Reviews and how they work (IMO)

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Lately, I've been wondering if I'm only one of the few who dislike people bashing official review outlets just because they 'gave a game the wrong score'. People would say things like ''websites are trusted to provide reviews that reflect the quality of games''. Here, I will explain why I think that's the wrong way to look at reviews. Huge essay ahead.

First off, all reviewers have different ideas about what constitutes a bad, average, or good game. Those terms are subjective, after all. And that's kind of my first point: there is no way to classify anything as being objectively good or bad. The only way that's possible is if you directly compare a game to a certain standard all games need to adhere to. Usually, there is no such standard except for the subjective one we hold in our minds.

Nonetheless, reviewers' score scales are usually comparable to each other, with a 5/10 being used for 'mediocre' games, for instance. It makes sense because mediocre means middling, and a 5/10 is right in the middle on a scale of 0 to 10.

At the same time, our experiences with games are all different. Many of us have played different games, grew up playing different games and now we all hold games to different standards... our own 'mental standards', so to speak. Because of that, there's no such thing as an objective review. If there were, my score of 6/10 for Fallout 4 would just be ''wrong'' because most outlets give it a 9/10 and give the impression that that's an evaluation of its objective quality. Coming back to my first paragraph, you can see that mentality in gamers too, who think reviews ''reflect the quality of games''. If that were the goal of reviews, reviews would be pointless. That's firstly because objective quality doesn't need to be pointed out - you don't need to be a rocket scientist to see whether or not something is factually good or bad (things like clipping, for example). Secondly, if all reviews needed to do was point out facts... then why do multiple reviews and reviewers even exist? If something is objectively good or bad, we don't need several reviewers to point that out... you could essentially have one 'Supreme Reviewer' to supply you with the facts.

So we've established that reviews, while they of course usually do contain facts of some sort, are subjective and exist for the reason of giving an opinion, not assessing the 'quality' of games. ''But'', I hear you ask, ''if reviews don't assess quality, why give scores?''. It's because scores better qualify how positive the reviewer is about the game in question. If a review writes something like ''this game is amazing''... what does that mean? How enjoyable was it to the reviewer? This is where the score/scale comes into play. Ignore the scores and the subjective terms attached to it like ''good'' - what's more important is the scale itself. Look at it like a bar that shows how much the reviewer ''liked'' the game. If the bar is slightly more green than red, it means the reviewer liked it more than he disliked it. To him/her, the positives outweigh the negatives. If the bar is very green, it means that he/she enjoyed it a lot. If it's 100% green (or a 10/10 score)... that doesn't mean the game is perfect, it just means the reviewer loved it so much that the negatives don't bother him enough to be noticeable.

Another way to explain it is this: if I find role-playing important and feel that Fallout 4 didn't handle that aspect well, that might be important enough to me that it largely overshadows the other, positive aspects of the game. That could result in me giving the game a 6/10. Another person who cares more about the shooting aspect (or any aspect that was done well) might award it an 8/10. Heck, that person might even disagree and think that the role-playing aspect was done really well and award it a 9/10. It's all about your priorities and likes and dislikes. So to summarize, scores/scales don't exist to explain how high-quality a game is, they exist to reflect the reviewer's feelings about how much he enjoyed it.

Finally, you might ask ''well, why do I care about a random person's feelings about a game?'' Well, we don't need reviewers to tell us the quality of a game, we need them to:

1. Give us a sense of how varied people's views are about games. The more positive reviews there are, the more likely it is that the game will be enjoyable to you.

2. Tell us their views, so that we can compare our own to theirs and make informed decisions based on how similarly we think to the reviewer. If you find a reviewer who's right for you, you can take their word for certain things. You trust them and suspect they have similar likes/dislikes as you. For instance, find a reviewer who considers RPG aspects to be as important as you do, and who has similar views. If they hate a game, chances are you'll hate it too. And so people should look for reviewers they usually agree with, in order to make an informed decision about buying or leaving a game.

If not everything was read, please don't reply saying you disagree, as you need the full picture to understand my point! I also don't think OpenCritic is doing the right thing perpetuating the idea that reviews assess the ''quality'' of games (how good a game is is subjective, meaning quality can't even be assessed in the first place). Now they're also trying to assign scores that won't make sense to a lot of people (how is a 69/100 a ''weak'' game?!) Largely positive but still ''weak''? Might as well remove the scores and replace them with 'like bars'.

