Videogame Reviews – when did 70% become average?

Ever notice all the 4 star reviews plastered over movie posters? In the world of movies, music and pretty much any other form of entertainment open to critique, a 4 star review is something to be very proud of – something worth showing off. Oh, unless that form of entertainment happens to be videogaming.

To put things into perspective, a 4 star rating equates to an 80% review score. Can you imagine Infinity Ward or Ubisoft celebrating the latest 80% review score to drop on Matacritic? I think not. Somewhere down the line, 70% became the average and anything under 90% became a disappointment. Has videogame journalism always been like this or have reviewers become subconsciously more lenient thanks to the Metacritic effect?

Ok, so the relative infancy of the medium will inevitably lead to extra kudos points for technical proficiency (even if the product is completely lacking from an artistic standpoint), but the strange thing is, gamers are some of the most demanding and critical folk you will find on the internet. So what gives with the strange insistence upon a review scale that rarely falls below the 60% mark or the forum backlash anytime a big name game receives a review score of less than 80% (case in point – Edge Magazine’s very reasonable 7 out of 10 for Killzone 2)?

What really drove home the difference between movie and videogame reviews recently were the scores for the Thor movie and its accompanying videogame adaptation. While the movie was admittedly better reviewed, the 10% swing is nowhere near representative of the huge gulf in quality between the extremely entertaining, generally well liked movie and the bland, by the numbers videogame adaptation. The general consensus is that the videogame is at best passable and at worst a complete waste of time – and yet still it garners an average review score of 50%, a score that in any other form of entertainment would be correctly classed as average (believe me – Thor the Videogame does not reach the heady heights of average).

I would like to think that videogame reviews have always been this way but taking a look at the highest reviewed games of all time reveals a list made up almost exclusively of games from this generation. Sure, there are a few N64, Dreamcast and PSOne games to be found, but the vast majority are from the last few years. I’m willing to accept that there have been a lot of absolutely fantastic games released over the past few years but the link between the arrival of Metacritic and increasingly positive review scores does seem to exist…..and specifically in the one industry in which its score seems to matter most.

I’m not suggesting for a second that this change has been made intentionally or that reviewers are ramping up their scores to keep publishers happy in light of the ever growing importance of Metacritic within the industry, but I do believe that there has been a natural progression that has occurred almost subconsciously since the introduction of Metacritic.

Maybe I’m wrong – maybe it’s just the speed in which the industry is currently evolving that is keeping scores up….maybe it’s something else entirely. What do you think? Have videogame review scores always worked on a unique scale or is the Metacritic effect at least partly to blame?

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  • LobbycastGeoff

    I agree with you at least 80%! Case in point: Brink. I polled 10 reviews and 1 was a 9, 4 were 8, 1 was a 7 and the rest were 5s or 6s. It has a metacritic score of around 70. It is already being seen as a failure on it’s first day. What!?! Am I crazy for enjoying it?

  • Blah

    An okay movie at 15 dollars is okay but an average game at 60 dollars is not.

  • Jakey Bee

    When people started going to school. Let me give you the math:
    0-59% = Failure
    60-69% = D for Disappoint
    70-79% = C for Crap to Average
    80-89% = Better to Bester
    89.5%-100% = Bested to Awesome to Amazing (or perfect)

  • Liam

    Yeah, school scores are all over the place nowadays….. Maybe they are to blame.

    As for Brink, well, that’s a great example. A failure at 70%? what the fudge? You think any movie or album would be considered a failure off the back of a 70% metacritic score? No way!

  • Yolio

    I agree with the Jakey Bee. For a long time here in the U.S. the average score has been a “C”, which is numerically roughly equal to the 70-79 point range. There’s been a noticeable and somewhat alarming trend at the college and university level for higher and higher grades to be given out, a.k.a. grade inflation. Even though the student handbook explicitly states that perfectly adequate work/papers/projects that meet the requirements in a satisfactory manner but do no nothing more merit a grade of “C”, or average, I know of hardly anyone that actually gets C’s, and most people even balk at the idea of a B- or a B; this is despite the fact that I’m sure significantly more than 50% of the student body is handing in quality work that greatly exceeds expectations, shows demonstrable effort, and goes above and beyond what is expected (requirements for an “A”). I get the feeling the same sort of trend has taken over in the gaming industry when it comes to review scores.

  • Liam

    I tell you what, you’re onto something there folks. Based on what you have said, the videogame review curve almost perfectly matches that found in the us school system. Coincidence?