The complicated world of game reviews

A deep analysis of the different review formats adopted by three media outlets, and how the audience can’t quite grasp what reviews truly are.

Whether we want it or not, everything around us is being reviewed. If you’re planning on buying a plant, a phone or a game, for example, you might feel compelled to check what other people think. Besides checking beforehand, there’s also the possibility of checking a review after you liked something to see how it stands compared to your opinion.

As I organised the upcoming games that I wanna buy, I realised that sometimes I like a game/franchise so much that I won’t wait the reviews, but in other cases I might wait to see how things shake up. As I began to research game reviews, it became clear that it can be a divisive subject and there’s a lot to unpack.

For this feature, two major media outlets were selected, IGN and Gamespot, and an independent media outlet, Easy Allies.

The Review Format

If you’re interested in gaming news, you probably have a favorite media outlet and therefore you’re used to how they approach reviews. If you decide to change your source of news, you might have to get used to a whole new review system. The reason behind why games are reviewed and scored in different scales is not as simple as ‘someone wanted it to be this way’, so the media outlets go into detail regarding their choices.

All three selected media outlets have an editorial article or section to explain their review process and scoring system. These explanations are not linked in reviews, which means a person that just check the review wouldn’t understand the process, unless they wanted to know and searched for it. Some of these can give good insight and are a must read for anyone that cares about reviews.

“Remember to read the text, not just the score!”

That is the first thing you’ll read when you open ‘About Gamespot reviews’. The website changed their scoring system and the reason is that they didn’t feel the need to be granular, and to simplify things they decided to be on a 10 scale, instead of 20 (1 to 10 with half points in between). With a simpler score metric, the text gets more value, but it might be naive to assume most people will even read the whole review, since the score end up being the big gravitational pull.

They key word here is simplify. When describing what each score means, all the editorial gives is a word attached to each number, making it even more subjective. Being simple and non-specific could definitely work in their favor when reviewing a game, but it definitely makes it easier for someone that doesn’t understand reviews, to complain. These characteristics are something the other media outlets, IGN and Easy Allies, distanced themselves from.

In Easy Allies case, they ditched the 10 point scale (5 stars with half-starts in between) to adopt the 20 scale. The reasoning behind it is explained in a video on their Youtube channel, it mentions that initially the star system allowed them to“nitpick less and focus more on the overall experience”, but ended up not allowing for a true expression of their opinion. This is an interesting point of view, the score itself represents the reviewer’s experience better by being a little less streamlined.

When it comes to being more expressive, IGN tries to take a step further. Instead of using a 20 point scale, which they tried at some point, the outlet uses a 100 point scale. They justify this decision by confirming that a simpler score does elevate the text/video part of the review, but goes on to say that it’s possible to achieve an “expressive score” while maintaining the other aspects’ depth.

The other reason on why more numbers works best, is the possibility to rank the games better. Thankfully, the editorial reassures that not every game can be ranked against each other, but this just adds another complicated layer into the subjective world of reviews. When describing what each score means, they make sure to go into detail and explain what would make a game a “Amazing” or “Okay”, giving examples of game that received that score. This is a contrast to the other media outlets, and it definitely makes it easier for someone to understand peacefully why a game got the score it did.

“That being said, there’s also a by-line on every text you see, and we encourage you to follow our writers on Twitter, get to know them on their IGN pages, and try to get an understanding of where they’re coming from based on their pros and cons and recommended games.”

The Reviewer

It may seem like common knowledge but when it comes to reviews, it appears that the audience forgets that every person is different. The reviewer that is either criticising or praising a game is a unique human being, that comes from a different background and played different games growing up. I’m sorry to break it down to you, but every reviews has a dose of bias.

I’ll use myself as an example. When it comes to 2D platformers, I’m the worst player there is and because of that, I don’t enjoy playing them. If I were to review a game in this genre (it shouldn’t happen, we’ll get to why), my arguments and criticisms about the game would be different from other reviews.

Given the amount of genres and game franchises, it’s difficult for a person to be familiar with everything. Because of that, it’s important that media outlets select reviewers that are knowledgeable about the game they are going to evaluate. By having past experience with games in a genre, or in a franchise, the reviewer is capable of presenting a complete analysis. This situation is ideal, but if it the reviewer doesn’t have a lot of knowledge on the game, it doesn’t invalidate the review, it’s their opinion with a different point of view.