( Edited 02.06.2016 20:00 by Leo Epema )

I generally agree with what you're saying, but I feel there are exceptions in that there is a place and need to be objective, because there are many games that are designed for a specific target audience, whether it is age group or genre, or something else entirely that the game/developer is aiming to achieve.

We can assume the majority of reviewers are adults, so how does one review a Barbie game designed for young girls, or pet/baby simulators aimed at kids? You still need to assess whether this does an efficient job of hitting its target audience in varying degrees - would it be fun for the kid, is it easy to understand and play? You can only make an assumption that a little girl would enjoy such a game, so there is a place for being objective in whether you feel it hits its goals.

You still need to asses the quality of games, because a badly designed one is not good quality. Perhaps you are seeing the term 'quality' as something slightly different, but if I'm giving reasons for why I dislike a game, I'm saying why I don't think it is good quality.

I agree that fun factor and what constitutes a 'good' game is subjective. Everyone has their own opinion and personal view, but think there is a place for objectivity in many areas, especially if reviewing something in a genre you are not familiar with. Even if you dislike something, you can still see the quality and make a judgement on whether it meets the target audience successfully. That's a valid way to look at things, but is only one way to review something. This is why we try to get people familiar with a genre/series to review in such instances, though; otherwise, what would be the actual logical reason for only getting people that dislike a genre to review every game? Aside from trying to find out if "this" game finally is the one to make him/her like the genre, of course, which would be good for someone in the same position.

I see the point you're trying to make about the red/green bar, but I feel just scores out of 10 serve exactly the same purpose. "If it's more green than red, the reviewer liked it" - but me giving a game 6 or 7 out of 10 shows I liked it, also. More so when we have descriptors like "good" or "very good" there, and that is arguably easier to get into people's heads than a bar. "Good" tells you plain as day what I think. Without the numbers next to the words, though, the reader would need to also know which other 'better' words are in the verdict list. Is "good" the maximum? How many other descriptors are there? We've used the descriptors to give a better understanding of the numbers.

OpenCritic rant henceforth:

I'm in agreement with your view on what OpenCritic is doing in most respects. You can assess the quality of a game in written words, sure, but throwing games into a bracket of a set of numbers to determine quality at a glance is a bit of a problem - although you can also say the exact same thing about averaging out all review scores into a single digit; they serve the exact same purpose, but now, with OC's new rankings (mighty, strong, fair, weak), the porblem is in where the cut-offs are.

The first issue I had was something before these new rankings that still exists. It's the factors they use to calculate the percentage "of critics that recommend this game." It looks like they only take games above 7/10 into that calculation (it could be 75 or 80; idk). But for our site and certainly myself, 7s are definitely recommended games - "very good" games. Even 6s are positive titles and can be seen as recommended in some respects, but I don't think any of our staff here would disagree that when they give a 7 to a game, they are still recommending it as a purchase.

I've given a 7 to games like Shantae, Valkyria Chronicles, Legend of Heroes, BlazBlue 3, DOA5, Warriors Orochi 3, even The Witch and the Hundred Knight -- I recommended all of these games for varying reasons, but according to OpenCritic, I don't. A 7/10 ("very good" / Bronze Award) rating is not deemed as recommending a game according to them. I find that pretty absurd tbh, and shows where a big issue lies, which is in how players, fans and even critics themselves have corrupted the reviewing scoring systems so that anything that isn't above a 7 is just seen as not that good.

If OC is trying to change the perception of certain games not being regarded as very good or overlooked, they should start with including 7/10 reviews into their % of critics that "recommend a game."

I welcomed what OC was trying to do with this new system (mighty, weak, etc) at first. 7/10 reviews would fall into the Fair bracket and finally start to not be as overlooked, even though I'd prefer them to be in the Strong category. The problem is how minute the requirements for falling into each category are. If OC is averaging reviews into a 100-point system, they should be calling 50 average. Make 40-60 the "average" bracket (maybe 35-55), and anything below that can be "weak." You're right; it does seem wrong that a 69 game is in the weak bracket, which itself is anything 69 and below. So a 13/100 game and 69/100 game both fall into the Weak bracket. That's madness, and shows that even OC is not using the 100-point system properly. Why bother using 100 when you are categorising into a 50-point system?

