On Numerical Rating Systems – An Op-Ed

We the fine folks at www.indiegamereviewer.com use the 5-Star system. I love it, as it obliterates the perception gained from the 8-10 system we see from mainstream reviewers, where if it’s anything less then a 9, then it’s shit.

I can give a game that showed some effort, but just didn’t get some core mechanics implemented right a 2-star, and it’d be correct. I can give a decent game, but nothing spectacular a 3-star, and people would still feel it might be worth their time to check out if what it’s about is something they like.

When you think about it, every half-a-star is 1 point in a 10 point system. But, the issue is not with the 10 point system, it’s all in how the reader has been manipulated by pandering scores to only accept 8-10 scores as ‘good’, and everything else as awful. No, the problem is not the system, but with a person’s perception of the system, and I think it mainly has to do with numbered systems. Even the Out of Eight guy might not get a 100% effectiveness out of his review scores because of the stigmata from a numbered system. Where as I can give a 3-star review and people would still see this 6/10 score as an ‘Average’ rating. I bet you could even use words like ‘Average’, ‘Great’, ‘Poor’ and it would work just as well as a Star or other symbol system.

That is all really. I just think the numbered system needs to be abandoned for a few years until the way we view such ratings returns to a more rational state. For now, if you plan on starting up a review site, try representing your review scores via a Pie Chart. It’d be unique and you could give honest ratings. Go ahead and thank me later.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

2 thoughts on “On Numerical Rating Systems – An Op-Ed

  1. I think the issues with mainstream rating systems arise mainly from the requirement for games by certain publishers *requiring* certain ratings, otherwise no money flows, and reviewers can not survive.

    Mostly anyone rating anything needs a source of income after surpassing a certain amount of popularity. And voilá – you’re dependant on receiving review copies. Then the publishers demand certain favors…

    However, there are also regional issues. As I recall, Europe hat lots of game ratings around 0 to 3 of 10 before 2000. Over from america came the opinion, that

    a) you can’t be that harsh to anyone (even if that’s fair)
    b) 7/10 is a crap game already

    5/10 is mediocre, mathmatically and imo, too.

    Well anyway, nowadays a word-of-mouth of a friend is worth far more than yet-another-marketing-campaign including ratings.

    I don’t agree with the text that a more rational state would return. We’ll always end up in a capitalism favored way regarding this.

  2. I just discovered your site the other day, so forgive me for commenting on something already a week old, but I had to chime in a little. I think using words such as “good”, “great”, “mediocre”, etc. is a better idea than stars, or at least together, for two reasons. Firstly, stars are not only arbitrary but carry individual and cultural connotations for each person. Up until I got a Netflix account a couple of years ago, it seemed a rather arbitrary system to me. Now I tend to rate things based on its system, “Hated it”, “Didn’t like it”, “Liked it”, “Really liked it”, “Loved it”. Others may have other ideas of what each star amount means in their own minds. Unless they’re intimately familiar with what exactly YOU think each star means about a game, people will assign the stars whatever arbitrary meaning they’ve assigned those ratings in their own minds. The second reason is the cultural aspect I’ve just mentioned. At least in the United States, we’ve been trained to understand that anything below about 70% is a “failure”. When you give a person a 50% on something, they’ve done pretty abysmally. That’s not “mediocre”, that’s, “You have no idea what you’re doing.” I think a lot of people, in absence of another more specific rating system for the stars, just equate them with percentages, and this is the reason for “Nothing below 8 is very good” and the near-total lack of anything scoring less than 3. In a lot of American minds, especially those of our nerd/gamer core who tend to achieve high grades in school, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 or a 1 really, you’re just telling us how absolutely worthless it is at that point.

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