Average starts at five, not seven
A lot has changed since our last Destructoid Review Guide, posted shortly after I became Reviews Editor in 2008. We've had a lot staff changes, we've altered much of the way reviews operate internally, and we've had years of fresh accusations/outrages to address.
With that in mind, here's an updated reviews guide for 2011! It should explain how we operate, why we do the things we do, and how our scoring system works. Please read this before you send us any hate mail the next time we give your favorite game less than 11/10.
Destructoid Reviews: Our Goal
Destructoid always aims to give you, dear reader, our most honest appraisal on a game, even if it hurts us.
Destructoid "goes to work" to serve our readers, not the gaming industry -- so we feel it's imperative to review games harshly as needed. We don't mince our words, but we're just as likely to heap high praise upon a title as we are to inject it with deadly venom and throw it to the wolves. In the case of a massive disappointment, we have thus earned a reputation for being one of the most brutally honest publications online as we encourage our writers to not spare any emotion. We also take this opportunity to check the hype and promises used to market a game and try to cash that check. It's only fair -- and keeps the PR kids responsible. When it comes to reviews, we prefer to let emotions run deep.
We place a high value on personality at Destructoid. The editors writing the reviews are editors many of you have gotten to know over the years. We think our reviews are valuable because you know what we look for in a game -- and you know that whether you agree or disagree with us, you can better inform your own purchasing decisions. We do not aim to solely influence your buying habits -- but we like to think we can help you as part of a variety of tools that consumers use to make their decisions. If you're going to spend $60 on a piece of software, it better damn well deliver!
It is our mantra that reviews are subjective. The idea (and ideal) of the "objective" review is nonsense. That would be more like a manual or a list of specifications. Feel free to check out our mock attempt at an objective review here.
If you prefer reviews without emotion, there are tens of thousands of bland gaming web sites out there for you to discover -- websites more concerned in selling their reviews into retail product review databases than serving their readers.
Destructoid reviews use scores, and use the FULL ten-point scale.
It is surprising that we have to educate the industry that the number five is the one in the middle of a ten-point scale. If you don't read the rest of the article, at least take this away with you: a five is an average, perfectly normal game. Repeat it, take a deep breath, and repeat it again. A five is an average, perfectly normal game. yMoving on.
Every single number has a distinct meaning and a valuable place in our system. Our scoring scale was specifically designed to reflect the various tones that a review can take with its written content. Note that without the written content, the score is meaningless. It's not enough to just look at a number -- we pick our scores based upon what we wrote. Read the content before judging an entire review based on the number at the end.
Brutal honesty, a full ten-point scale, subjectivity and a personal touch -- that is the Destructoid review four-part policy. Please respect our desire to use all the numbers in between those two extremes, too.
The Scale And How We Score:
The scoring scale was designed in 2008 with much careful consideration, and is intended to take the thought out of the numbers. While it is impossible to not have a number in one's head when writing a review, this system helps make the number a little more "natural" by lining up the tone of the written review with the scoring summary. If a writer said in the review that the game was good, but short, then he can look at the scale and see that a number in the 7.0 range is suitable.
Every number is important! Here's the full scale:
Why We Use Review Scores:
The simple answer is this: review scores are the standard review currency in the industry. We didn't invent them, and if we don't use them, they're not going away. Destructoid is simply doing its part to participate in the ecosystem of scores. Scores get us on Metacritic, which in turn gives our reviews much more exposure. I wholeheartedly believe that Destructoid features some of the best reviewers on the Internet, and I want to maximize their influence and audience. Scores help that. Straight from the mouth of our founder:
So there, shut up.
We are often asked why we use review scores, and frequently receive requests to remove them. This will not happen anytime soon. We use scores because, as much as we emphasize the written content, many readers expect numbers to accompany their reviews. This goes for all forms of entertainment, not just videogames.
For a more detailed explanation on this subject, feel free to read this article.
Who Writes Reviews And How We Do Business:
The majority of reviews are handled by myself and editor-in-chief Nick Chester. The predominant reason for this is that Destructoid counts as a full-time job for the pair of us, so we have more dedicated time to play and write about these games. We also have access to developer kits and the developers themselves, which means we are the likeliest to receive advance review code in order to get more timely reviews published.
Though we handle most reviews, we also have Conrad Zimmerman, Dale North, Maurice Tan, Jonathan Holmes, and Jordan Devore as regular reviewers, whose unique specializations allow them to review games in particular genres. We have a number of interns to turn to when we cannot find another writer or have something incredibly obscure that needs writing up.
Reviews are assigned by Nick and myself based on our years of professional acquaintance with each other and our writers. Every month, I email Nick a list of upcoming games with suggestions on who should review each one. Nick emails back with agreements or superior suggestions. After a short discussion, we then contact PR representatives to check on the status of review copies. If we find a PR rep is unresponsive, we make plans to purchase the game instead.
