The Relevance of Review Scores

By Chris Furness on at

Back in September, Gamespot published a review that unleashed hell. It was written by Carolyn Petit, who awarded Grand Theft Auto V a score of 9/10 but cited muddled politics and "profound misogyny" as negatives. Fair warning: the comments on that review are among the worst I've ever seen or heard. Interestingly, the readers were so vehemently upset over what was actually a very generous 9/10 score.

I'm not going to get into the female-representation-in-games debate, mostly because that would require its own article but also because as a straight, white male, I'm not sure how much weight my opinion really has. However, I have thought about this incident a lot since it occurred, and have come to two conclusions. First and strong contender for understatement of the year: not everyone agrees the game should be marked down for Carolyn's opined negatives.

Yes, I know, so far so obvious, but this highlights my second conclusion: the score is completely redundant.

What does 9/10 mean to you? Great? Amazing? To me, 9/10 means almost perfect. There may be some slight niggles that briefly detract from the enjoyment but never to a considerable extent. The product will be worth your time and money. I happen to agree that Grand Theft Auto V sits somewhere around this mark. Now let's take someone whose enjoyment of the game is greatly diminished as a result of the constant misogyny. The content of the review might resonate in the same way, but the score means nothing to this person because it's not relevant to them. Perhaps they feel this is a score for somebody else or that their opinion is very personal and others may not feel the same way. Except everyone has very personal opinions and it's impossible to give a score that everyone will agree with.

Regardless of how you feel about GTA V, changing the Apple logo to a bowl of fruit with a suggestive arrangement is absolute genius.

The truth is, the score is there simply because it's expected to be there. Somewhere in the past 100 years we've developed a compulsion to score everything in our lives. Tech, films, albums, restaurants, etc, all get some form of framework to measure success, usually in the form of stars, marks-out-of-10 or a percentage. Polygon's reviews of both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are the best examples I can think of to highlight the ridiculousness of scores. One got 75 per cent and one got 80 per cent. Which one got which? Who cares! That's a 5 per cent difference! Is one 5 per cent more fun than the other? What feature could it have that the other doesn't, to make it exactly 5 per cent better?

While we're on the subject of next-gen consoles, they've also highlighted another issue. Metacritic is a website that aggregates review scores from various different sources into a score out of 100. It's not a straight average, as some sources are given more "weight" than others, but it's as close enough to make little difference. Call of Duty: Ghosts, a game derided for being the exact same game every year, received 66 on PC, 71 on PS3 and 79 on PS4, with a similar discrepancy on the Xbox family. What the scores don't tell you is that the PS4 is arguably the version with the most problems at the moment, due to frame rate issues. All this does is emphasise that the numbers are completely arbitrary and mean absolutely nothing out of context.

Q: What platform was this shot taken on? A: It really doesn't matter. Image Credit: CVG

I'm not saying that reviews should go away; I love reading, or increasingly watching, reviews. It's important to see different perspectives on why some people prefer one product to another in order to make an informed opinion on purchase, especially when the product costs a significant amount. The last three phones I've owned (Sony Xperia X1, HTC Desire and the Samsung Galaxy S3) were bought on the recommendation of our sister website, TechRadar. All of these phones received between 4.5 and 5 stars, but so have hundreds of others. It's only after reading the review and comparing the features that I came to the correct conclusion. (Yes, that's right Apple lovers, the correct conclusion). The scores didn't come into the decision making process beyond whittling it down to a select few.

There are alternatives, and both Kotaku and Giz have switched over from score-based systems and now summarise our reviews with a question that cuts straight to the chase: Should you buy it? Do we think this product is worth your time and money? Often the answer is along the lines of "yes, for these reasons, however please do consider these negatives." Job done. It flows with the content and you can check the basic opinion at a glance if you don't have time to read the full review, but intend to at some point.

I would love to know what you think about this change because I believe it makes so much more sense. I'm also curious to see what your thoughts are on review scores in general. Some of you may feel compelled to mark this article out of 10. Feel free, but know that I'm giving you a disapproving look. A very disapproving look.

Image Credit: Stars from Shutterstock