Game Reviews Part 1: What’s Wrong With Game Reviews?

Game Reviews Part 1: What’s Wrong With Game Reviews?

Last updated on January 30th, 2016

Constantly games are boiled down to 7.9, 5.5, 4.7, 9.8, 8.5. The scores themselves end up being the most important part of reviews. Which if you think about it means that the score itself is more important than the reasons the game was given the score in the first place. Often you will see a thread, “I’m not buying a game if it gets below [insert score here].” And sometimes they go even further by saying if it gets below a certain score on a specific website, even for games they are excited to play. Why is this? A few reasons come to mind, let’s take a look and see why.

Reason #1: There Are So Many Options

With the flood of indie games and just seemingly more games released in general be they niche or AAA, there’s generally always something to play or something coming out shortly that one will want to play. PC gamers in particular get trapped in the dreaded Steam sales buying games for less than $5 that they never have a real chance of playing as by the time they get to them the next game is out.

steam sale 1

Reason #2: Time Commitment

Games like The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 can be played for 50 hours or even into hundreds of hours. Then to branch out even further you have games like Destiny and Warframe that can be played almost daily and even exclusively by some. Finally you have games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV that can end up being played daily and exclusively for years. Trying to squeeze those games into time around work, family time and any other commitments can be tricky, especially if they generally require an hour to two hours of minimum commitment to accomplish something.

Reason #3: Money

Some gamers may only have the money in their budget for one or two games over the next several months. They want to naturally get the best game for their money. That in and of itself makes sense. However making the choice based on a number is an odd one, which we will talk about a bit more in part two.


Reason #4: Subjective Reviews

While they may be strong clever writers with punny things to say and clever allusions, at the end of the page, it’s still ultimately the opinion of a person. His or her view may be vastly different than yours. If you are bored by strategy RPGs and then go out and buy Fire Emblem due to whatever review score, are you going to be upset when it’s a strategy RPG that you are bored with after 15 minutes? Would that be grounds to call a reviewer awful, etc.? Also unless two games are reviewed by the same person, it would be really tough to tell which game is considered better if the scores are relatively close.

Reason #5: The Scoring System

Fifth and sometimes overlooked. The scoring system. Examiner uses a 5 star system. Many sites use a 0 to 10 scale, which sounds fine until you realize they have a decimal for the tenths place. A 10 point scale ends up being a 100 point scale. Delineating games over 100 points, well really trying to review anything over 100 points seems like overkill. For school often you would be able to figure out how many points a question is worth. In a review it’s entirely the reviewer’s prerogative which comes back to the fourth point above. As a recent example, IGN had two different review scores for Just Cause 3. The PC review and the PS4/Xbox One review are a whole 2.0 points (in this case 20 points) apart due to some technical issues on the PS4 and Xbox One versions. Are those technical issues the difference between 2 letter grades (20 points on their 100 point scale)? Is the difference in performance worth the deduction to all? Particularly to those with only one platform to choose from? Only the person can know.

And to expand the idea further, what exactly is the difference between an 8.5 and an 8.6? You can say 0.1 but what does that really mean? The scale has also been tilted. Some gamers consider anything below an 8.5 a failure. Part of this philosophy could be related to the problem of so many games available and to be released.

review score

All these issues can really make finding the right game difficult. You’re probably thinking, well yes we have all these issues, but how can these be fixed? For a further look at that be sure to check out part two of this editorial: Game reviews: what can we do?

What do you think? Are these problems you tend to think about?

Originally posted by me on Examiner (opens in new window).

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I've been a gamer for 25 years, from the NES days to the PS4, Xbox One, PC and Wii U. I play a little bit of everything from Mario to MGS to Final Fantasy. I write for examinercom and also run a podcast, though currently we are switching gears, more information to come on that.

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30 comments on “Game Reviews Part 1: What’s Wrong With Game Reviews?”

  1. Avatar Emergence says:

    This is a good topic and a bit of an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed especially when so many bonuses for devs are tied to metacritic scores. Review logic is a bit of a beast and it’s one we’ve wrestled with back and forth on the site as far as how to score, whether to score, etc.

  2. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    Nicely put article

    Personally I don’t read reviews. I look at trailers, gameplay demos, etc and decide for myself.

    For some the security of the score makes them feel more comfortable in their choice of game.

    I’m in the position that if I buy a $60 game and don’t like it I will be disappointed. However, I won’t be destitute.

    For some the budget is a single $60 game or maybe two and they want to make sure they get the best or one of the top games.

    Personally I think reviews are horribly corrupt and worthless, but that’s besides the point.

  3. Avatar GrinTwist says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the follow-up to your article for this! Admittedly, I’ve started to get a bit annoyed at most of the problems that haunt me when I check reviews out online so this was spot-on. At this point it’s turned me off to going to most game reviewers for advice on games to play.

  4. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    Personally, I kinda need reviews to help me. Unless I know a game is from a series that I would 100% enjoy regardless, I can’t just blindly buy because I thought it looked cool in the trailers but then the final version was terrible. (Haze, watchdogs anyone?) I don’t have the time, or the money to waste on a bad video game purchase.

