More than two years ago, I wrote this column:
For those who might not like to read big long articles (more on that very point in a second), it was basically a column about how some people seemed to look only at game review scores, without even bothering to read the reviews. At the time, it seemed to me that, rather than actually reading an article designed to go with the score, these folks would seemingly fly off the handle in game forums, using nothing but a number as a basis for an angry rant.
In that column, I likened some of the more extreme folks to the unskilled opponents I used to play against at fighting games in the arcades. The guys would put in their money like everyone else, take hold of the joystick, then clutch it in a defensive stance and not move, which would generally let me walk right up to them and crush them. And with some of these guys, no matter how badly they'd get beaten, they kept doing the same thing over and over again. They were basically mistaken about what the game was or how it was played. You can't win at a fighting game by sitting still and hoping you win; similarly, you can't get a real sense of a game's review just by glancing at a number out of the corner of your eye (especially when you don't have a clear idea of the frame of reference on numerical scores), then turning on your heel and scrambling to the nearest message board to start ranting and raving, which is what some folks seemed to do.
Now it's over two years later, and GameSpot has an actual printed review policy which can be viewed at any time:
Essentially, there's a policy page that states plainly the criteria of GameSpot's reviews, complete with a "frequently asked questions" section that explains how review numbers work, how reviewers are chosen, and who is best served by reviews.
Maybe it's that some folks don't want to read the whole thing, or something, but even though it's all there in black and white, if anything, the situation seems worse.
Like it says here:
...reviewers are not chosen randomly, but rather through a process that takes into account such concerns as familiarity with the genre. Yet people still insist on asking about who's specifically reviewing what as though it matters (it doesn't, especially since our reviews are screened by multiple editors before posting--not just tossed up randomly whenever the reviewer finishes writing it and feels like putting it up). Asking this question over and over again is like repeatedly pushing the "coin return button" on an arcade cabinet in the hopes that it will somehow win you a fighting game match.
And like it says here:
...review scores are not relative across platforms, so comparing the review scores of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas PS2 to the review score of Halo 2 Xbox is inaccurate, mistaken, and wrong. GameSpot's reviews simply don't work that way. As you can see if you read the above link, GameSpot reviews games relative to their platforms; comparing Xbox games to Xbox games, not to games on other platforms. Making this kind of erroneous comparison is kind of like trying to skillfully "play" an arcade game even though the machine isn't even on.
And like it says here:
....GameSpot's reviews are to help people, who are unsure about their purchase decisions, decide whether or not to buy a game. If you've already bought, played, and enjoyed the game, guess what: GameSpot's review of that game isn't even for you. No reviews of that game are (or at least, they shouldn't be). A review is an article that assesses a product's quality to let you know whether it's worth buying, before you buy.
To make this clear: If you look at reviews as ammunition in pointless forum arguments about whose favorite game is "better" by virtue of higher review scores (that is, if you're the kind of person who, for whatever reason, enjoys arguing that "my favorite game got a higher score than your favorite game, your game flopped"), GameSpot's reviews are not for you. If you look at reviews as a way to validate your purchase; to somehow make you feel better about yourself for buying a game, GameSpot's reviews are not for you.
Yet we still see angry posts about our reviews from readers who "loved this game, pre-ordered it, run a fansite, helped develop it, bought it before the reviews even came out, and really enjoy the game, so GameSpot's less-than-perfect-10 review score is infuriating!" If you've already bought the game and enjoy it for what it is, why are you reading reviews of it? Go play the game and enjoy it--that's what games are for. As I see it, people who make this same, misguided, non-applicable "argument" about GameSpot's reviews are the ones who come into an arcade and try to "play" the change/token machine that spits out quarters/coins/game tokens for use with arcade games when you put money into them.
The point I'm trying to make if you've read this far, and I suspect that some of the folks I've described above haven't, is that complaining about concerns like how cross-platform review scores stack up, or about how angry you get at a review score given to a game you've already bought and enjoyed, isn't just wrong, it's hopelessly misguided. It's like having a termite problem in the physical framework of your house and trying to deal with it by buying a cat that's extremely good at catching mice, despite the fact that there's a sign at the pet store, right there, that explains that termites need exterminators to be dealt with (then getting really mad when it doesn't work). It's like catching the flu and trying to cure yourself by getting a new pair of contact lenses, even though you're staring right at a sign that says that the flu can be treated only by bed rest and drinking fluids (then getting really mad when it doesn't work). Like before, these practices are as useful, and as worthwhile, as hanging onto a joystick on a dead arcade machine. Except that it's two years later and there's a sign now.