Since the reviewer represents an important piece of this subjective puzzle, media outlets should disclosure/have information on the person that wrote the review. Gamespot have an “about the author” section, where they give a little bit of context and background about the writer. IGN doesn’t have an area dedicated for this. Easy Allies also doesn’t, but their situation is different since they have a smaller community that tends to know the reviewer’s background better (having the info wouldn’t hurt though).

If reviews are important to you, make sure that you know and follow the person responsible for the review. Try to understand where they are coming from, based on things they like to play and have experience with. The more people that know the reviewers role, and the subjectivity of it all, there’ll be less personal attacks in online comments.

The Audience

Review videos are watched everyday on Youtube, and the number of views that they have shows a big interest for this type of content. When analysing the reactions to some reviews it became evident that a portion of the audience were expecting more than a critical examination of a game.

Starting with Gamespot, their Days Gone review have 116.4k views, 8.7k dislikes to 1.1k likes. The game scored a 5, and the majority of comments mentioned that the game deserved a higher score. Same happened with their Rage 2 review, it scored a 6 and have 63.2k views with 1.7k dislikes to 905 likes. These complaints about the score, in both cases, shows that validation is the reason why these people are checking reviews.

Both games mentioned before are titles that people loved or wanted to love, and when the review’s score didn’t reflect that, this portion of the audience didn’t feel validated and responded with hate. Take the Anthem review for example, is scored a 6 but the ratings are overwhelmingly positive (172.2k views with 3.2k likes to 483 dislikes), showing that the audience didn’t care about the low score since they weren’t as attached to this game.

For IGN, the numbers show the same pattern. The Days Gone review have more than a million views with 33k dislikes to 12k likes. It scored a 6.5 but the comments were still focused on how this is the wrong score. These reactions point towards the audience caring about reviews as much as they care about the game itself. Their Rage 2 review, on the other hand, is a good example of the validation of opinions. The video have positive ratings (9k likes to 727 dislikes) with 541.8k views, and the score… an 8.

Besides being upset and angry at a score, a few comments bring up the influence of sponsors over the review process, and inconsistencies with the scores. The concern about sponsors is understandable, and while Gamespot avoids the subject and doesn’t mention it, IGN and Easy Allies are clear about the fact that sponsors have no power over reviews.

The complaints about the inconsistency of scores are linked to the fact that a portion of the audience doesn’t understand reviews. As mentioned before, different games are reviewed by different people, and the scores can’t be directly compared to each other. When a game is being reviewed, the reviewer is looking at the game with ‘different eyes’, checking everything.

Easy allies’ audience is a little different. Looking at their Days Gone review (149.5k views with 4.5k likes to 139 dislikes), it scored a 7.5 but the response was still positive. This happens due to the fact that an independent media outlet doesn’t have the reach big media outlets do, and the community they nourish are in tune with their content. The Rage 2 review is no different, it scored a 7 and the audience’s response was overwhelmingly positive. As your content attracts more people, the chances of uninformed and angry comments grows.

Reviews are part of our media and they’re not going anywhere. Games are expensive and having someone else play, and tell if it’s worth your money and time is an appreciated element. The important part is making sure the audience is educated on what reviews are and how subjective it gets, to reevaluate what they personally mean.

Despite the many ways to score a game, there’s still the possibility of ditching scores all together. Some outlets adopted this method and it’s an interesting approach, since it embraces the subjective part and focus on giving the audience reasons why a game is recommended or not. With the use of scores, note that a review is not wrong in giving a game a low score, and someone is not wrong in liking said game.

Looking for someone that have a similar taste to yours, and review games, is a good way to know whether the game is good or not for you. If you disagree with a review, I’m sure the reviewer would appreciate a civilised discussion to explain his experience with the game. Media outlets must also be careful with the ‘this content must go viral’ phenomenon, and not let it influence reviews. Clicks are important in the age we live in, but a title or score which porpoise is only to get attention, or poke at part of the audience, shouldn’t happen.

As the beginning of this feature mentioned, everything is under a microscope, which means this whole piece could be reviewed. I’d give it a solid 10, and any score below or above will make me leave comments everywhere saying that I’m grateful you took your time to read it and I hope to keep improving and doing more.

Graduated college in 2018, Journalism. Pursuing a Gaming Journalist career. You can follow me on Twitter @thalesaugusto .

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