They seem to have ignored where "average"/middle ground should be in a 100-point system (50), and gone with calling anything below 7/10 (which is, averagely, the most popular score that comes out of reviews, it would seem) a "weak" game, which is the wrong way to go about it. Just because the average score of all publications is 70-ish, it does not mean that 70 means an average/mediocre game; it simply means it is the most popular score dished out. This mentality of judging quality based on the most common scores is what's ruined the perception of good games and damaged review scoring. OC seems to have fallen into the wrong trap when it comes to fixing this.

I'm quite tempted to provide my feedback on it to them.

It's ironic I get so engaged in the score debate when I try to ignore them so much. I feel there's a place for review scores in helping determine what is, generally speaking, a good game. Many people don't have time to read pages of text and scores and averaging sites are a good gauge at a glance on whether to pick something up. If something has got at least a 70, I'm more than likely going to look into picking it up in the future. Anything else I'm not sure about I will try to read up on. It's just a pain in the arse that the review scale has been damaged so much that, in us at C3 trying to rectify things a bit to give a fair score system and give credit to 7/10 games, it seems 7 games are still not being fairly treated.

( Edited 03.06.2016 02:07 by Azuardo )

=13.3333px''I feel there are exceptions in that there is a place and need to be objective, because there are many games that are designed for a specific target audience''

Of course, I didn't say reviews could never contain objective statements - which is why I said 'reviews can of course contain facts' (or something like that).

''You still need to assess whether this does an efficient job of hitting its target audience in varying degrees - would it be fun for the kid, is it easy to understand and play?''

True, but technically, that would be a subjective assessment. Another reviewer might disagree to some extent with your review and claim that it wouldn't be fun for the kid, or not so easy to understand, etc etc. In other words, we all have different views of what works and what doesn't - even when it comes to catering to a specific category of people.
All we can do is do our best to be critical, but full objectivity will never be reachable.

=13.3333px''You still need to asses the quality of games, because a badly designed one is not good quality. Perhaps you are seeing the term 'quality' as something slightly different, but if I'm giving reasons for why I dislike a game, I'm saying why I don't think it is good quality.''

That's my point - not everyone has the same ideas about what constitutes a 'badly designed' one. So even that is a partly subjective area. As for saying why you don't think it's good quality... if it's factually/objectively ''not good quality'', there shouldn't be a need to ''think'' about it, right? If 'in your opinion' it's not good... that would imply quality is subjective. When we talk about objective quality, though, we're talking about facts. Besides, giving reasons for disliking a game is completely different from saying why it's not good quality. The first is a subjective assessment of what does and does not work for you personally, and the latter is an objective assessment of what it does right and wrong.

=13.3333px''Even if you dislike something, you can still see the quality and make a judgement on whether it meets the target audience successfully.''

The problem is, everybody has a different idea of what is 'quality', apparently. In my example of Fallout 4 for instance, I might think the RPG aspects are terrible while another person might find them to be just fine. We all have different standards.

''I see the point you're trying to make about the red/green bar, but I feel just scores out of 10 serve exactly the same purpose.''

True, but my point is that people get hung up on vague subjective terms like 'good' because they all have different ideas of what is good. Some people might think a 6/10 is a good game, others might think that's a mediocre score and decide that a 7/10 is the cut-off point for a 'good' game. Don't get me wrong, I still think scores are very handy in the same way that a 'like bar' is handy. However, I think 'like bars' would enrage gamers less, because scores like 'good' connect to the reader's own subjective idea of what's good. They associate that term with their own interpretation of it, I mean. Some gamers might think a 'good' game is one that has equal amounts of positives and negatives - and when talking about a game like Fallout 4 which they might consider 'great', that can really annoy them. Like bars serve the same purpose as scores and terms, only without the possibility of subjective interpretation by the reader.

