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The Banishment Of Review Scores

4 out of 5

Those who frequent this site regularly may have noticed that my review of Grim Fandango Remastered didn’t include a score at the end of it. Now, I’ve done the occasional review before with no score attached to it for various reasons, usually mentioned in the article itself, but the Grim Fandango Remastered review marks something special; the end of review scores on wolfsgamingblog.com.

It has been a long time coming, the culmination of many raging arguments with…well, myself, and by happy coincidence has happened just as Eurogamer has abandoned scores as well, somehow making me feel strangely validated. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been somewhat loathed to get rid of scores, because I like them. I grew up reading reviews that contained a number at the end, and have always liked the idea of the symbiotic relationship between text and number, the idea that they must justify each others existence in order to justify their own existence.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with the realities of videogames today. We live in an age where games are launched broken, or are updated constantly after release, making their initial form very different from what they’ll be months away. It has become difficult to score games that are maybe fantastic but let down by server problems or games that should be brilliant but have some crippling issues which should be fixed soonish. A good example might be Dying Light, which I love but would struggle to recommend because it has horrendous problems with AMD processors. How do I score that? And as soon as the problems are fixed, assuming Techland get their crap together, wouldn’t the score become irrelevant while the text would at least remain mostly relevent? How do I try to score a game with stunning multiplayer but a weak singleplayer, or vice versa?  There’s so many variables these days that trying to assign a score has become increasingly difficult. It becomes an agonising decision, and there’s only been a few times when I’ve not immediately began second-guessing a score once the review has been published.

This has been coupled with irritating trends like embargoes that don’t lift until launch day and review code that doesn’t arrive until a mere few days before publishers expect reviews to go live, placing pressure on the writers of larger sites where the audience demands a review upon launch. Thankfully as an independent site I’ve always been able to maintain that a review will be done when it’s done, and not when an embargo dictates. I’ve had many games before launch, but missed their embargo because I felt that I just wasn’t able to do justice to the limited audience I have. Having to assign a score to the text, while something I still enjoy, has become harder though this process.. I’ve spent far too much time debating with myself over a mere 0.5 in a score.

Going forward, then, my reviews won’t include scores. I may yet implement something else, such as Eurogamer’s new system of giving games recommendations and avoid stickers, but no decision has been made yet. Nor do I entirely rule out a return to scoring my reviews, as I already miss them to an extent and will have to gauge the reaction of you guys. If nothing else this move will also hopefully force me to write better and more accurate reviews which really convey what a game is about and whether I believe it to be worth your time. That’s ultimately always the aim; to be better.

And of course this decision is also largely because of you guys, the readers. There’s been a greater and greater number of people over the years across the Internet calling for the abolishment of review scores. I’ve held on because of my preference for scores, but now seemed like the right time to make the change and see how it goes.

So what does this mean for the actual site? Well, the biggest thing is that having no review scores precludes the possibility of being featured on Metacritic, which would obviously be a massive boon for my site in terms of pure traffic. Having spent a lot of my life writing on here for the past few years part of me would love to finally hit it big and get on the map, and in some ways I’ve been closing to getting on Metacritic for a little while now, but there’s vitally more important points; I love every person who reads this site and would much rather have a small but dedicated audience than a large but mostly oblivious one. And secondly, Metacritic causes a lot of turmoil within the videogame industry, its aggregated scores resulting in idiotic contracts. I’d rather not contribute to that.

The trickier problem is one of publishers, who really love the idea of review scores as it provides quick and tangible feedback they can hand over to their bosses. As a small site I work quite hard to get PR companies to pay attention to me and thus get the review code needed to fuel the site, games that I otherwise couldn’t afford. Cutting out review scores may make it more difficult to acquire review code, and truthfully if things become too difficult then I may reinstate scoring. I know that makes it sound like I exist and write only at the behest of publishers, but the simple fact is that without review code I’d barely be able to do a review or two a month due to incredibly limited funds, especially the big triple-A titles that £40 price tags.

I’ve never had what one might call an official review policy here, but it seems I need to get one clearly written up. But for now, here’s some general guidelines, some obvious and barely needing said, others not so much:

– I don’t play any titles that pertain to a genre have I no interest in or actively dislike, such as many sport related titles. Football is a prime example; don’t like the sport, and ergo won’t review the games.

– I attempt to enter each game with no set expectations or hype so as to be able to better review the game for what it is, rather than that people expect it to be, which brings us to the next point.

– I attempt to review games for what they are, not what they were marketed as.

– I endeavour to be fair in my assessment, but also hold that all reviews are subjective.

– I will not review any game which I deem to contain a significant focus on multiplayer until it can be tested in a public environment. This is largely due to my experience with Battlefield 4, where the game was sublime before launch, but was horrendous once in the hands of the public. I felt horrible as I felt I had misled anyone reading my review. Games that I would deem to contain a significant emphasis on multiplayer would include things like the Battlefield and Call of Duty series, for example. In such cases I will likely publish a review of the singleplayer before launch, and then add my thoughts on multiplayer afterwards.

– I will attempt to play each game until it is finished, however I do not promise that this will always be the case. Some games are too damn big, like Skyrim, to play in their entirety, or there may even be other reasons, such as copious amounts of side-quests. However, I will always complete the primary story/campaign, sink many hours into any multiplayer and attempt to tackle what I view to be a fair amount of side-quests/missions etc. And yes, this does mean I’ll play even the worst games until the credit roll, unless they are truly bloody awful, like Guise of the Wolf.

– I will not rush a review. This has actually gotten me in trouble with a few publishers before, but even if I have the game before launch I will not rush a review simply for it to be ready on launch day to garner more views. My review will take as long as I feel it needs to in order to talk effectively about the game in question, and if that means a post-launch review, so be it.

– Games are only comparable to other games within their own genre, and that genre also determines how I approach a game. Despite seeming to be similar in many regards, for example, a third-person shooter has different needs than a first-person shooter.

– Likewise the standards I hold a game to are defined by other offerings in that particular genre, and nothing else.

So there we have it; review scores are gone, banished to some netherealm, the one reserved for people who talk in the cinema and such. To you guys this move probably doesn’t mean very much and isn’t a big deal, because I like to think you all read the reviews and didn’t just skip to the score, but to me this is a nerve-wracking time. I strive to be the best critic I can be, and hope that this move will further that goal.

Anyway, take care,

Baden

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