Without Review Scores, Gaming Industry Will Suffer
It’s not that we disagree with the concept. There are compelling reasons to drop review scores from game reviews, as Joystiq recently did. Those reasons are worth considering, especially if we’re interested in changing how we view our entertainment (and how we consume it). On the other hand, reality dictates, not idealism. And reality clearly says one thing:
Ditching review scores would cause irreparable damage to the industry.
Simply, there’s a reason sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic got so huge and remain huge to this day. For the hundredth time, we remind everyone that they’re huge because consumers asked for these aggregate websites. This is not the “Metacritic” age in gaming and the site wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for gamers constantly being obsessed with scores. Perhaps the assumption is that gamers have changed and therefore, their obsession with review scores has changed. But it doesn’t seem that way. It’s the score, the numerical all-encompassig sum, that will get discussed endlessly online; not a bit of text. Sadly, that will never change.
The other erroneous assumption is that the majority of gamers are hardcore. Only the hardcore are going to read a dozen different reviews to figure out if they wish to purchase a game. Check any enthusiast forum or community online, and you’ll find dozens of gamers proclaiming their hatred of scores and how they “just read the review.” Well, this isn’t 1990. The overwhelming majority of consumers in this industry are considered casual by most analysts and economists. They will not read a bunch of reviews; gaming is not a primary concern for them. If they see a high score for something, they might pay attention and perhaps buy the game. If they see a wall of text, they’ve already lost interest.
The rallying cry of all digital editors right now is the same: Faster, zippier, punchier, etc. Top 10 lists are supplanting in-depth, well-researched articles. Embarrassingly stupid viral videos take precedence over witty little pieces of prose. The Internet serves the masses, not the elite educated few and as such, it continues to mold itself to millions who read less, not more. The idea that the Internet promotes reading is one of the biggest and most dangerous fallacies of our time. But you have to believe this if you think reviews without scores will actually have any impact on the community.
All journalists know from experience that readers online very often don’t go past the headline. Gamers are some of the worst offenders, too. Stand in a GameStop for a few hours and do a little research: See a person buying a game, ask them if they saw reviews for it, and if they did, ask them if they read each review in its entirety, or they only looked at the score(s). The idealists out there won’t want to learn the results. It’s the same in any entertainment industry that thrives on mainstream money; can anyone envision movies without the iconic star ratings? And are we really saying that such ratings have hurt the industry?
Perhaps they have. But regardless, removing them would be a serious problem. For instance, new IPs in the land of video games don’t have an established brand name. They really have to rely on critical reception, just so they’ll be noticed and gamers will pay attention. Can we really say Heavy Rain would’ve done so well if we hadn’t had review scores? Or what about numerous indie hits that might’ve gotten shuffled away without recognition? One could argue that they would’ve done just fine because gamers everywhere would’ve read the good reviews. You can choose to believe that if you like. We choose to live on this planet.
And lastly, speaking of brand-name recognition, what do you think will thrive in a world without scores to draw attention to new titles? As readers don’t have anything to quickly latch onto (an absolute necessity in the world of digital publication), they’ll latch onto brand-name recognition. The biggest franchises in the world will simply get even more attention, just because consumers are more likely to read a review of an IP they’ve heard of.
Sadly, the gaming community has not proven to be a community of readers. You can get away without numerical scores for book reviews but then again, those are for readers. And we’re not saying that gamers don’t read; we are saying that a great many have proven they really don’t want to read. We have countless examples over the years of those who only read headlines and only look at scores. Text is just not something that gets a lot of attention. And without that attention, interest, and as a direct results, overall sales, suffer.
Let’s face it: Many, if not most, gamers will not have reached the end of this article. They will have seen the headline and commented based on that, which of course proves our point.
Disclaimer: Whether review scores disappear or not makes no difference to us. VGRHQ will continue to honor great reviews, critics and sources, including Joystiq.