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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Game Reviews: A Scoring Retrospective

Last night I got to thinking about the way I've been scoring games during reviews. I set up a page the other day with a listing of reviews and in doing so I noticed that a lot of games were receiving scores of 4.0 out of 5.0.

This thing popped up way too often.

My original intention was to keep things simple and not use some sort of arbitrary scoring system. Someone's overall impressions and enjoyment of a game are ultimately subjective; it's a little like your English teacher in high school assigning a number to a 10-page paper after making a random number of comments in red pen. What's the difference between an 80 and an 84, or a 92 and a 93?

In going with a simple scoring system of zero to five in half-point increments I attempted to solve this problem by throwing games into bins. A game that scored a 3.0 or 3.5 might be fun but flawed or buggy, while a game that scores a 4.0 could be enjoyable but not something I'd rush out and buy for $60. A game that scores 4.5 out of 5.0 might receive something in the 87-93 range in a more traditional system, so this eliminates the need to differentiate between an 87 and an 88.

The Scoring Predicament

The major problem I've noticed is that the score range of games is going to be skewed towards the high end since I've pre-filtered every game that I've purchased. This isn't a professional review site that gives me access to everything, and I'm not one to go out and spend $150 on new games every month. As a result, I make damn sure a game is worth my money at launch or, if I'm not totally convinced, I'll wait until it's available on the cheap. My being selective basically ensures that everything should generally be in the 75-100 range to begin with.

(The one major hiccup in that plan was Brink. That $60 died in vain.)

If the majority of games I play wind up getting a 3.5 or 4.0, assigning a score at all seems kind of silly. I still think that the actual review text should be the focal point, but a score provides a measure of my enjoyment of a game that is digestible at a glance.

Time for an experiment. I looked back over the reviews I've posted thus far, particularly at the Good/So-so/Bad section at the bottom of each review. In doing so I've come up with several areas that I consider the most important factors when determining my overall opinion of a game.

Single-player Titles and MMORPGs

  • Atmosphere, Graphics, and Performance: 20%
  • Story, Plot, Writing and/or Humor: 20%
  • Gameplay, Game Flow, Campaign Length (or MMO content): 40%
  • Overall "Enjoyment Factor": 20%

Sports, Racing, Puzzle, Strategy, etc (something without a major plot)

  • Graphics and Performance: 20%
  • Gameplay and Realism: 60%
  • Overall "Enjoyment Factor": 20%

Multiplayer-focused Titles

  • Graphics and Performance: 20%
  • Gameplay: 40%
  • Multiplayer Balance, Variety, and Replayability: 20%
  • Overall "Enjoyment Factor": 20%

Under this system games are scored out of a possible 10 points, meaning most categories are worth either two or four points individually. Varying point values for each category (with gameplay being the largest chunk) allow the score to be a weighted average with the added visual benefit of being able to simply add everything up to get a total.

In order to see how this plays out, I'll briefly re-assign scores to the games I've already discussed.

Assassin's  Creed
Graphics and Performance 1.5 / 2.0
Storyline and Writing 2.0 / 2.0
Gameplay 3.0 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.5 / 2.0
TOTAL 8.0 / 10

Assassin's Creed featured decent enough graphics despite its age, but the real killer was the monotonous and repetitive gameplay. A score of 8.0 directly matches up to the score of 4.0 I had given the game previously.

Driver:  San  Francisco
Graphics and Performance 1.0 / 2.0
Storyline and Writing 1.8 / 2.0
Gameplay 3.5 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.9 / 2.0
TOTAL 8.2 / 10

I really enjoyed Driver: San Francisco, hence the 1.9 out of 2.0 on the "enjoyment factor" scale. Unfortunately the game crashed on me a bunch of times and driving felt a little off. I previously gave the game a 4.0, so the new system gives it a tiny bit more credit.

MLB  2K12
Graphics and Performance 1.5 / 2.0
Gameplay and Realism 4.5 / 6.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.7 / 2.0
TOTAL 7.7 / 10

MLB 2K12 is a sports game, meaning there obviously isn't a plot other than the storylines you create yourself. Since realism and gameplay are central to sports titles, I got rid of the story/writing category and bumped gameplay up to 60% of the total score. Graphics don't really improve on last year's offering and there are some quirks and bugs that prevent the game from being a great baseball game. I originally gave the game a 3.5, meaning a 7.7 is a bit of an improvement. I really enjoyed the game despite its flaws, and hopefully (fingers crossed) a PC patch will fix some outstanding issues.

Saints  Row  The  Third
Graphics and Performance 1.5 / 2.0
Storyline and Writing 1.6 / 2.0
Gameplay 3.4 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.9 / 2.0
TOTAL 8.4 / 10

This game was fresh in my mind since I just reviewed it yesterday. SR3 has some graphics and performance issues and the gameplay isn't tremendously special, but the writing and humor are pretty solid and the game offers over-the-top fun. The above 8.4 is higher than the 4.0 that I gave the game yesterday, and I like the new number better.

World  of  Warcraft  5.0.4
Graphics and Performance 1.4 / 2.0
Storyline and Writing 2.0 / 2.0
Gameplay and Content 3.7 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.6 / 2.0
TOTAL 8.7 / 10

I didn't originally assign scores to World of Warcraft in previous posts, but I'll do so here for shits and giggles. The graphics are a little tired-looking and the game is growing a little stale for me personally, but the ridiculous amount of story and content available make it arguably the best MMO on the market. An 8.7 reflects that.

Final Thoughts

Arbitrarily assigning numbers to the gaming experience still feels a little weird without a strict rubric or scorecard. I need to work out some of the finer details (what's the difference between a score of 1.0 and 1.4 in the "Graphics" category?) but I feel like the resulting scores more accurately depict my overall opinion of each game at a glance. Like I said above, the review text should still be the overall focus, but a more detailed score breakdown helps to differentiate between all of those "pretty good" or "above average" games.

I'll probably go with this system for the next few reviews and see how it goes, and at some point I'll go back and update the old reviews with new scores.


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