Review scores have been a thing since the earliest days of the video game industry. Publications in the early '80s would always rate games on their own scale, using either percentages, stars, letters of the alphabet or - as we do - a rating out of 10. If you grew up with video game magazines such as EGM, GamePro, Mean Machines, CVG and Super Play, then you'll no doubt feel that a review isn't a review unless it has a score attached to it.
However, things appear to be changing; yesterday, Polygon announced that it is dropping review scores and is instead moving to a more simplistic, streamlined system, with 'Recommended' and 'Essential' being the two awards. Anything that doesn't fit in either of these two categories won't carry a score at all, and readers will be encouraged to actually read the body text of the review to find out the reviewer's thoughts. Polygon isn't the first site to take this route, either; Kotaku and Eurogamer employ similar systems, and have done so for quite some time.
When it comes to defending review scores, there are plenty of arguments. Quickly scanning to the score at the bottom of the page gives you an instant indication of whether or not a game is worth bothering with; handy if you're short on time and can't digest an entire, 1000+ word review right at that moment. They're also handy when it comes to comparing like-for-like titles; as human beings, we love to see things neatly scored and rated, hence the fact that so many other forms of entertainment-focused journalism use rating systems to judge the worth of the products they are talking about - and sites like Metacritic and Opencritic uses these scores to help inform their readers and provide a service which helps them make the right purchasing decision. In case the image at the top of the page isn't obvious evidence, publishers and developers love scores, too - as long as they're positive ones, anyway. It gives them something to put on their promotional material, and a good set of scores can often be as effective as millions of dollars spent on marketing.
However, there's a compelling counter-argument to all of this; if you simply read the score and not the review, you're missing out on a lot of vital information. Many publishers now see a good Metacritic rating as the be-all and end-all, and there have been cases where development teams have been shuttered because a game didn't hit a certain rating on the site. There's also the question of how you can possibly rate something accurately; many gamers tend to assume anything below 7/10 is a disaster, but going from our own review policy, 7/10 is 'Good' and 5/10 is 'Average'. There's clearly a disconnect here in that some readers aren't always in tune with the ratings a site hands out, which lends further credence to the argument that scores should be dropped in favour of a system that simply says 'Yes' or 'No' when it comes to making a purchase. Then there's the issue of when a game is 'finished'. 20 years ago, when a game launched it was done, but in the modern age of patches, updates and DLC, games aren't really 'complete' for months or even years after release. Does a score awarded on day one truly reflect the quality of a product that evolves over time?
Before you become too concerned, we're not considering dropping review scores on Nintendo Life or Push Square - at least not at the moment, anyway. We'll naturally listen to our readership and factor in any feedback we get, but for the time being, we feel that a well-written review combined with a clear and easy-to-understand scoring system is the best way to inform our readers on what games they should and shouldn't buy. It's been that way for decades, despite recent moves by sites like Polygon, Eurogamer and Kotaku, and we imagine it will remain that way for some time, as well.
If you feel strongly on the topic, now's your chance to make your voice heard; vote in the poll below and be sure to leave a comment explaining your thoughts.
Do reviews still need scores in 2018? (834 votes)
I'm not sure
I don't care either way
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