Friday, August 20, 2010

so, is 74% good?

First read this

It's an article about Metacritic and Rottentomatoes and how their "every review mixed together" score, while a good idea in theory, is really fudged up by them. It shows how if youre planning on seeing a movie or buying a game, you should try individual reviews instead. It's a related topic to what's below, but not directly. OK now the real article.
I don't read game reviews as often as I used to, or maybe as often as I should given the amount of credit I give myself as a gamer. Games are my "thing" and have been for a long time. Video game reviews have gone through varying degrees of influence on my purchases. There were times when I didn't know that things like that were available to me, and I would buy a game based on license or experience from someone else's copy. Then there were times when I wouldn't buy any game without a good review. As the internet started to mature, more and more videogame webpages came around, each with their own method of scoring games.
Gamespot and IGN uses a 10-point scale, Gamespy and XPLAY use 5 stars, and Rottentomatoes uses 100%.

For the most part, it's pretty easy to get a fairly good idea of what a critic thinks of a game based on these systems. After all, these usually come with a lengthy text review which outlines what quantified that score. If a game got 80%, I can usually guess that it's a good game, and if I've had my eye on it it's probably a safe purchase. But what about when a game scores something like 6/10, and I actually liked it? How am I supposed to know that if I read reviews and am steered away from it? Remember Lifeline? That usually got 6/10 and I liked it just fine. For the most part, I ignored reviews and went ahead with a game I was interested in. Something I've learned after reading a lot of reviews is that it's really hard to actually quantify a game's quality in numbers. Heck, this goes for just about anything in terms of consumer entertainment (think movies, music). If you actually can break down something like music into a number, then it's a science that we probably are largely incapable of. If I really had to guess, I'd actually say that the experiences are just waaaaay too subjective, and that something's level of "goodness" is really just dependent on who is watching/playing/listening to it. You have to find what works for you, I think. Art appreciation changes a lot over time (think of the stereotypical artist not appreciated in his time), and my guess is that nobody's right.

Getting back on topic, look at the 10 point or 100 point scales. Most of their range is useless. Games are a kind of medium where measuring from 0-5 only indicates how bad something is. This end of the scale is useless because nobody's going to buy a game that scores 1, 2, 3, or 4. If something scores a 5, it's usually not enjoyable, period, and the scale means the same thing from then on. A score of 3 or 5 is equally useful is what I'm saying, so there's no reason to use a 10-point scale if half of it does nothing. And when it comes to 100%, what's the difference between a 78% game and a 79% game? This scale offers a little too much resolution, which probably causes a lot of reviewers to decide that a game is "definitely above 70 but below 80" and then they just kind of ballpark the rest.

The 5-star scale is something that works a little better, and is something that's gained a lot of popularity. My understanding is that the 5 "stars" are the numbers 5-10. So 0 stars is a 5/10, 3 is a 8/10, etc. This is an okay system, but the main problem I have with it is that it is often looked at as 10-point, meaning 2 stars means 40% and 4 stars means 80. Hell, for all I know that's right. See? It's probably a better system, but it only uses an abstract concept and is difficult to grasp at first glance. I couldn't tell you how much a star is. When they start a publication, reviewers probably decide how theyll use it, but readers have no way of knowing.

I have saved my personal favorite scale for last. This is the scale that I believe has the most fidelity in communicating in a single character how "good" a piece of consumer media is. It is the academic A-F scale. It only covers the useful part of the 1-100 scale. If you've ever seen the numerical breakdown of grades, you know that "pass" starts at 60, which is ideal for measuring something in a case where only "not sucky and up" is useful. It does not have the unnecessary resolution of 100 points, and is something people are introduced to at age 5. This is the scale used by GameRevolution (see link), a site that I think has some of the best critics.
If you read a review, it's probably best to take it with a grain of salt, especially if you're the kind of guy (I know I am sometimes) who only looks at the score. The best thing you can do is probably just try the game yourself if you can. If you can't, try to find an academic scale critic, and if you can't at least check different sites.. I give this article 7 bananas.

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