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Flaw #2 with review scores: bashing

For the second entry in my series on why modern video game review scores are flawed, I’d like to discuss bashing.  The term “bashing,” as it is commonly used, refers to insults or other criticism levied against someone or something, often unnecessarily and/or inappropriately.  In the context of review scores, I consider bashing to be any deduction that is not the direct result of one or more of a game’s demerits.

There are two main types of bashing that affect review scores – sequel bashing and bashing for attention.  I’ll start with sequel bashing since it’s the more common offense, especially among the major review sites.  Sequel bashing affects all games that are not the first in their respective series.  Reviewers seem to feel that a sequel must completely blow away its predecessor if it is to receive a score at least as high as the predecessor’s.  Never mind that a sequel is fundamentally better than its predecessor – if it doesn’t reinvent or revolutionize every single aspect of the original game, it’s doomed to get a lower score simply because of this flawed interpretation of what a sequel should be.  Admittedly, there are some sequels that manage to muck things up (e.g., Devil May Cry 2, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Suikoden IV, etc.), but I do not deny that those games do deserve lower scores.  In general, however, if a sequel manages to improve upon its predecessor in several noteworthy ways, it deserves a higher score.

But what about series that go stale?  In other words, what can we say about sequels that are neither better nor worse than their predecessors?  I argue that there’s no reason to sequel bash these games either.  Sure, if a sequel suffers from outdated visuals or unimproved sound quality then it is entitled to a lower score because the standards for all games go up as time progresses, but if the core gameplay remains unchanged, there’s really no further reason to deduct from the score.  Consider the following remark from Matt Cassamassina’s review of Mario Party 8 on IGN:

In spite of our issues with the game, people who loved Mario Party 7 will probably enjoy Mario Party 8, too, but we’ve chosen not to reward Nintendo with an undeserved high score for a copy/paste sequel.

So scoring MP8 1.8/10 lower than MP7 is deserved for being of roughly the same caliber?  What if I’m new to the Mario Party series and I’m looking for somewhere to start?  Going by the review scores, I’ll probably gravitate away from MP8, even though it is referred to as a “copy/paste sequel” with no severe flaws that distinguish it from the other Mario Party games.  That’s not right.

The other main type of bashing is bashing for attention, and while this is less common than sequel bashing, it is still a problem.  Bashing for attention occurs when one reviewer takes issue with a game that is consistently well received by other reviewers, and that reviewer gives the game an undeservedly low score in order to set his or her review apart from the others.  See if you can find the reviewers guilty of bashing for attention in the following examples:

Example #1, Example #2, Example #3

I’m not saying that a reviewer cannot find fault with a game unless the other reviewers also find the same fault, but you must really be missing something if your score for a game is 40-50% lower than everyone else’s.  Even though reviews are subjective by nature, there still must be an objective component to accurately weight the merits and demerits of the game.  Otherwise, cheap tactics like bashing for attention only serve to undermine the regard given to review scores.

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Get cash back when you shop online with Big Crumbs!

When I first heard about Big Crumbs, I thought it was just another one of those referral programs where you have to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to claim meager cash rebates.  After I read the fine print, though, I realized it was something different, something better.  All you have to do is navigate to your favorite online retailer through their site and shop as usual, and you’ll get credited with cash back that you can collect every month.  There’s no spam, no credit card required, no surveys or offers to complete, and no minimum payout.  Just join, shop, and save – it’s that easy!

Do you ever buy anything off eBay?  With Big Crumbs, you can get cash back on all of your eBay purchases (and Half purchases as well).  Buying video games or electronics?  Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys R Us, Target, Walmart, and even GameStop (through Barnes & Noble’s website) all offer around 3% back on your purchases.  How about a new computer?  Get cash back when you shop at Apple, Dell, Newegg, and others.  Other game-related sites include CompUSA, KB Toys, Blockbuster, Gamefly, PopCap Games, and Yahoo! Games, and some non-gaming sites include Gap, Old Navy, Office Max, Priceline, and Travelocity.

If you have friends or family who shop online, you can earn money on their purchases as well by referring them.  You typically get about 11% of whatever they earn, so for every $9 they get, you’ll get an extra $1.  It’s a win-win proposition for all parties involved, so I strongly encourage everyone to join.  If you feel like checking Big Crumbs out, you can click either the image at the top of this post or the link in the right-hand column of the blog.