    Even if scores are inflated for some games, I don’t think it is hard to tell which. If it is a game that is clearly mass market and relying on pure reputation alone without any real innovations (assassins creed, call of duty, Fifa, halo etc), you know you can ignore the reviews. However I think for most other games reviews are done pretty fairly, and while the scores are inflated compared to other medium (look at meta critic where the descriptive boundaries are 10% higher in gaming than in every other medium), I think relatively scores are done well enough for me to make buying decisions from them.

  5. Avatar Scar85 says:

    in my line of sight – dont trust the typical Reviews from ign over meta over x/y-0815
    just think of games like evolve for example which got good Reviews but seriously – who gave that game for the lack of Content.microtransactions etc etc that grades!?
    most of the sites are just getting games for giving them a good grade/rate for getting next time another game from the developer/Publisher etc…
    nobody talks about the lack of something, rates it down cause bugs or anything else – they just talk about "the good stuff" and tell you the Gold and rainbow side of it but ist not really a "critic" at all!

    before i read such stuff i look PEOPLES opinion up on games and Reviews – like angry Joe on yt for example….

    there are just a handfull of Publishers/developers i trust blind nowadays….like naughty dog….from soft…..devolver (Hotline Miami)… Barrels (outlast)….and maybe Rockstar also if a new gta or maybe even red dead redemption 2 will Show up…
    Bethesda i lost some trust into after F4 also…they could use besides a new and better/actual engine more stuff and not going more and more backwards from a normally good formula -.-‘

  6. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    I have to say the thing that I dislike about reviews are they don’t tell you how much money you can expect to pay for the full game once they’ve finished releasing it.

    I mean, evolve shouldn’t be bought anyway. I think having a strong policy of thinking that below 80 aggregate= don’t buy is a fairly solid mindset

    I agree though. I remember skyrim coming out on consoles to rave reviews .. It was a buggy mess. I remember after firing up a new PS3 after my old one died that skyrim caused it to freeze in the opening cutscene in the cart on the way to the execution. Literally within 30 seconds.

    I also think lack of content needs to be addressed in reviews too. Be honest about whether we are buying the full game, or if you’re going to spend the next 1-2 years buying the other half of the game you weren’t given (destiny/battlefront) on release.

  7. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Can we all agree that my reviews are awesome? Yes? Yay :cheers:

    Seriously though: great article !

  8. Avatar Scar85 says:

    fex confirmed awesome :P

    but seriously most Reviews lack or reviewing and showing everything the good AND ALSO the bad sides of a game…
    thats why i dont trust them and look out for People like angry Joe or total biscuit for example with "lets look at" stuff etc…or i simply go into streams and ask the streamer what he thinks… (if ist a dull fanboy you get screwed also…BUT….normally you should know a fanboy if you talk to him :rolling eyes: )

  9. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    Well honestly that’s expected

    Bethesda games are always a buggy mess and especially their elder scroll games. At least in today’s world bugs can be patched out. Back when morrowind was the newest elder scrolls game those bugs stayed, unless you played on pc.

    BTW the man running on top of a moving horse bug is in ESO…. at this point I think it’s on purpose

    If any review said it wasn’t gonna be buggy… it was telling a giant lie

  10. R2D5 says:

    Don’t think I played a Bethesda game in life. My friends keep trying to get me into Fallout and I just watch people play and go ewwwwwww.

  11. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    I completely expect bugs in bethesda games.

    The problem I have is reviewers simply ignore it, or pass it off as something that doesn’t matter. Really, they should be saying something like "It should be a glorious game, but the engine is a total mess, full of bugs and glitches an can become unplayable. With patches it could be great" Then give the game a 6 or 7 instead of a 9 because of it.

    In the same way that lack of content should also have points docked in games. In this day and age where you can create such huge worlds and expansive stories, creating a small world, having minimal release day content is a design choice. I think it should be treated as such and points get docked for a game that is barren in content.

  12. R2D5 says:

    The reviewer would be fired.

  13. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    I think we should chalk that point up to another thing that is wrong with game reviews :P

  14. R2D5 says:

    I don’t even read them anymore. I just watch play vids to know if I will like it, reviews are for scrubs :3 .

  15. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    Yup they are required to give certain games a certain score

    Truth be told a review should discuss things such as bugs

    I’m trying to think…. the only game recently I relied on a review for was Divinity: Original Sin

    I was completing ignoring it until Castielle’s article

    What worked for me is that it discussed what the game intended to be and helped me understand what to expect from it

    I know it’s not a "review" but it’s the closest thing I’ve used as one

    One big issue of reviews is corruption. I’ll try and find the story but a major review site got in trouble for taking under the counter bribes for good reviews.

  16. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    Thing is I’m not even sure they need to bribe.

    You see sites like IGN have game adverts for whatever new game plastered across their front page, probably giving them god knows how much money. It only makes business sense to give them a higher score.

    Sucks for us, but unfortunately game reviewers success is so tied to this that it’s a huge issue.

  17. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    Game reviews are borderline marketing campaigns now

    It’s no longer an un-biased opinion.

    However, it’s hard to become un-biased and probably impossible.

