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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

Game reviews and the futility of ratings

Posted by Quizzical Friday January 2 2009 at 4:21AM
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Suppose that I tell you that I’ve played some particular game, and I rate it a 9 out of 10. How much information does that give you? Does it tell you anything about whether you would like the game? If you’re already familiar with the game, it tells you something about the sort of games that I like, but then you don’t need a review to tell you if you like a game you’ve already played. Besides, there’s no real reason why you should care what sort of games I like. If you’re not familiar with the game, my rating doesn’t even tell you that much.

A mere numerical rating as a way to express my opinion on a game simply doesn’t give you any useful information. So what about game ratings that feature an average of the opinions of many players, as this site does? Those don’t tell you the opinions of an average gamer. They tell you mainly which game has people the most motivated to come to this site and rate that particular game highly.

That can be a case of a lot of people liking a game. It can also be a case of a game company encouraging people to come to this particular site to rate their game highly, and perhaps even offering some in-game rewards for those who do (or claim to have done so). Indeed, that is the main point of the rating system here and on some other sites: to get free advertising for the site from various game companies.

The uselessness of ratings still applies if I’m a professional game reviewer. That’s not to say that game reviews are useless, but only that a rating isn’t a useful part of the review. If I tell you that a game has a brief free trial, followed by a monthly fee, but no item mall, that gives you useful information. It’s also useful if I tell you that a game is extensively instanced. The same applies if I tell you that all content assumes that the player has a group, and is undoable solo. Or if I explain that the combat proceeds at a slow pace, with extensive strategy involved, and outline how it works.

All of those descriptions simultaneously tell some players that the game might interest them, and other players that they should move on and look elsewhere, because they won’t like the particular game I’m reviewing. Sticking a number on a game can’t do that. Indeed, it is essential that a review tell at least some players that they won’t like the game, because it simply isn’t possible to make a single game that everyone will like. Different players have too divergent of tastes.

The best reviews are written by players who have played a game for months. They can highlight the various features that make a game unique. They can lay out how a game changes as you become higher level, and how the endgame works in practice. They can tell you how the player density varies from one area to another, how hard it is to find some semblance of balanced pvp, and how often you’ll have to resort to purely grinding in order to level. That is, they can tell you how the game actually works in practice, and not merely how the developers intended that the game eventually play.

More pointedly, a professional game reviewer cannot do this. They simply don’t play the game long enough to have the necessary perspective before they have to file a review and move on to the next game. That’s why professional game reviewers spill so much ink fawning over a game’s graphics and sound. You don’t need a month to tell if a game’s graphics look sharp. You don’t even need an hour. Much can be said about a game’s graphics simply by looking at screenshots.

In order to know how a game experience will change over the course of several months, you have to play the game for several months. Indeed, no one has the proper perspective until a game has been out for a good while. By then, many players will have already tried or rejected a game, and a subsequent review will be too late.

(Note: The above blog post is rated 8/10 by the Association of People Who Give Pointless Ratings to Blog Posts.)
 

hidden1 writes:

Pros and Cons would work for me

Fri Jan 02 2009 11:33AM Report
Balkin31 writes:

The rating system depends heavily on who, what and where the rating is coming from. If you have no respect for the source then the system means nothing to you!

Fri Jan 02 2009 12:34PM Report
sanders01 writes:

 Ratings are heavily biased one way or the other. If your a current player of a cerntain MMO your going to think its better than one someon else plays and reviews a 10/10. The only good view is like hidden1 said, pros and cons, no biased anwsers there, just pure features that work currently in the game, of course you could put stuff about the community of the game etc and still have biasim in there, but all in all, Pros and Cons would be better.

P.S. When someone says a game you think is "bad" is "good", it doesnt mean they're getting paid by the game company to say that, hell most of them aren't.

Fri Jan 02 2009 12:44PM Report
axlezero writes:

Personally I don't bother with reviews on mmos anymore.  Most games that are well liked are mainstream trash in my opinion.  Meaning that they usually aren't very innovative, they just appeal to a certain group of people, and this is no offense to any teenagers, but it seems like a lot of games cater more to that age group, and even preteen, so the challenge is removed and they make them a much more fast paced game, instead of forcing them to actually utilize the majority of the game's content.

Personally I'll try a game out with beta (or trials if I can't make it into beta) and decide on my own, I've even played some f2p games, (which i generally try to avoid) that had super low ratings, but were in actuality quite fun to play. Eudemons being one of them.  Point being, just like movies, I ignore the hype and make my own judgment.

I also agree that people that are giving reviews should keep their opinions out of them, and stick to the pros anc cons like stated above.

Fri Jan 02 2009 4:38PM Report
Quizzical writes:

The problem with pros and cons is that what to one person is the best thing about a game could to another person be completely game-breaking.  See, for example, the fourth paragraph in my post.  Any of those items could be listed as a pro or a con. 

Fri Jan 02 2009 5:30PM Report
sanders01 writes:

It still lists them, so you can see them straight for what they are, not clouded with nonsense about how much it sucks or rocks. If you see it as a con and its a pro, you know your not going to get the game :) 

Fri Jan 02 2009 6:44PM Report
ghstwolf writes:

I'd like to read a review that focused more on actual game play.  Not a rating of it so much as a representation of it.  For example Combat could be rated on Pacing (is it a 3 second fight or a 15 minute fight), Complexity (stand and mash 1-2 buttons or something that makes brain surgery sound easy), and such with an overall rating for how well it comes together.  There would be several different headings.

While the overall would still be subjective, the individual headings under them could have fairly strict guidelines making them nearly empirical.  If I were to do it, I'd ignore graphics/sound which are so overcovered it would be totally worthless to say it again.

Fri Jan 02 2009 9:18PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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