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Aggregate scores - how is this still a thing?

Online Games Bay

If you browse through any of many websites offering users chance to vote for the games you will notice one interesting thing - even though the scale is usually between 1 and 10 it is hard to find a game that would be outside of the range between 6 and 9.

Aggregate scores - how is this still a thing?

And why is that you may ask. Oh, go on, ask, otherwise this article will be very short... The reasons are rather simple - if you use aggregate score that is derived from votes placed by individual users / visitors rather than base your ratings on self created reviews it is easier, it takes less time, so it is cheaper. If you want to create own review it will take some time, some skill to make it interesting, this means it will cost some money. On the other hand if you let users put their votes independently it will take almost no time, thus will not cost money, but you will have zero control of what will be the outcome of the review.

Back in the times when paper magazines about games were still a thing publishers were sending copies of their games to those magazines so they would publish a review. Of course, it was tricky on the magazine publishers side - if they put truth in the review it could mean they will not get an advanced game copy next time, so they sometimes were a bit, let’s say forgiving, if the game was not that great. So the game publisher was happy, because better review meant potentially better income, the magazine publisher was happy, because good relations with game publishers meant potentially better income in the future, the gamers were not always that happy (like in case of Driver 3 affair) if the game was worst than promised in the reviews.

To avoid such situation aggregate score website became useful - why believe some magazine employee if the game is good, when you can trust the judgment of other players, who actually spent their money on the product. And it worked quite well, most of the time that is, because basically there are two kinds of people that are active on such websites - fans of the titles, who believe this is the best game ever, and people disappointed with that game, who want to spill their disappointment on the publisher.

And thus we reached the phase, in which the aggregate score websites became the problem - if you browse through some of them you will notice that usually a good game gets on average 8/10, if it has some issues it might be 7 or in rare cases 6/10, if it’s specially good it might reach 9/10 and once a blue moon even 10/10. And this is where the problem starts - there are no average games any more, they are either great or complete crap, because people who were indifferent to them simply had absolutely no motivation to vote. So, depending on balance between fans and angry gamers, the games became good or really bad.

And at that point another problem started - review bombing, when angry gamers took it to aggregate score website to vent their anger on publishers or other issues not directly linked to the title itself. The admins of such websites prepared a defence against review bombing that was as bad as the review bombing itself - they remove the reviews they classify as review bombing. What is the problem? The problem is that this defence undermines their own credibility - if they start to censor the reviews it means the whole system is pointless. It’s like in the old saying: "it doesn’t matter how people vote, but who counts the votes".

Simple example is Death Stranding, one of the games that split the gamers - some think it’s the example of Kojima’s genius, others think it is beautiful, but tedious walking simulator. In December 2019, Metacritic, one of the most popular aggregate scores websites, removed over 6,000 negative user reviews of the game to prevent "potential score manipulation", stating that the removed reviews were "suspicious". It could be true, but since you can hardly ever hear about removal of suspicious positive reviews it puts Metacritic in rather tricky situation. They have done it without any warning, without giving reason or way to appeal against their decision. And their action is based on assumption they can guess what was the intention of reviewer - was it true review and he / she thinks Death Stranding is a horrible game or was it some sort of protest.

And there is a catch - websites like Metacritic are not non-profit organizations, so their existence often depends on income from ads... like from companies whose games they are reviewing. So it looks like we have returned to good old days of paper magazines (well, old days anyway). Game publisher does not want the game to have poor reviews, because that would undercut the sales. Aggregate scores website does not want game publishers to be angry with them, because they need income too, so if some of the negative reviews would disappear everyone would be happy, right? Oh, maybe except gamers, but they are not important part of that system.


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