The Problem with Game Reviews

Michael Abbott over at Brainy Gamer recently posted an analysis of Metacritic scores for AAA games. Surveying 58 big-budget games released in the last two years, he found that they roughly recieved all the same score. They ranged from 79 to 97, but the average standard deviation from the mean (87.3) was only four and a half points. Or, as he puts it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get somewhere between an A and a B. It’s a nice little breakdown and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing (it’s not that long!), but for me this raised three questions:

1. Is this a problem?

2. If so, what is causing it?

3. And how do we fix it?

I started writing a big analysis/manifesto answering these questions and outlining my reviewing philsophy. Then I realized that I didn’t truly know the answers to these questions, and that it was incredibly presumptuous of me to take game reviewers to task when I’ve yet to write a good review myself. So right now I’m just posting this as food for thought. As I develop my craft, I plan to return to these questions, because I think they’re at the heart of the struggle that game journalism is currently going through.

Article by Dylan

Dylan Holmes is a 20-something from Seattle. By day he works as public librarian; by night he tries to balance voracious media consumption with some modicum of a social life. His accomplishments include being the author of one book (A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games); inventing numerous Arnold Palmer variants; and being able to balance on an exercise ball indefinitely. His failures are too numerous to list.


  1. I remember when the legend of zelda: twilight princess came out. Any serious reviewer would tell you that it was a mediocre game at best, and certainly couldn’t live up to the standard set by previous zelda games. But if any website published a review of the game with less than a 9.5? The nintendo fans would flood the comments with the digital equivalent of pitchforks and torches. I know that’s not the whole story, but I think it’s part of the problem.

  2. Balls.
    Some reviewers ain’t got em.

    Wasn’t that what “gerstmann gate” was about. One guy just decided to have a pair one day and his employers didn’t approve.

  3. @Raphael — I think part of the problem (though by no means all of it) may come from the existence of a comments section. I would say that the review should stay as an expression of the individual and not something that’s in the hands of a democracy (or mob). I say shut off the comments and make people deal with a review without allowing them to get their final word in right below.

    Obviously dealing with employers (as Johnny pointed out) is yet another hurdle one has to deal with, but cutting out the fan boys and trolls would probably go some ways in helping.

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