motives and suggesting that they scored the game poorly because some company didn’t line their pockets. Some reviewers have even been accused of causing developers to go out of business all because of a score they gave to a game.

So why do gamers care so much about review scores? Passionate fans of film, TV, music and other forms of entertainment never seem to go crazy when something they’re excited for receives a low score.

Perhaps it’s because the price point for entry into gaming is so much higher than everything else. Imagine buying a PlayStation 4 at launch (the PS4’s launch price was US$400) in anticipation of games like The Order 1886, Infamous: Second Son and Uncharted 4. Now imagine that all of those games receive mixed or poor reviews and it’s easy to understand why fans might get into an uproar. Spending $400 only to find out the reasons you bought the console aren’t as good as you anticipated would be crushing, and could explain why fans will take every chance to try and excuse a bad review.

The Order: 1886_20150212191011

Or could the constant backlash against game reviews be caused by the fact that a score accompanies almost every review? Most readers naturally gravitate towards the bottom of the page where they look at the score, the bullet points summing up the positives and negatives and then make wild accusations based on a very limited view of how the game was critiqued. This is something that was incredibly evident in IGN reviewer Kallie Plagge’s review of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. Almost immediately after the review was posted there was outrage online because of one negative bullet point at the end of the review, which said there was “too much water” in the game. The games’ still received a 7.8 meaning that they were “good” according to the IGN review scale, but fans latched on to this one point as a reason to dismiss the entire review. However, if you read the review you see that she presented her point in a very valid manner, and that the bullet point really didn’t do her critique any justice. Not to mention the score was only four points off the game’s current Metacritic score, meaning she was in line with what the majority thought of the game.

Most problems with video game reviews seem to stem from the presence of a numerical score and that everyone has a different opinion on what the numbers mean, even if publications clearly explain the meaning behind their scoring. This debate often comes up when a game receives a ten-out-of-ten, which many people process as the game being perfect. However, this is far from the truth and every time a game receives a ten a reminder has to be present telling readers it means the game is a masterpiece and not that it’s flawless. Former IGN writers Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty have been quite outspoken in saying they don’t believe in review scores, mostly because it takes away from what’s actually written about the game and that everybody has a different process when it comes to how they score. Miller is no stranger to backlash over review scores, seeing a significant uproar after scoring Uncharted 3 as a ten.

Fans may also be so highly reactive to review scores due to the majority of games now receiving a score somewhere between the seven to eight marks. We’ve become so accustom to almost every score being virtually the same that when a reviewer strays outside of this lane it becomes big news (see Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 receiving extremely low scores). It seems that fans are becoming so accustom to seeing sevens and eights that they’re turning to the bullet points now to decide whether the game is good or bad and to decide whether they agree with the review or not.

Attention spans are shrinking, so how do we combat readers’ urges to skip straight to the end? The answer appears to lay with removing review scores altogether. In a perfect world the written review, score and bullet points could all coexist to bring readers a complete picture of what the game is like, but unfortunately we do not live in that world. Sites such as IGN and Gamespot have such huge followings that doing away with scores isn’t going to hurt them and it should ultimately lead to cleaning up toxic, reactionary fans ever so slightly. For a while they’ve attempted to combat this by putting reviews in a video format as well in an attempt to get audiences to view the whole picture, but this hasn’t worked.

The only solution is to kill the video game review score once and for all.

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