Collector’s tip: removing price stickers

I cringe every time I see a game in someone’s collection with the price sticker still attached.  Why do I hate price stickers so much?  Because they’re ugly, they indicate that the game was bought used (or “gutted”), and they serve no real purpose.  If you’re reading this and you still have price stickers on any of your games, PEEL THEM OFF NOW!  You don’t leave price tags on other things in your home, do you?  (At least I hope not.)

The easiest way to remove most stickers is to use a fingernail to lift a corner and then peel the sticker slowly off.  (Be careful – if you dig too hard with your fingernail, you could put a dent in the dust jacket.)  If one corner doesn’t work, try a different one.  For some of the more stubborn labels, the use of a blow dryer to warm the adhesive can sometimes help.

If the label leaves any sticky residue behind, there are two main courses of action you can take.  The first is to get an inch or two of masking tape and use that to try and peel off the residue.  This works about half of the time and has the benefit of being quick and easy.  If the residue still refuses to come off, however, you should consider using Goo Gone or some other specialty cleaning solution.  Apply a little with a soft cloth and it should do the trick.

Flaw #1 with review scores: the 10-point scale

This entry is the first in a series I plan to write about why modern video game review scores are flawed.  One of the first steps in deciding whether or not to purchase a game is to read the reviews, and review scores are meant to provide at a glance what each reviewer thought of the game.  Converting paragraphs of text into a single numerical score, however, isn’t exactly a smooth process, and crucial information can be lost in translation.  But what good is a score if it does not accurately reflect the reviewer’s opinion?  In this post, I show why using a 10-point scale to review games is a bad idea.

The most critical problem with the 10-point scale is that the meaning of the middle scores is not well defined and not consistent from reviewer to reviewer.  It can generally be agreed that a game receiving a score of 9 or 10 is exceptional, and a game receiving a 0 or 1 (depending on how low the review scale goes, which also varies with the reviewer) is terrible.  But what can we say about a game that gets a 7?  Is a game considered average or below average if it gets a 5?  Admittedly, some reviewers and review sites do attempt to explain what their scores mean, but it would be nice to see a universal review scale so that such explanations would be unnecessary.

Another issue concerns the granularity of the scale, or how finely the scale is divided.  For example, a 10-point scale with granularity 0.5 allows scores of 0.0, 0.5, 1.0, and so on, all the way up to 10.0.  If a scale has too little granularity, then the review score has little meaning since two games could get the same score even if, comparatively, one is noticeably better than the other.  On the other hand, too much granularity goes beyond the realm of human discernment – is a game that earns a 6.3 really any better than a game earning a 6.2?  There’s also the problem of having constant granularity along the entire scale.  We may care whether a game earns an 8 or a 9, but we’d probably care a lot less whether a different game earns a 2 or a 3.

Given these points, I would argue that a traditional letter grading system would be best, provided that the reviewer uses a different mindset when assigning a grade and does not equate the letter grades with numbers.  Everyone can intuit that A = superb, B = good, C = average, D = below average, and F = failing, and with the addition of +’s and -‘s, the granulation is ideal.  I’ve noticed that EGM magazine and 1up.com have switched to a letter-grade review system, which is a good start.  Gamespot also revamped its review system not too long ago, and their review scale now has granularity 0.5 (as opposed to 0.1).  These are all changes for the better, and it would be great if other reviewers followed suit.

Welcome to VGK!

Hello, and welcome to the blog!  I thought it would be a good idea for my first post to give a sense of what can be expected in future postings, so here’s a brief, non-exhaustive list of some of the topics I intend to cover:

  • Collection building:  build up a nice video game collection without going broke
  • Game choice:  know how to pick the games that you’ll enjoy and avoid the crap
  • Value preservation:  get the most for your games if and when you decide to sell or trade them away
  • Investment opportunities:  understand the video game market and learn how you can actually make money

In addition, I’ll include the occasional sale or news item, but most of my posts will hopefully contain information that’s useful for years to come.  If there’s something in particular you’d like me to cover, please feel free to leave a comment.