I agree completely on what you said concerning OpenCritic's rankings and how they consider 7/10s to be average. I myself consider a 6/10 to still be a 'decent' game - in other words, a 6/10 is still a recommendation to play it. Anything above a 5/10 on my scale, is above average... because 5/10 is the middle point, i.e. the average. It makes sense. I like how Cubed3's scoring system agrees.
If you ask me, we should give OpenCritic feedback on it. At least there's two people here who already disagree, after all.

Anyway, I just wanted to give my view on reviews. I'm not saying scores and terms should be removed altogether, but I do think they are the cause of what makes gamers so angry at reviews. People get myopic due to the scores, and start connecting them to their own interpretations of the terms. On the other hand, I think scores are very useful, just like a scale of green to red to explain to gamers just how good they think a game is.
In any case, I think all reviewers should at least return to the system of 5/10 being average and everything above that being 'above average'. For me, 6/10 is decent, 7/10 is good, 8/10 is great, 9/10 is outstanding or whatever, and 10/10 is... something more extreme than outstanding, lol. Of course, that's where the idea of reviews being objective kicks in... because 'good' and 'outstanding' do sound like objective assessments rather than opinions.
Anyway, thanks for the reply, it's an interesting subject to say the least.
 

( Edited 03.06.2016 13:52 by Leo Epema )

For me being a reviewer and critic comes down to one critical factor. We are experienced. You don't become a critic by having Adam pop in wearing a fairy dress and granting you a wish, having a radioactive Aaron bite you, or selling your name to Azuardo to become one of a hundred knights fighting for game accuracy. You became a critic because you've been around quite a while and know what is good, what is bad, and, above all else, WHY. Not just on some basic 'this game sucks because it's so buggy that it has the aliens doing the can-can' level but on something deeper. Being able to see beyond the veil that some games throw up to hide their true quality or find those titles that really do stand out but no one heard of.

An 'objective' review is impossible, but a 'transparent' review is entirely feasible. I can't tell you objectively how good or bad a game is because it's just a bunch of 0's and 1's that hold different meanings to different people. But I can sit down and say how it made me feel and why it made me feel that way. Especially since we don't always get the game we thought we would get. Plenty of times I've asked to review a game only to find out it was nothing like what I thought it would be. I've found games no on heard of that should have more attention brought to them (Recettear) and games that were praised that I found to be underwhelming (Morrowind), but I can explain why to you and that's why I'm a critic. Because I can see why something is good or bad on more than a superficial level and tell you why.

We all have different opinions, different experiencs, different knowledge-bases (JRPG's are my bread and butter for example.), but that's fine. Sometimes an outsiders opinion is needed, sometimes an insiders is needed, and both are valid so long as it's not 'It's not 60 FPS so it sucks' level stuff.

Some critics do alter scores, not give games enough credit, and what-not. However I think it's important to note that the fact that these things are considered deviant is VERY important because it means it holds some weight. Sometimes these are honest people, sometimes they are hateful, but that they are being noted means that people still care about it in the first place.

Exactly how I feel, SnowTwo. There's no such thing as a right or wrong review, or right or wrong opinions. Even things that might seem objective on the surface can turn out to be largely subjective based on the arguments brought forth. One reviewer might agree with those arguments, the other might not. One reviewer might find one thing important to the point that it would affect the game's grade substantially, another might decide it's not a big deal.

Of course, I'm not saying reviews can never be objective (or even transparent) in some way. You're right, it is experience with games that makes people qualified to explain in depth what they believe works and what doesn't, and what can be improved upon based on previous experience with other games that did it better.

On the negative side, there are some reviewers (usually when it comes to movies) who I think aren't completely fair because they treat reviews more like opinion pieces. By that I mean that they bring their political convictions into the mix, for instance, saying that because they're SJWs and they believe a game isn't being fair to a female character, that somehow reduces the quality of the game. I don't think that makes sense considering it (usually) has no effect on the game's actual level of quality - no effect on gameplay, story, and so on, except for in that person's mind. And I don't think games should be reviewed according to political ideas that are completely psychological and not really relevant to what you're reviewing. Like if it holds the movie to psychological standards it wouldn't ever have met in the first place.

