GameSpot has announced that they'll be "revamping" their review system this week. The two main changes are: they're adding "award medals and demerits" to each review, and switching to a half-point rating system.

The first change will be positive, I imagine. The medals and demerits will be icons that apply to multiple reviews, acting as tags that specify the best and worst points of all the games to which they're applied. So, if I'm reading a review for, say, Metal Gear Solid 4, and see that it's gotten a medal for "Convoluted Plot," I might click the medal to see what other games have won that particular award. It's good for me as a reader, since it helps me find new games that I might enjoy (or hate) based on specific factors, and good for GameSpot I'm sure, since it would lead people like me to spend more time clicking around their site.

The second change is like a quarter-step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned. The decision to only score games in half-point increments does reduce the granularity of the rating system ("what's the difference between an 8.2 and an 8.3?" being the classic question,) but it still keeps GameSpot's outlook in the realm of fiddly, Consumer Reports-style analysis of a game's perceived "bang for your buck," which is kind of the gross thing about GameSpot in my opinion. I think that their relaxing the numerical score system is a function of Greg Kasavin stepping down from the site some time ago; when I interviewed him, he had the following to say about the GameSpot rating system:

I generally think that numerical rating systems are arbitrary and poorly maintained—they're like tools that aren't used with the proper care. I think the system on GameSpot is put under much closer scrutiny than most other, similar systems. I am exactly the sort of person who splits hairs over tenths of a point—how come this game got a 7.6 when this game got a 7.7, and so on. Since I personally edit every review that goes up on GameSpot, though, I'm able to apply consistent standards in all cases, which is partly how we make sure our system is balanced.
So, without that editorial influence (and personal vigilance,) the remaining editors at GameSpot were free to apply a new system. But why not take it a step further? Why not simply implement a school grading system, wherein games receive an F through A+ based on their merits? In my opinion, the half-point scale will still cause pointless arguments for the same reasons the tenth-point scale was (why does Game A get an 8.5 while Game B gets a 9.0?) and doesn't leave behind the Consumer Reports mindset. It also guarantees that the lowest rungs of the rating system will continue to go unused; almost no game is going to receive a 1.5 score, but I could see GameSpot being much more liberal with a simple "F." I think everyone understands the gradeschool system, they accept it, and it gives a much more intuitive picture of whether the game in question is "good" or not.

I know the real answer to why this won't happen-- GameSpot is the key arbiter of the standards that www.gamerankings.com and thereby game publishers follow to determine whether a game has reviewed well or not. To continue posting their reviews to gamerankings, GameSpot has to maintain a numerical scale; and if they simply converted the gradeschool scale to percentages, it would defeat the purpose, as well as throw off the overall scale compared to other review sites. If someday the review site of prominence takes up the gradeschool scale as their official rating system, I will be happy.

1 comment:

Crumbs said...

Mmmm. I'm going to address each point individually.

1- I like the idea that you can link several features of games together. But it could backfire because you occasionally get stuff like Okami and how would you link that game's original, distinguished features to something else like it? Or ICO? "Emotional rollercoaster"?

I gotta think that one over.

2- I agree with the school system because it's generalisation. Like, score....90%-100% = A. 80%-90% = B. But without the A* or B* because that would make people overlook stuff.

I'd like to see if games were reviewed on their own grounds. San Andreas got a 9.6 from Gamespot and you can't help but feel its partially because of the hype. Also I'd like to see games reviewed according to genre. Like Roger Ebert gave Spider-Man 2 4 stars because it was excellent compared to other super-hero movies. I'd like to see stuff as innovative as Beyond Good and Evil get higher scores than 8.3.

And GameRankings is not God!

Why did Thumbs not have a score-line, by the way?