Do product reviews need a review score?

zelda breath of the wild

Credit: Nintendo

When a new product or software is released, millions of people flock to the internet to see if it’s worth a purchase. In fact, there aren’t many people who don’t do this nowadays, with YouTube and Amazon being the biggest influencers by far. So, what is the problem with this? Well, depends on who you ask.

I’ve been writing reviews of products for nearly 10 years now. I have my own opinions on the matter, but I set out to find out what different parts of the industry believe since the world doesn’t revolve around me. I started by asking the following questions to a couple of individuals with experience in the gaming industry:

  • What’s your opinion on review scores?
  • Are they necessary?
  • Do they help the viewer?
  • Does it complicate things?
  • Do you usually pull a review score out of the air?
  • Why are they important?
  • How do they help a review?

The responses were quite interesting.

“I’m not sure if there’s a more polarizing topic in video games… second only to perhaps the tired console war arguments,” said Charles Adiukwu, Chief & Co-Founder of TheGameFanatics.com. “I think review scores are important because we (humans) look for patterns and quantifiable metrics by nature. So, review scores help serve as a container for the sometimes-messy process of formulating opinions based on an experience. I’ve kind of gone back and forth myself on whether or not to have review scores, and I just keep coming back to that.”

“I think for review scores to work, you need a standard,” Adiukwu added. “Every outlet that reviews games with a rating should spell out their rationale; it helps readers and reviewers as well. Since review scores are based on opinions, it’s good to have a sort of compass letting you know what’s weighed and what the criteria are. At least, that’s how I look at it. Reviews have to have some sort of substance.”

This indifference is what I see commonly debated behind the scenes. Many people don’t have a firm answer. These responses continued from another source.

“So, personally I don’t put a lot of stock into review scores when it comes to games I buy or enjoy,” said Matt Crane, a graphic designer. “There are tons of games with awesome scores out there that just aren’t for me. For example, I’ve never been able to get into Zelda games. Not sure why, but they’ve just never clicked with me. They have great scores, but they’re just not my kind of game. On the other hand, I love Monster Hunter, and historically those games aren’t getting as high praise or review scores as Zelda games, but that doesn’t matter to me, because I love Monster Hunter games.”

“Having said that, I think it is helpful for game critics & reviewers to have some type of score attached to a game,” Crane continued. “I think it helps keep reviewers honest to some degree if they must provide a score. That way it becomes easier to see what their biases are for players. Some sites may be really high on Nintendo stuff and always giving it higher scores than other sites, and I think there’s value in having some kind of quantifiable score there to demonstrate that bias. However, I’ve also seen sites that do a simple ‘should you play this, yes or no?’ They’ll list the pros and cons of each game. I think that’s also a pretty cool idea, and I imagine it simplifies the review process a lot.”

Meanwhile, I did find some that had a definitive answer.

“My opinion on review scores are that they are invalid because everyone has a different play style, gaming history and Socioeconomic background,” said Sam Castanon, Industry Insider & PlayStation Reality TV Star. “Giving a product a review score is giving predetermined bias that can hinder how a game is viewed positively or negatively. This does not give a title a chance to be taken in by a large population and get an organic view of it.”

“Review scores are largely unnecessary for many reasons. For example, Metacritic is an aggregation website that rounds up review scores for various types of media, including video games,” Castanon elaborated. “Metacritic take those scores, converts them to a 100-point scale, averages them out to a ‘Metascore,’ meant to grade the quality of that game. The Metascore for God of War, for example, is currently a 94 and Murdered: Soul Suspect is 59. Both games are amazing but to people who work in gaming, these Metascores can mean a lot.”

Castanon continued, “So now you’re a developer who needs funding. You want to pitch to publishers. They’re going to ask: Just how good have your games been? (Enter the reviews which are not usually indicative of the total scope of a game.)”

This is a very fair point. Many people forget the importance of reviews in the business sense. Developers and publishers feed off these. I can’t tell you if I’ve seen a commercial for a game or movie that didn’t post the review scores for everyone to see. It’s just good for sales and business if everyone is giving you positive scores.

Sam goes on to say, “I believe these scores don’t help the viewer at all, these are primarily for a general audience or soccer moms trying to validate a purchase for her child who has no clue about gaming. These scores complicate things in the way that a lot of reviews can be biased due to previous reviews not holding up positive or negative and people that are incentivized for favorable outcomes, thus altering the overall review.

I never pull a review out the air, that would be a massive violation of the trust anyone has ever given to you when asking your opinion. In reality, these scores are not important. They only serve to create a prediction of what this title could be. Reviews can easily be outdone by the ‘Free Demo’ or anything that allows access to the title for a limited amount of time prior to purchase. These scores do not help reviews. They reduce the quality of a game to little more than an arbitrary number. It limits the amount of language we use to discuss games while inhibiting the discussion of gaming as a whole.”

I asked several publishers for a response, but they all refused to comment. The likely reason being that the answer would be very business minded and not consumer focused. I’ve had my share of run-ins with upset publishers because of a bad score. The reality is, they only have a preference for them when they are high or perfect scores. It makes sense, which is why they weren’t so excited to comment.

I also posed the question to Twitter and Facebook. I wanted to see what the general public thought of this debate. The responses were a bit surprising. The Facebook poll showed that 69% of voters think review scores are absolutely necessary, while the other 31% said they were not since the information is already in the review. On Twitter, 45% voted that review scores were absolutely necessary. 35% voted the opposite, and 20% voted that it doesn’t make a difference.

What gives? Insiders tend to think that reviews are not necessary, but the gamers and public think otherwise. This is what one of the comments said about their decision from the Facebook poll:

“Yes. You can’t really gauge the person’s like for the game with a bunch of paragraphs. We need some sort of a meter to distinguish where our personal opinion lies with the completed product review.” – FB User

My personal belief is that reviewers spend so much time playing and preparing a review, just to have people skip to the score or only reference the score itself. Especially since not everyone that reviews a product is technically qualified or justified in their review. Take Amazon for example. Majority of review scores are between 3.5 and 4 stars. I don’t find that helpful. On another note, to the people who leave crap reviews, doom on you! If you ordered the wrong size shirt and they replaced it with the actual size you meant to order, don’t give them a 1 star.

YouTube reviews can definitely end up biased as well. Many companies will send the product for review, free of charge. Some feel obligated to provide a good review as to not upset the company, while others just want sponsorship or free stuff, so they give a biased review score. In the end, the content of the review is the most important. Quantitating something like that is difficult, especially when you give inconsistent scores to games. Looking at you, IGN.

I believe that the objective of a review should be to provide a realistic idea of what it’s like to actually own the product. It’s not a secret that people don’t agree all the time, so why should my opinion be yours? A good review will also detail why the reviewer thinks a certain way, as to help the reader understand that is just their preference. You can’t get all that from a score. Therefore, I think scoring a product is not helpful.

So now I ask you the same questions. Do product reviews need a review score or not? Hit us up on Twitter @NerdReactor, and thank you for your support.

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