Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review Scores And Why We Need Them

Of all the problems in reviewing, whether it's done as a hobby or full time job, some of the biggest ones keep coming back to a single point - the final scores of an article. Their very presence seems to be something certain writers seem to consider a stigmata and many undeniably negative aspects surround them. We've seen many criticisms of Metacritic hinge upon how they judge and value these scores, sometimes inadvertently harming the lives of game developers. We've seen audiences expectations rise to ridiculous levels, where a seven out of ten is apparently considered a middling score, and people will complain when a title is only given a nine. 

The thing is though, for all they are derided and the problems they create, review scores are a tool. They are neither good nor bad, and it's only certain attitudes which have caused so many problems of late. There are already other works discussing this point or touching upon the more ridiculous aspects of fan reaction (notably the Jimquisition) but this is not what this article is about. Instead what we're going to look into here is why they are needed and why certain articles still benefit from their inclusion as a final point. This isn't so much "why they aren't bad" as it will be "what good can they do and why do we need them?"

Perhaps the single biggest example which can be brought up in their favour is that they work extremely well as a final point, tying up a review. A score brings about some considerable finality to a piece and it's a bold verdict which can hit harder than just words alone when used correctly. It sets a title up in direct comparison with other pieces of its medium and immediately tells an audience where the journalist thinks it stands. This allows a viewer to quickly compare this verdict with other titles and judge their personal biases, preferences and the like against their own. Rather than trawling through entire archives of their works, it can allow a potential viewer to quickly make an informed opinion of whether they think this particular journalist is worth following or not as a source of information. 

Atop of this it also allows reviews to have far more of a structure. Become familiar with certain routines, opening or closing lines and the like can make a frequent reader become more comfortable with a writer's certain approaches. This might seem like a minor thing, and is admittedly far more effective in videos than it is written work, but it's a minor element which can make people keep coming back. That degree of knowledge of knowing what will follow, that they will stick to the same styles and looks, adds some subconscious mental reassurances that the quality of a person's work will remain the same. 

Review scores also adds a great deal of finality to a piece and helps to tie together their entire point in a single conclusion, with a degree more finality than usual. This said, I personally believe that this is part of the problem when it comes to these scores, but mostly on the audience's part. With that final summery listed, certain readers can often find themselves skipping to the end to get an overall opinion. Without bothering to look at a reviewer's thoughts or reasons, they will then use that entire point as a basis for their response. This demeans a work and, combined with the opinions of certain readers that anything below an eight out of ten is not worth their time, it can lead to knee jerk responses.

This said, I think this only encourages their use in video media as that innately bypasses this problem while retaining its strengths. Videos are less likely to be so quickly skipped by these individuals as words, and a well informed piece using a score as a final culmination of their thoughts will likely be better received. It retains the strengths of a score without so many of the same risks found in writing. Yet despite this, it's also written works which benefit from scoring systems the most. 

Longtime readers will know that my reviews for Starburst Magazine tend to be very short. Often capping off at a little over four hundred words to fit in the magazine's print editions, these lack the same benefits as lengthier works. Sometimes certain points will need to be skipped or severely shortened in order to fit them into a word count, and a score can help to better re-enforce a writer's point. It can add greater clarity and better display their thoughts on how a title fares overall, giving greater range to their final verdict. To give a personal example, I considered War of the Vikings to be sub-par in its offerings while The Evil Within was a bloody mess of a title. Despite one being a cut above the other though, both reviews focused primarily upon criticisms and it is possible that someone missing points could consider them to be of equal quality. With an additional score at the end, it's far more clear what their thoughts are. The same can be true of other reviews, pieces a hundred or even fifty words long, without the space to full express a detailed opinion. A number can sometimes help to better fill for areas limited by a tight word count.

This is not to mention the obvious point that some scores can also go into greater detail and break down their overall opinion with multiple points. Some are built up across several catagories, covering a title's qualities one by one and then finally combining them to create a final score. These are traditionally supported by a single sentence, and tend to refer back to earlier parts of the review. This at least has the chance of making those who skip to the end go back for greater context and better examine what was stated, allowing them to appreciate the points made and better understand where the writer is coming from. This is especially important in this day and age where so many people seem to be too busy to actually sit down and read written reviews. Of course, it also might help to stave off that above problem where readers base their entire opinion purely upon the final score as well.

These are ultimately just a few personal thoughts off of the top of my head, from personal experience and prior examination. While further points could definitely be made in their favour, I hope that this does show why they do still have a place in reviews. This is of course hardly saying that all reviews need them, many of mine certainly lack final scores, but ultimately they are a tool. They are a instrument to help enhance a writer's points and at the end of the day there's still plenty of reasons articles can benefit from them.

Still, this is just a personal opinion. If you have your own thoughts on this matter, for or against their inclusion or wish to respond upon anything brought up, please reply in the comments section below. I'll be interested to see what people think of this.


  1. What if review scores are intentionally withheld because of the audience? I agree they're a tool, but if the audience doesn't see them as such, and occasionally uses them to entirely dismiss the opinion of the reviewer (especially if they're looking at something flawed but they still enjoyed) then maybe it's better to withhold them, or at least not have them shown as numbers.
    Here's what I mean, there's a popular reviewer on Youtube called JeremyJahns who didn't want to have a number system, so he made his own, and they are: "Dogshit.", "A good time, if you're drunk." "Okay but you're not going to remember it in T-minus X hours." "A good time no alcohol required." "I'd buy it on Blu-Ray!" and "Awesometacular!"
    A good thing about that rating system is it lets him sum up his thoughts really well with the rating and he has a lot of labels he can apply to movies regardless of how he likes them, if he likes a movie but thinks it's really stupid he can just label it as "A good time, if you're drunk." Which gets the message across.
    Even with those ratings he still has people who are mad that he didn't say some movies (like Man of Steel, or the Hobbit) were "Awesometacular."

    1. Oh that's definitely a better form of rating system and one which could work well, but I was mostly talking about the sort of widespread ones which might work on a general level. Numbers or listings from good to bad are generally those more often used by big name websites and magazines. This is for a variety of reasons, from avoiding potential miscommunications with publishers they're working with to simply appearing professional. That said I would agree that a more general system like that which works in stages is better for an audience and lacks the same potential sting a number would have. Of course, as you pointed out yourself there's always people who will bite back for not scoring it higher, but i'd imagine those are in a comparative minority.

  2. There was something else that occurred to me earlier today about review scores, I think they absolutely need a specific focus, and not just in a way that allows them to be broken apart, a review score with one is much less likely to make other people angry when they see it, as they can see the context and hopefully understand why it received the score it got.

    Here's what I mean, I was browsing a horror movie site (Halloween's coming up so why not) and the site I found rates the movies on how scary they are as well as what types of scares they use, which gives the score a focus, they don't really need to worry about critiquing the lighting or the acting (or even the camera work in some cases) all that much unless it really wrecks the movie and makes it less scary, and on that site I haven't yet seen a single person complain about what scores were given to the movies.

    1. Well, that is one way in which it could be dealt with but even then i'm honestly quite surprised they've not received any major flak over a score. For example for every person who does find that film scary and agrees with the reviewer, there's at least one who will claim it's weakly put together or overly cliched or the like. It might be down to their approach more than their scoring system but i'd need to have a look for myself. Could you please let me know what the site is called?