Though our system is by no means perfect and we sometimes miss obscure, but wholly valid, game releases, we do a pretty good job. Nick and I work hard to compromise and find the best fit for the job. Over the years, the amount and variety of games we cover has only expanded, and will continue to do so, with more allotments made for mobile and PC game coverage.
We aim to complete every single game we review, but let me clue in on something: very few reviewers in this industry actually manage that. We have a pretty damn good track record, but it's not policy that a game has to be reached to its entire conclusion in order to give a valid rating. If a nine-hour game is played for eight hours, and those eight hours were garbage, that's a pretty good ground for assessment. That said, we aim for completion in almost all circumstances, and as of this guide, endeavor to inform readers within each review when we didn't quite make the end, at least in the case of big, story-driven titles. In extreme cases, where a game is so broken or unplayable that we couldn't even reach halfway through the game, a review will go up unscored.
Destructoid has earned a reputation for writing negative reviews, and there are a number of myths surrounding this. The biggest myth is that our reviews are written simply for traffic, in order to cynically gain hits from controversy. If that were true, it would make us supervillains on a genius scale, because this apparently blatant and transparent hit-grab has successfully worked for the past three years. The reality, however, is more mundane.
For a start, it is a myth that negative reviews automatically generate more traffic. For example, one of our notorious negative reviews was Platinum Games' Vanquish. That same month, we also reviewed Fallout: New Vegas, giving it a high score that was in line with the many positive reviews it received. The stats confirmed that our New Vegas review received more hits than our Vanquish review. Destructoid's reviews are some of the most read of all our articles -- whether we score a game high or low is irrelevant to their ability to become successful articles. We don't need to fake a score to get traffic. We'll get hits regardless.
It is important to note that negative reviews carry severe business risks. You may think we spew venom without consequence, but this is also a myth. We have had publishers remove their advertising from our site before, based on a low review score. If we were all about making money, it would be incredibly counter-productive to generate traffic for a page that had just lost its adverts. With every review we score 6/10 or below, we run the risk of losing more money than we could hope to make. That our boss, site founder Yanier Gonzalez, gives us the freedom to use a ten-point scale is a testament to how much he values our integrity as writers over guaranteed profit.
We do not enjoy being hated. Years of hate mail is tiresome, but it's something a number of reviewers have had to endure during their tenure at Destructoid, for daring to give a game a low score. Some seem to think we revel in controversy, but that is not true. Tense relations with publishers and the risk of getting blacklisted is never fun. We write our low-scoring reviews because we want to give an honest opinion, not because we like to make people miserable. Only a sociopath would write reviews just to cause trouble, and sour relationships to their own detriment.
It's a myth that Destructoid scores games lower than everybody else. While some of our high-profile reviews have been more negative than others and don't always march in step with the hive mind, we do not consistently score lower than everybody else. You might find our opinions on certain games can differ, but on the whole, our positive-to-negative ratio isn't as skewed in favor of the negative as you might think.
Although these statistics are a month old (at time of writing) and review score data can fluctuate from time to time, you'll notice that our closest competitor, Joystiq, scores games rather similarly to Destructoid:
IGN scores even lower, though IGN also reviews a lot more shovelware. Either way, we only get in trouble with readers because of the profile of the games we've given "bad" scores to. Hype doesn't matter to us, though if we think a game is crap, we'll say it's crap. You might think differently, but that's your damage. It's nothing to do with us.
Now, you may be wondering HOW Destructoid can claim to use the full ten-point-scale and still have an average score that falls in line with (and is even higher than) some of the big sites like IGN. Well, bear in mind that Dtoid has less resources than a major corporate blog and, as such, we don't have the time and manpower to review the sheer volume of guff that's out there. We try to review all that we can, but some stuff gets left on the pile, stuff that IGN will do. So, while we're ignoring licensed games for the latest kiddy movie, IGN's forced some poor intern to do it. We review less, and end up ignoring more shovelware. Our average would likely be a lot lower if we had the time to do everything in the Bratz line of games!
Finally, it should be noted that there's a misconception that we rate all AAA games or console exclusives negatively for attention. The facts simply are not there to support this claim. Were it true, Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 would not have received high scores. Portal 2 would not have joined the rest of the reviews in utter praise. Modern Warfare 2 would have gotten a low score. After all, if our entire modus operandi is to give popular games low scores, there are so many better games we could be picking on.
It would have been far more effective to rate Killzone 3 a 4.5 rather than give Heavy Rain a 7.0. It's an insult to our intelligence to claim we rate certain games low on purpose, because the games we rate low are simply poor choices compared to some of the things we could've done if we had this particular scheme in mind.
In summary, we like video games. A lot. We want to play good ones and tell people how much fun they are. That is why we started this site and what we love doing most. When that fails, bad reviews happen. Nuff said.
I've done my best, as reviews editor, to make our review process as easy to understand as possible. A link to this guide will be in every review published and I hope that our intentions and activities are confusing only to the willfully ignorant. If you have any problems or need of clarification, feel free to comment here or contact me at jim[at]destructoid.com.
If you have any other grievance with our reviews, please remember the most important point of all -- VIDEOGAMES.
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