    Let’s say I write a review for dark souls 2. They’ve ripped out the lighting engine that was promised, but I love dark souls and don’t want to see it die. I would probably mention it but try to focus on positives more, because I want more people to enjoy dark souls.

    I think the biggest issue is actually how game reviews are treated. They are treated as "expert" testimony and not an opinion.

  18. Avatar Serious_Much says:

    Well I think in all entertainment media there is an issue of it being treated as expert testimony.. But I’m not gonna lie, if you’re a game reviewer who reviews 40 odd games per year- wouldn’t you consider that an expert?

  19. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Good read and sums up many of my feelings. Back when I was reviewing games, this is why I never used scores. Rather than a numerical or other symbolic rating I’d discuss pros and cons of the game (with punny names ’cause I’m a dork like that) and then a recommendation on what type of gamer (based on genre) might enjoy it.

    But then again, here at Fextra, there’s no money/status/whatever tied to any of our reviews. My scathing take of Lightning Returns (note I only played the demo and hated that enough to never dream of owning the full game) never made a single eyelash bat here.

  20. Avatar GrinTwist says:

    I remember there was an incident with the game Kane and Lynch, when Gamespot fired Jeff Gerstmann because he gave only a "fair" review of the game. Since the publishers of KaL were putting so much money into advertising into Gamespot I believe they were able to put pressure on Gamespot to let him go.

    Also IGN’s Godhand review is always a good example for poor reviewing of a game.

  21. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Reviews as a whole aren’t necessarily bad, and in some cases can be very informative. However I personally do not trust or align with the mainstream thoughts of the mainstream press media, so I never read their takes on games. It is not because of grade inflation or because I think they are corrupt, but rather because they don’t feel like gamers to me. They feel like someone who got paid to play a game for a bit and cough up a "how is it".

    As an example, I *loved* lord of the rings conquest because the PvP was incredibly addictive. Edge gave it a 2/10, the lowest score I have ever seen in a game. Similarly when Demon’s Souls came out it was hit with 6 and 7 for being "too difficult", later on being elevated to 9 when it became a sleeper hit.

    I feel a lot of the people writing the reviews are not similar to me and thus can’t give me much advise. On the flip side, reviewers such as Lanzen make a fantastic job of conveying criticism and love in equal and fair measures and thus I read all of them.

  22. R2D5 says:

    i absolutely loved this game! i was so sad when EA turned off the servers :( .

  23. Avatar Back_Lot_Basher says:

    I find reviews extremely helpful when deciding on a game. But number scores mean little to me. The first time I wrote one for this site, Fex had to twist my arm to even come up with a score. I look more for certain types of information. Red flags surrounding controls or clunky gameplay, are, for me, huge. I play games to relax, so if anything frustrating detracts from this, I want to know. If two or three writers point out the same issue in one of these areas, I’ll opt out.

    I also look for key info on certain aspects of games that turn me off. I’m watching The Division closely because I’m curious to see how Ubisoft balances the Dark Zone content. Already a friend of mine reported that there are roving bands of 4-man gank squads terrorizing solo players in the beta, which is to be expected I suppose. It’s no different from ESO or GTA in that regard. But the subtext here tells me that, much like Destiny, the game’s key content is being built for social play. Those without a posse need not apply. THAT is the sort of information that reviewers need to stress, because it becomes a major factor for certain players who don’t roll with a group.

    Earlier someone posted about the need for good and bad aspects of games, and I support this 100%. No game is ever perfect, and a good fan understands how to be critical and point out room for improvement. Most reviews that show nothing but love for a game are, in my opinion, concealing something, or the writer hasn’t played enough to unearth trouble spots. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this myself, considering the length of some games these days.

  24. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    That’s a really good way of describing it

    I listen to the superbestfriends podcast for "reviews"

    They don’t review anything but instead drink while they discuss games they are excited about or currently playing; mixed in with discussions about developers, production companies, direction of the gaming market, etc (most importantly they’re complete trolls to each other and make me laugh)

    When they speak highly of a game I legit look into it because if a game has issues they will rip it apart

    However, if they switched to a "review" style of games I would lose faith in their opinions. For instance, when dark souls 2 came to pc they absolutely spoke high of it but ripped into it for the dead body duribility bug. Furthermore, they liked shadows of mordor, but had no problem saying that the final boss is the limpest, worst final boss they have ever seen.

    My trust toward their opinions comes from them being die hard gamers who usually have a unique angle on things. 3 of the 4 we’re game testers and have seen the negative side of game developers and thus have unique critiques.

    However, their main concern is did THEY enjoy the game and if you think you would enjoy the same thing as them….then great! If not then so be it.

    That’s what I wish most game reviews were, but sadly that’s not the case.

  25. Avatar Lich180 says:

    I’ve stopped caring about any major gaming magazine’s opinion. Their opinions are influenced by money and advertising way more than "is the game good". Look at Fallout 4, for example. Almost every major magazine gave it high rankings, and all the low ratings came from independent people.

    I do the tried and true "watch gameplay demos, trailers, etc" now. If it looks like I’d enjoy it, I’ll think about buying it. If I can’t get it out of my head for a day or two, I’ll probably go buy it.

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