Eurogamer has decided to drop review scores and revamp its policies regarding assessing games strictly from the user’s perspective.
Instead of continuing to use an “out of 10” review score system, Eurogamer has instead decided to sum up reviews by marking a game as essential to play, recommended to readers, or a game to avoid, supplemented by a very short summation. In its statement published today Eurogamer also declared it will no longer review games with substantial online components using anything other than retail versions of the software, i.e. once the game has been released. This decision also means that the outlet will no longer be listed on Metacritic, the review aggregate site that looms large in its influence on the video game industry.
Eurogamer’s change in policy reflects a video game culture in which criticism of video games outside of a “buy or do not buy” lens is gaining popularity. “In the present environment, scores are struggling to encompass the issues that are most important to you,” reads Eurogamer’s statement. “How should we score an excellent game with severe networking issues? A flawlessly polished game with a hackneyed design? A brilliantly tuned multiplayer experience with dreadful storytelling? If you expect the score to encompass every aspect of a game, the task becomes an exercise in futility.”
Video game review scores are also a symbol of the usual timing behind publishing game reviews. Scores are generally regarded as consumer advice, and the need for consumer advice arguably begins as soon as a game is available for purchase. Therefore, reviews have historically been published the day a game is released.
When games increasingly have online components, however, the efficacy of this practice is questionable at best. Very often video game journalism outlets review games under specialized online conditions that offer maximum stability, but which do not represent the audience experience in any way, shape, or form.
“It has been our policy for a while that we only review games that require an Internet connection—games such as Destiny—after launch,” reads Eurogamer’s statement. “We’re now extending this policy to cover all predominantly online games. What we mean by that is games where we believe online play is of critical importance to the majority of players. (So, Call of Duty would qualify, but Assassin’s Creed probably wouldn’t.) We’re doing this because we don’t think it’s possible to properly test networking technology or assess long-term multiplayer game design without a full player population.”
While the value of review scores, and the value of publishing reviews the day of release in order to arm readers with consumer advice, are contentious issues within video game culture, there is more agreement on the unhealthy way video game publishers approach review aggregation site Metacritic. And Metacritic is fed by review scores.
The story of Obsidian Entertainment and Fallout: New Vegas, released in 2010, is the most popular example of how video game publishers misuse Metacritic. Obsidian Entertainment was not given a bonus for its work on Fallout: New Vegas owing to lack of a single point in the game’s Metascore. More recently, it was reported that developer Bungie may have been denied a bonus also owing to low Metascores for Destiny.
The argument is problematic because the system by which Metacritic calculates Metascores is proprietary. Different outlets’ scores are weighted more or less heavily when calculating a Metascore, but the precise weighting formula is unknown. The lack of transparency has inspired studies to unravel how the site functions, and sparks panels at the Game Developers Conference held annually in San Francisco.
“Over the years, we’ve come to believe that the influence of Metacritic on the games industry is not a healthy one (and we’re not alone in this opinion in the industry, either),” reads Eurogamer’s statement. “This is not the fault of Metacritic itself or the people who made it, who just set out to create a useful resource for readers. It’s a problem caused by the over-importance attached to Metascores by certain sectors of the games business and audience—Metascores which are, let’s remember, averages of dozens of numerical values, ascribed more or less arbitrarily, in different systems, by a wide range of reviewers expressing a wide range of opinions.”
Joystiq dropped review scores and declared its intention to review games with online components only after release, shortly before the outlet was shut down by parent company AOL.
Kotaku has eschewed scores for years, and in 2012 elected to employ a streamlined summary system, that sounds similar to what Eurogamer put in place today. Kotaku also tends to wait until online games have already spent substantial amounts of time “in the wild” before issuing its definitive review for the game.
Illustration by Max Fleishman