How game scores can be wrong

Brice Morrison has published an interesting article about how Metacritic, while being fairly reliable for traditional videogames, seems to be consistently wrong about Nintendo games. Wrong in the sense that the professional criticism does not correlate with the audience appreciation.

The reason for this, as he points out, is that Nintendo is adding two values to their games that are simply not being evaluated by the games press, illustrated by the reviewer’s recurring apology/warning that “this is not a game!” Traditional game reviews look at a combination of aesthetics, design and length. But Nintendo adds to these accessability and peripheral benefit (i.e. the value of the product beyond its entertainment value). And it is exactly these two values that attract new customers to Nintendo’s products, which, as we know, has been the key to success.

This is something that has been a concern of ours ever since we’re on the path (pun intended) towards publishing a commercial game. While our games are nothing like Nintendo’s, we also lean heavily towards exactly the same values that their games add to the mix. We also want our work to be accessible: there is no competition in our games, no stress, no hard rules and the controls are easy. And we want to add “peripheral benefit” in the form of a meaningful artistic experience that we hope enriches the player’s life.

We already know that The Path is going to get low review scores. Simply because its main benefits fall outside of the range of things that game reviewers pay attention to, or can express in a score. We’ve been toying with the idea of asking the reviewers to simply give the game a score of zero. But I don’t know. It seems so arrogant. And I’m still hoping that some day, the games press will open up, or soften up. Perhaps Nintendo will come to the rescue.

14 thoughts on “How game scores can be wrong”

  1. As games evolve, so will the press. There’s allready specialist press popping up for those type of “casual” games that are more about the experience than the game (ie Wii Music). Furthermore the “hardcore gamepress” will want a piece of that big pie too so they’ll start adding a section for those crazy non-games 😉 and have an editor or freelancer who can put these media into perspective (just like it happened in the movie-press).

    Good news by the way, the gamepress is growing up. Experienced editors (mostly UK & US people atm) are starting to contemplate on their role in the gamesindustry and in publishing. A nice start! In the benelux things are moving a little too, mostly online on blogs. is a good example of a group blog that tries to bring a bit depth to it.

    All this will obviously not benefit The Path as these things tend to take time. Asking for a 0 might seem arrogant but you could run with that, make it viral and get the lowest metacritic score ever. Just be careful not to appear as the misunderstood artist but poke fun at it (a bit like the guys of penny arcade did: ) But who am I to offer advice on these matters, just some ramblings.

  2. You should seriously start thinking about a version of The Path controlled with Wii balance board.

  3. The problem with game scores is that a number cannot fully define what is good and what is not, especially with how today’s gaming community interrupts the scores. On a grade scale from 1-10, 5 should be considered “average”. However, most of the community considers a game that scores an 8 to be average, with anything below 8 being seen as being “horrible”.

    Trying to decide what score to give a game becomes a problem on it’s own. As the article states, most of Nintendo’s recently released games aren’t seen as being typical games (aka, games with fairly solid plots, complex gameplay mechanics, etc…They’re seen as quick, pick-up-and-play games that pass an hour.) While you can determine a score for a certain style of game, it conflicts with the scores of the other games in the market. A “casual” game on the Wii might score the same score as a “hardcore” game on some other system yet the community is easily going to see and becomes confused with how it’s possible for a simple game to be as good as a complex game.

    Then original titles just add to the confusion with scores. I remember reading an article when Mirror’s Edge came out where a game reviewer (I think for either IGN or 1up or something…) talked about the issue they had with rating the game. They said that gameplay wise, it was pretty choppy since you couldn’t exactly see everything around you and you were forced to run through levels without much time to think. The reviewer wanted to give the game an average for gameplay but then mentioned about how he wanted to be easy on it since it was an original game with a unique concept, leaving him unsure of what to do. Punish the game for its choppiness or praise it for at least trying to be different?

    I’ve done some reviewing for a few years now- nothing professional but still…I use to give games scores but for reasons like this, I started getting frustrated with it. I could never come up with a number (or letter if you want a grade scale) that summed up how I felt about a game. This eventually lead me to just drop a score all together, leaving my reviews with nothing but informative information on the game, my personal view, and what I thought was good and what was bad. I left the reader up to decide if it was good or not based on what I said; not what number I slapped on it.

    Even professional reviewers have grown to dislike the idea of a score. (Adam Sessler from G4’s X-Play recently had an online video blog about a similar topic a few days ago.) However, they have to follow the guidelines set by who they work for which requires them to have a score. At times, the score doesn’t even seem to match what the review has said. (I can recall a couple reviews I’ve read over time where the reviewer said nothing bad about a game but it got low scores…)

    Honestly, I think The Path is going to get mixed reviews. Based on what I’ve seen, more reviewers are opening up to original ideas more than they use to. I’m sure you’ll be surprised by what some people will say and think. I guess you’re on the right track down; set your standards low so even small accomplishments seem big. 😉

  4. To be fair, Mr. Morrison’s article does not read as a criticism of review scores as such. That’s an entirely different dicussion. In fact, he states that the average of all review scores seems to correlate with the sales of these games in most cases. He also seems to think that with the introduction of new values by Nintendo, the review systems will change and over time, the errors in Metacritic will be corrected.

    This doesn’t imply any judgment of scores in game reviews.

