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Why Quantifiable Ratings Are Flawed

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What does a five-star rating on a game mean? What’s the difference between that and four and a half stars? How about an 8.7 versus an 8.5? How big of a difference do they make to you when determining the worth of a game?

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. We’re looking forward to a game, or just browsing IGN, or watching X-Play on G4, and half the review is flaming the game, and it will get five stars, or 9.7/10. When a review states that the story is almost non-functional and boring to the scenario, and that the combat was off-putting, I don’t expect to see a high rating. Graphics should not be what saves a game.

Numbers need rules and real math. Using a numerical rating system, while it works in the Olympics with very set guidelines as to what constitutes a point, or loss of a point, makes sense. In looking at video games with virtually no set rules for what constitutes points just means that the rating system is inherently flawed. Some pros or cons will be deal breakers for some people. Maybe the story is such that it’s Ulysses, Citizen Kane, and The Man From Earth rolled into one beautiful video game narrative, but if the polygon count us such that only a mother could love it, then people might not want to buy the game, yet others might for the storytelling.

An older franchise is almost guaranteed a high score. You can bet that the next Mario, Zelda, Call of Duty or Final Fantasy game won’t dip below four stars or an 8.5/10. I recently started playing Final Fantasy XIII and found that while most professional critics gave it high numerical valued scores, they mentioned flaws in the game that most likely wouldn’t be tolerated if there wasn’t a chocobo present. It’s pretty much an okay and passable game, but it’s far from comparable to some of the other great RPGs that came out last year.

The scales are skewed. Why is it that a game rated 7/10 is average and most likely considered terrible, while a game rated 8/10 is suddenly leaps and bounds better? A 5/10 game is considered almost unplayable. The same is pretty much for rating systems that use stars and half stars. A half a star is a 1/10, one star a 2/10, etc. It’s dressed a little differently, but it is in effect the same. Shouldn’t an average game be a 5/10, an almost unplayable game a 2/10 or worse, and shouldn’t there be a battle for a 9/10 to the point where they are reserved for only the best of games?

A new review system needs to be created. If reviews are to be written in a quantifiable form, there needs to be a sheet of standardized negative point values +/- a small grace point bonus if a flaw can be overlooked, or something is done well enough to garner better ratings. Is the frame rate terrible? Drop the rating by 0.2. Does it make up for it with a new, innovative combat system? Increase the rating by 0.1.

Reviews need to be clear about author opinions. Perhaps it is time to stop quantifying our opinions of games. Perhaps it is time we start looking at suggested actions. For example, a scale of “Do not buy”, “Rent”, “Buy”, or “You have to buy this or else you will be socially ostracized for the rest of your life and never find true happiness”. You get the point. It’s hard to be vague about saying “buy this game” or “if you buy this game you will be supporting evil in the video game industry and should destroy your system as a penance to the gods of gaming”. They’re pretty clear suggestions.

In the end, anyone reading a review should take into mind the personality of the reviewer and not hold too much value in what other people say. It would pay off to find a specific writer who happens to share the same taste as you and determine individually if a game sounds like it’s your cup of tea.

Seriously, though. Can you believe Final Fantasy 13 got an 8.9/10 and editor’s choice on IGN?

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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