This week, in a move that delighted many, Eurogamer announced a revamp of their reviewing style, which included dropping review scores entirely from the proceedings. No longer will the review contain a rating out of ten for a game; instead, their new recommendation system will allot headlines of Recommended, Essential and Avoid to some, but not all, games deserving of such status. This new system effectively renders aggregate sites such as Metacritic useless, and Eurogamer admitted that they would no longer be on the site.
The topic of aggregate sites and the misplaced value of review scores has been of particular scorn in the world of film and video games lately, with the salaries of game developers tied to their game receiving a specific rating on Metacritic and some film critics decrying the awarding of the top National Society of Film Critics prize Goddard’s Goodbye To Language because its Rotten Tomatoes rating wasn’t stellar. Book blogging has had its fair share of skirmishes related to the star ratings and Goodreads averages of particular books. Many have argued over the basics such as whether 3 stars equals ‘good’ or ‘okay’, and if some bloggers are too generous with their top rankings. The rating itself seems to carry with it more status than the review itself, at least for some.
We at Bibliodaze debated the value of the review score when we started the site and wondered if it was the way to go for us. As you can tell, it’s definitely a tool we use regularly, and it’s one that carries with it a number of benefits.
There’s a certainty that comes with a solid star rating. Everyone knows 1 star equals bad and 5 stars equals brilliant, but the 3 remaining options present a challenge. Subjectivity is, of course, part of the reviewing experience. There’s really no such thing as an objective review, regardless of what some groups on the internet contest, and with that subjectivity of opinions comes a similar differentiation in ideas of what constitutes a 2, 3 or 4 star review. Goodreads suggests 3 stars equals ‘good’ but it’s not a rule set in stone, and nor should it be.
The worth placed on that rating is what causes the most confusion and misplaced ire. When the critical success of a book or film or other piece of entertainment is reduced solely to its average Goodreads rating or score on Metacritic, the reviews themselves become devalued. Take Rotten Tomatoes, for example, a site I’m often a fan of. There’s a great benefit in having aggregate sites like it, particularly if you’re like me and enjoy having a one-stop-shop to find various reviews of one particular film. However, the rotten/fresh ranking given often doesn’t match up with the words contained within, and the site has been known to switch a rotten rating to fresh and vice versa after attention has been brought to it. Said attention is not always positive, with instances of fans of a particular director rallying against a rotten rating given to what is perceived to be a good or merely fine review. Such vetting is not done objectively because it can’t be.
Another problem has arisen with review scores and that’s the increasingly inflated understanding of what constitutes good and bad. Jim Sterling, formerly of the Escapist and now an independent critic, talked about receiving hate mail and accusations of trolling for ‘only’ giving a popular game 8 out of 10. We have come to a point where, for some strange people, anything less than top marks is a failure and a sign critics are trolling.
This all calls into question who these sites are for and what purpose they serve. Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz commented that such places are part of the problem of criticism turning into a wing of advertising, and there’s true merit to that claim. Developers Obsidian, who made the game Fallout: New Vegas, missed out on their bonuses because it was tied to the game receiving 85 or more on Metacritic, which it missed by one point. With that knowledge part of the public reviewing sphere, think of the immense pressure that falls on the shoulders of critics. It’s no wonder that Eurogamer no longer wish to be complicit in this toxic environment.
So why do we still use this rating system? For a number of reasons: The convenience, the familiarity, the instant attraction for the reader, and the lack of a sturdy, reliable and easy to understand alternative. The industry is changing and so the blogging community shall evolve with it, but there are benefits to the tools of old when they’re used effectively. We can only hope that the majority of readers of such reviews understand that the worth of a piece of art can’t be condensed to a number of stars. I have faith in our audience.