    My own confusion regarding the issue is exactly that correlation between scores and sales. I find it highly suspicious that games that get good reviews also sell well. This is actually very unusual. In most media, the opposite is true: bad movies and pulp fiction sell far better than critically acclaimed works. I think the correlation in videogames is in fact a sign of the immaturity of the medium, where the technical quality, the quality of the product as a consumer good, outweighs the artistic achievement.

  5. “bad movies and pulp fiction sell far better than critically acclaimed works”

    I don’t agree with that. Mediocre movies sometimes sell better than critically acclaimed works, but usually end up as TV specials to remind yourself: “hey, when i was a kid, I watched this!”

    Take a look at an all-time box office chart (at least in the US) that is adjusted for inflation. You’d be impressed by how well great films actually do. Adjusted for ticket infaltion, Gone With The Wind made over 1.4 billion USD. The Sound of Music, E.T. and Snow White are all on that list. Bad movies, for example, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Epic Movie, all bombed here, barely making the minuscule amount of money it cost to film them.

    Accessible films often do well in the current market, but they rarely have staying power. They just don’t stick in our minds like the greats do.

    That being said, I’ve probably logged hundreds of hours playing big brain academy with my girlfriend (on her DAD’s WII no less), and she enjoys it quite a bit. But not for any depth or artistic communique, but simply because she enjoys it and the community style of play it involves.

    Now, for example, myself, I’m terrible at tasting wines. I can only handle really fruity ones, the rest taste like burning formaldehyde to me. I don’t think I have good taste in wine, I know I don’t, but that doesn’t make me think that good wine is not in some way better, just not accessible to me. I’m fully convinced that many people out there are the same way as me with wine. I think that there are others that are the same way I am with wine as with film or movies.

    I don’t think the system is “broken” when it comes to rating nintendo games. I think accessibility doesn’t make a great game. It’s nice (it means I can enjoy wine too!) but that doesn’t make it great by any stretch of the imagination.

    I think The Path will do better with reviews than you think anyway. Maybe it will get the kind of reviews Killer 7 (a game that will stay with me forever), did. Even hardcore gamers are bored with games now-a-days, not just yourself ;-).

  6. By the way, what’s wrong with pulp-fiction? It’s a democratic genre like the fable, and the fable is the most powerful of all genres!

  7. There’s nothing “wrong” with pulp fiction or movies like ET. They’re just not very good. And I don’t think my opinion is caused by malfunctioning taste buds. 😉

    Anyway, you could be right of course. That in the long run, Godard and Pasolini or even Almodovar and Hartley outsell The Matrix. I admit I haven’t done any research into this.

  8. The Matrix isn’t even one of the top 100 grossing films, quite fortunately. And, like M. Night Shyamalan, The Wachowski brothers have been exposed for what they are, with Speed Racer and what not. That movie was hardly watchable.

  9. sorry for another double post, but ET is also on the American Film Institutes list off top 100 films of the past 100 years, so it is highly critically acclaimed.

  10. I think you’re right that Nintendo’s newer stuff operates in a different circle to most mainstream videogames. I think you’re perhaps a little cynical to believe The Path will score universally badly. For starters, I think the sort of press who will pick up on it to any reasonable degree will be open-minded enough to evaluate it for what it achieves artistically, over and above what’s traditionally expected, for example.

    I’m sure you know people like – off the top of my head – John from Rock Paper Shotgun is likely to discuss The Path critically as a piece of art, rather than a traditional game. And, y’know, so will we, I’d imagine.

    (That said, there’s a fine line between a game scoring badly because it’s so far removed from expectations that it confuses people, or just being badly designed. Look at Pathologic. That’s a remarkably interesting and captivating game, but, confronted with the task of actually reviewing it and putting a number at the end, I had to settle for a six out of ten. Not because I was trying to assess it as a traditional videogame – in fact, I’d argue that it is, in every meaningful way – but because it suffered from nasty pacing issues that detracted from, rather than added to, the intensity of the atmosphere and storytelling. And because the translation is woeful, but that’s another issue.)

    If you asked me to set the score to zero, though (and I’d imagine it will be me who ends up writing the review), I’d probably give it 90-odd per cent just to be defiant. In the same way that the majority of the press resented Eidos’ requests to hold back sub-80 per cent scores of the new Tomb Raider. Telling critics what to say totally devalues their jobs – even if you’re telling them to be overly critical.

    I don’t know. I’d never even consider reviewing a game based on a set selection of aspects (gameplay, graphics, whatever), and I’ve always resented any time publications ask me to provide a score breakdown. It simply doesn’t work like that. Most critics have seen the light with that now, though, so I wouldn’t worry about The Path receiving unfairly low scores because of this. If a game does something for me, whatever that is, it’ll get a high score. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

  11. Well, I must admit that it is somewhat comfortable to feel misunderstood too. And it’s nice when the reasons are clear. And now you come messing up our beautiful house of cards! Don’t you know that our pride needs the games press to be stupid? 😉

    At least that way we can trust that whenever they call a game boring or too short or too easy or not worthy of the name game or when they give it a very low score, we should definitely look into it. It tends to be a clear indicator of a game that we might like. God forbid that game reviews become intelligent. Then we’ll need to develop a whole new method to assess them! 😉

  12. Reviewers should be clear to point out that the grade they give a game is how much they could apreciate it themselves and give some scale of how other people with different tastes or from different age groups would apreciate it.

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