Joystiq is doing away with review scores. Gone. Done. No more.
It’s a regular complaint of game writers and an increasingly vocal group of gamers: reviews have become all about the score and less about the content. What a critic has to say about a game has become far, far less important than the relatively arbitrary number thrown at the end of the thing. The result? An era in which Metacritic rules all, where publishers attach financial value to these nearly irrelevant numbers and readers run wild when AAA releases are ever ranked beneath an 8. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point or another; who hasn’t felt offended when a game they like gets a low score? (In my case, I tend to rejoice when games I don’t like get low scores, but I'm a bad person.)
In truth, the video game industry was really worse off from review scores in the first place, and Joystiq’s removal of them is just the sort of thing we should be seeing more of. Review scores benefit no one: critics will briefly put their entire lives on hold to play games for unhealthy amounts of time and crunch to write the equivalent of a book report only to have an arbitrary number, and not the words themselves, dictate the tone and nature of their experience. Developers and critics get jerked around as publishers push and pressure to manipulate the system any way they can because the people with cash money recognize the importance of that stupid average. Readers are sold short by conversations dominated by this score and not an intellectual breakdown of the actual games themselves.
It all sucks, and Joystiq’s removal of scores has cast light on just how much review scores have needed to go for a long time.
I saw it written once - if anyone knows the source, I’d appreciate it - that reviews are an inconvenience for publishers. They can control every element of a game’s release, every screenshot and trailer and detail and word, until it is in gamers’ hands… except for the review. That one element at the tail end of the entire marketing and release process is the one thing out of their hands, and it’s the one thing that can make or break everything. And while scoreless reviews would still have power, the removal of Metacritic from the procedure would probably have benefited us all.
Personally? If I had the power to hit a switch and change the business as a whole, I’d rather we do away with individual sites’ scores entirely and move to something which follows the Rotten Tomatoes concept of judging whether a critic’s response to something is positive or negative. Averages would still pop up in an overarching fashion, but less squabbling over specific sites' scores and more focus on the general idea would be some kind of improvement.
But alas, that’s not the universe we live in and it’s not the way the business works. For now, let us applaud Joystiq for wiping out these completely arbitrary review scores.
Keep an eye out for the next 4Player review where I give a game a completely arbitrary review score.