I was listening to the most recent episode of the Epic Battle Cry podcast. The guest was Jim Sterling. Apparently the hosts had called Jim names for calling other people names the previous week, and so this week they had Jim on to defend himself. They got into a discussion about the importance of review scores, and one of the hosts in particular seemed to think that review scores were meaningless and should be phased out. That seems to be what a lot of people think.
I couldn't disagree with that more. I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about the way people use review scores. So I thought that I'd make a blog addressing what I think are some of the most common misconceptions about review scores.
"People just base their decision off of the number, and ignore everything else."
Let's just assume for a moment that that sentence is 100% true. So what? As long as I'm using my own money to buy a game, what difference should it make to anyone else why I decided to buy the game? If I buy a game just because it has a high review score on Meta Critic, then aren't I the only one being affected by my decision? Also, if I constantly end up buying games that I don't like that much because I only go by review scores, then won't I eventually have to start relying on more than just the review score? Money doesn't grow on trees. If you think that people are consistently spending $60 on games they don't even like because of review scores, then I'd like to know where you think these people are getting their money from. If there are people who are buying games only because they have high review scores, and that's a bad thing, then the problem will inevitably work itself out.
Is only looking at the review score a bad thing though? I would argue that it isn't. If I have a friend who seems to like all of the same movies that I do, and that friend tells me that I should go see Salt because it's really good, then it isn't unreasonable for me to assume that I'll like the movie Salt without even knowing anything else about it. I don't have to get a long and detailed explanation as to why my friend thinks that the movie is good. If I'm already aware that my taste in movies is consistent with my friends', then I can make an educated decision on whether or not I'd like the movie just by asking my friend if it was good, and getting a yes or no answer.
So why would it be any different with review scores? If I already know that I've agreed with Bob Smith's last 20 game reviews, then why is it so unreasonable for me to purchase a game solely on the basis that Bob Smith gave it a 10? Maybe I think that Bob Smith is always right about fighting games, but I don't always agree with him on RPGs. So if Bob gives Street Fighter X Tekken a 9.5, I can say "Well I agreed with his review of every other fighting game that's come out in the last 4 years, so there's no reason to doubt him now." Where as if he reviews Pokemon Black and White, I might consider reading his review and maybe some other reviews, since I don't think he's always right about RPGs.
The whole point of a review score is convenience. You don't have time to read every review of every game. If you had to rely on text alone, then most of us wouldn't even consider the majority of reviews that are written. The idea is to find reviewers that you tend to agree with. Then you don't have to read their reviews all the time. You can just get an idea of whether or not you'll like a game by seeing how they rate it out of 10.
"Review scores are just an excuse for people to be lazy."
Really? Is it lazy for me to drive to the store instead of walk there? Is it lazy for me to dig a hole with a shovel instead of digging it with my hands? Technically you could argue that it is lazier, but the lazier option isn't always the lesser one.
I could read Jim Sterling's entire review of Final Fantasy 13 to find out why he didn't like it, or I could just rent it myself and see if I really think it's that bad. You can rent all the games you could play for just $16 a month using an online service like Gamefly, you could go to a store like Play 'N Trade and play any game in the store until the store closes if you want to, and a lot of games have demos that you can download right in your own home. Now a days we have the ability to try pretty much every game that comes out before we decide whether or not to buy it.
Most people don't come to gaming sites for reviews. Most of us come to gaming sites for the latest gaming news, and to interact with the community. The reviews are an after thought to us. If I'm logging onto Destructoid to see if any new info has been released on games that I'm looking forward to, or to check if anyone has commented on my blog, and I see a text only review of some game that I don't care about; chances are that I'm not even going to bother looking at it. However, if I know the review includes a review score at the end, then I'll at least click on it to see the score since that only takes about two seconds to do. Depending on what the score is, I may grow curious as to why the reviewer thought the game was that good or that bad. That could lead to me actually reading the review or trying the game out for myself. Review scores actually make people consider games that are otherwise completely off their radar. If anything, I'd actually say that the text of reviews are more irrelevant these days than the scores, and I don't think that's a bad thing.
"If we didn't have review scores, then more people would read the reviews."
This is one of the most retarded things anyone ever says about review scores, and the thing that irritates me the most is that it often comes out of the mouths of people who review games for a living. I shouldn't understand how your job works better than you do. Saying that more people would read reviews if it weren't for review scores is like saying that more people would read the articles in Playboy if it weren't for the pictures of naked women. It's so stupid that I shouldn't even have to explain why it's stupid, but I will anyway.
The people who only look at the review scores wouldn't even bother clicking on the review if it were text only. I'm willing to bet that those people make up the majority of people who click on reviews. Because the review score draws those people in, some of those people will actually read the review. So review scores actually make MORE people read reviews!!! It's just like how if it weren't for the naked women, no one would buy Playboy magazines. But because of the naked women, people do buy Playboys, and some of those people will actually read the articles.
I heard somewhere that gas stations make most of their money off of selling groceries. I have no idea if that's true or not, but I do know that the majority of people who stop at gas stations don't stop there for groceries. Most people stop there to get gas. If I wanted groceries, I'd go to a super market. But, because I'm already at a gas station getting gas, I may buy a few groceries from them that I wouldn't have otherwise. Even if most of the people who stop in only buy gas and nothing else, the gas station still sells more groceries than they would if no one stopped there for gas.
If reviews were text only, then why would I bother reading anyone's review when I could just rent the game or download a demo, and get a much better idea of whether or not I like the game then I would from reading a review? It's because of the simple score that only takes me two seconds to look at that I even bother clicking on most reviews, and because of that I actually read a few of them every now and then. That's why I think that the review score is the most important part of the review. I defy any reviewer who thinks that review scores are irrelevant to stop using them, and see how many hits your reviews get. And if your goal is to get more people to read the text, then you'd only be defeating your own purpose, since every hit you lose is one less potential reader.
I realize that most people won't read all of this, so I give review scores a 10 and review text a 4.5.