(I wrote this stuff for Gamespot, but I'd love to hear some responces to it from a different point of view, this stuff applies to destructoid reviews also, plus this way, I can submit it for the PAX contest. (sorry about the big pictures, like I said, my destructoid cherry remains relatively unpopped, sigh))
Unless you've been living in a cave without a wireless connection over the past month, or you're just uninformed, you've probably noticed that Gamespot has changed it's review system. So, before you get the wrong idea about this post, I want to just say that I really like the new system, the medals really do a good job explaining the main draws a game has to offer and the .5 increments allow the reviewers to assign a score without being constrained by trying to fit all the parts of the game into five categories. However, the new review system is not the point of this post, because the system is done and here to stay (hopefully). However, that's not to say that there isn't room for improvement, because there is. So, right here and now, while the review changes are still fresh, I am proposing that Gamespot change it's review system to use 5 as the average score for reviews (rather than 7). Everything above 5 would be an increasingly above average game, while everything below would be below average (duh).
Before you real-time weapon switch to your tomatoes and throw them at my weakpoint for massive damage, hear me out. I think this switch would really improve the quality of reviews on this site (I obviously feel strongly enough about it to write this).
I believe that the first step before I criticize something is to understand why it's there in the first place. As such, lets discuss why the current system was put in place. According to Gamespots review guidelines:
"The average rating on GameSpot lies between a high 6 and a low 7, which is fully in line with what we believe is the fairly good quality of the average game on store shelves. Because we do not strictly grade on a curve, we have not set 5.0 as our average rating. We believe the high end of our rating scale (the 8 and 9 range) works suitably well to distinguish truly outstanding games from all the others. However, most games really aren't bad."
I agree, most games really aren't bad, but with that said, since the editors and the readers of this site are already interested in video games, it generally doesn't take a lot for us to have a good time with a game. As such, it's clear to see why this system got established in the first place, but it has some unintended consequences which constrict the freedom of the reviewer and potentially confuse the reader . I will discuss them now (bulletedlistchu: I choose you).
1. The middle ground is nearly non-existent.
Since the 8 and 9 range is used "to distinguish truly outstanding games from all the others", that puts the average "good" game in a bit of a fix. The series game player generally don't want to think they are spending time and money on games that are less than good. As such, reviewers are stuck having to label far too many games in the 6.5-7.5 range, which convolutes scores there. Having 5 as the average would allow two extra number for reviews to distribute their scores more evenly and thus have more distinguished levels of quality. This would also allow games that fall into the 6 range but may be worth playing to be looked at more seriously by gamers as they would still be considered above average.
2. The current system is a waste of resources.
As of now, there are only about 20 different scores that the reviewers can assign to a game, and though this may seem like a lot, it's important to acknowledge that the majority of these are used only for games you're probably not interested in in the first place. Take a look at my super scientific chart.
Crummy paint drawing aside, it's important to know that right now, there are significantly more options of scores for games that you probably will not want to buy, than those that you actually need to make a decision about. Ask yourself this: what do you care more about: whether a game gets an 8 or 9, or whether it gets a 1,2,3, or 4, my guess is the former. The proposed system would even this out and give the reviewers even more options for helping consumers make the right decision.
3. Editors choice would mean even more.
Both of these games received editors choice awards, but see if you can tell the key difference between them.
If you guessed "one is an innovative game that will remain a milestone in game history for years, the other one is a pretty fun shooter" give yourself a pat on the back.
The Liandri Conflict is certainly a solid game, but it doesn't come close to RE4 by any stretch of the imagination, yet their scores are only .6 apart. Under the proposed system, there would be more numbers to help differentiate games like these and reserve the hallowed editors choice for the games that are really special. Take the Internet movie database, there are only 3 movies there with a rating above 9, and very few with ratings above 8 all of which represent the pinnacle of filmmaking. On Gamespot, there are hundreds of games with scores above 9 and at least a thousand games with ratings above 8, and, to be blunt, it makes the game playing population appear naive.
4. 8 would no longer be considered a low score.
When Jeff Gerstmann was lampooned for giving Twilight Princess an 8.8, I knew there was a problem. Not because there was anything wrong with the review, but rather because 8.8 is (and should be viewed as) such a high score. To quote the review guidelines again (concerning games in the 8 range): "We highly recommend games in the upper half of this range, since they tend to be good enough to provide an enjoyable experience to fans of the particular genre and to new players alike."
When did "great" start to mean "not great".
However, it's not too hard to see where the criticism was coming from, after all, 8.8 is only 1.8 above the game being just good. However, in the same light, it's only 1.2 points away from the highest score it could possibly receive. under the proposed system, our companies profit margin would go up at least.... No wait, sorry, I mean under the proposed system, 8.8 would be significantly more than the average score and hopefully we could get the
term "great" to actually mean "great".
I believe that this is a far bigger issue than may seem apparent. Writing reviews for games is big business and Gamespot is one of the premier sites on the web. Now is their chance to lead by example and kick the quality of reviews up a notch. The change might seem a bit Jarring at first, but in the end, the editors and consumers would all be better off. Setting the average score to 5 just makes much more sense in every way than the current system.
So, what do you guys think? As usual, I'd love to hear what you think of the proposed plan, and if you think it's a terrible idea, that's great too, just make sure you explain why you think that. I'd especially like to hear one of the editor's stance on the issue.
So comment and disscuss and maybe we can triumph for the well being of all our time and wallets.