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.)