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A Video Game Review Score: What does it mean?


I’ve recently come back from an eleven-day vacation, so this means my reviews of certain titles are coming late. However, I often enjoy hanging out on Reddit. The subreddit  R/Games has a tradition of posting review threads with score aggregators when big games release.

I enjoy reading the comments whether or not I have reviewed that particular game, but something has been coming up a lot in these threads. People arguing about review scores, what they mean, what scores are bad, and what scores are good. It has happened so frequently, I’d like to share my insight as a game critic that scores games.

First of all, I want to stress the fact that you should never take a score at face value. The context written in a review is really important and any reviewer worth their salt should have outlined reasons why a score was given.

Second, in case you stop reading early, a 7 out of 10 does not mean a game is bad, full stop. If you try to argue that an 8 is a bad score (I’ve seen it) you are terribly off base. The reasoning why some people believe this, is in all fairness, sound. The traditional game industry scoring system is inspired by the United States school grading system. People equate 7s with a C. If you got a C grade, your parents were probably angry, so it makes sense.

However it’s important to remember that video game scores are not school grades, and failure between the two means something entirely different. The easiest way to remember this, is that no game is perfect, even those scored with a 10. Grades can, however, be perfect. You are equating a grade based on a curriculum of objective measure and solvable problems, with a subjective view of an entertainment product. It doesn’t work out the same way, despite the scoring systems inspiration.

7 out of 10 means a game is fun and entertaining, but it has some issues either technical or in its design. Given the subjective nature of the situation, it may be a great game for some players and a bad one to others. 7 is the average score, that means it’s an average game in the eyes of the game critic reviewing it.

If a game has a bunch of 7s, it’s not an objectively poor game. It means that you should do a bit more research on its gameplay and mechanics and see if its a good fit for you and worth your money.

An 8 is a straight-up good game, not perfect. But it usually has far less glaring issues than a 7 game. 8s are almost always a safe buy if the particular genre jives with you. 8 is literally above average, it probably has some great elements but could have a couple of things holding it back.

A 9 is an exemplary example of its genre. Whatever its defining factor is, it is likely done extremely well. A 9 is one of those must-haves that makes your wallet quiver in fear. That doesn’t mean it is for everyone, no game is. Any fighting game that gets a 9 from anyone isn’t going to be for me. I don’t like fighting games. It’s that simple.

A 10 is a near-perfect game, keyword “near” perfect. It’s a masterpiece of its station. 10s should rarely be given out. They are usually games that are a near-perfect product of its gaming environment. Sometimes they define the genre itself or raise the bar for those behind it.

Now things get dicier with a 6. That review score means the critic considers the game to be below average. It might actually still be a decent game, especially in the hands of die-hard fans of its theme or genre. But presumably, the critic found severe issues in some respect. 6 means proceed with caution, wait for updates, or maybe a sale. Do your research. If there must be a bad score, this is as close as realistically possible. Why? Most reviewed games will never get a score under 6.

This is because such games simply aren’t worth the critics time to review in the first place. Sometimes one slips through and gets a lower score, but it is pretty rare. At the time of writing, the only game I’ve given lower than a 6 is Fallout 76. When it launched, I felt many aspects of it were broken to such a degree that it breached the threshold from below average to bad.

A good way to look at it is, if a reviewer gave their time to review a game at all and didn’t go below that nasty 6. It is probably decent to some degree. You might now be thinking….well if the scale is actually 6 to 10..why use a 1-10 scale in the first place?

Your not wrong at all and believe it or not, I agree with you. But the industry as a whole has to make that shift. I am but one cog in an enormous machine. The 1-10 scale is ingrained in the minds of consumers. Even though some sites have moved away from it, it’s difficult. Even aggregators don’t always display or factor in a review effectively if it is not on the 1-10 scale.

For the time being, I use it because my readers expect it and I am more easily displayed and factored into aggregators. I do use a buy, wait for sale or don’t buy method for early access games.

Now you are no doubt going to find some sites that display their scale differently, and try to bludgeon me in the face with it. Don’t bother. Instead, look to Metacritic and Open Critic. Both factor in 70% as positive. It doesn’t matter if a site actually uses a scale where 5 is average. The aggregators will count that as a bad score.

That in no way invalidates that sites method though. In fact, if you have read into a specific game critic enough to know what each value means to them. That’s great! The absolute best thing you can for yourself is get to know a critic well enough to form your own view on THIER views! This makes you more informed about how that critic feels rather than taking a bunch of scores at face value.

The point I’m making, a lot is going on in an aggregated score. A 70% review score average does not in any way mean a game is crap and you shouldn’t peddle that around in the faces of people actually enjoying the game. Scores are not weapons to be used to beat people into submission, ever.

However, it’s perfectly reasonable for you, personally, to refrain from buying games that fail to meet a certain review score threshold. It is your money after all and the point of a review is to make you informed. Just don’t parade it around like some divine law of objectivity.