Anyway, I totally agree. There are some things that we need to point out, and we all have different opinions and ideas of how important those things are, positive or negative. This, I feel, is the reason why I started reviewing years ago: to give my own account and hopefully be useful to people - especially those who hold similar views to mine or have a similar personality. People are aided greatly by varying reviews, especially if those reviews give detailed accounts of the reviewer's personal gripes with the different aspects of the game. That, to me, seems like the point of reviews: to give all the minutely different opinions and let the reader decide which of them probably fits their opinion of a game the most. That way they can make an informed decision as to whether or not to buy a game... sometimes even changing their entire outlook on games and what they're looking for.

I love it.

( Edited 10.06.2016 16:45 by Leo Epema )

I want to make this doubly-clear in case someone else reads this. I am not 'stroking my own ego' or anything of the sort. Us critics are flawed beings. Yahtzee, whom I very much look up do, dislikes JRPG's and does his best to avoid them. He's not perfect. I tend to frown heavily on both horror and shooter games meaning something like RE would be TERRIBLE for me while I tend to favor 'classical' RPG's more. I do my best to remove my bias but I also recognize and acknowledge it. This does not mean I am incapable of giving good reviews (because I am experienced) and it may mean I'm even MORE likely to give a bad review to a 'classical' RPG since I'm familiar with how they work. I care little for the technical side of things (which some people will find off-putting) but I adore the artistic side (which some people will not care about).

I am not perfect.

I am experienced though. I've played and beaten at least 300 games over every game generation and have been able to put into words why, exactly, I loved or hated them. I can hear someones tastes and have been batting about a 90% recommendation success rate once I know what the person is looking for. I've spotted multiple stinkers from the trailers alone that friends were enthralled with due to my experience with spotting the traits of a bad game as well as found multiple titles that I have enjoyed (Aura Online needs some more love...) simply from being able to weed out what has been said about it to understand it. I'm hoping to use this experience to help others. I will not always succeed. I will always try my best.

Just going to throw my two cents in - I've only skimmed the above posts. When I used to review here I had to give scores for the 'main' reviews that would appear on the site. However, when I bought along 'beyond the cube' I started doing reviews without scores and focused much more on brining my points to the table and pointing out what I enjoyed, what stood out, what needed work and where things were broken. It pushed me away from the 'love this, hate this' mentality that I find a lot of reviewers fall into.

Mainly though, I've found for myself that people fall into one of four camps for reviews: 
a) the ones that will scroll down the page to check the final score and read the conclusion
b) the ones that check the score and read the review if they find the score agreeable
c) the ones that read through the review from start to finish
d) the ones that leave if there's no score anyway and go find a review elsewhere

So in the case of having no score, you will only turn away a small group. But on the upside those that do read through the review or conclusion you have them forming their own opinions and deciding, through the reviewers writing, whether it's a game that's agreeable to them and they'd like to play it. Let them draw their own conclusion if it's worth it to them. 

I've seen cases (myself included) where I've read through reviews that hit all the nails on the head for me in terms of what I was looking for out of a title, and yet the score at the end is like a 6 or 7 out of 10. Which turns people off the game even if all the way through the review they've been rallying behind it. A recent example being Mirror's Edge Catalyst - more of the same free running fun that everybody loved from before, and great in many places and exceeds the original in many areas but falls short in story, voice acting and 'shiny' collecting. 6/10. Whut.

But that's still a decent game or a perfect game for the right player, and as mentioned before, the scoring system is completely broken, we've gotten into an area where only 8+'s are acceptable now, which I find is the wrong way to go about it.

You also have the other side where all reviews are opinionated anyway, so people collect a few sources where they get their news for games that match their tastes and opinions. I for one like a bit of salt in the wound and brutal honesty when it comes to reviews so I go to Total Biscuit and Jim Sterling. But they're not perfect either. I know they're highly opinonated in their views, that's the point of them, but what I find from that is that they give fair reviews. And that's all, as a consumer, I need. None of this Call of Duty GOTY 10/10 malarky that some publications dish out on the regular. Come on.

I had a point here somewhere, I think it got lost a bit... but yeah. Reviews are subjective and opinionated, I think we can shift to score-less reviews to push the consumer to make their own choices, but that has it's own downsides as well depending on the demographic.

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