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The Nasty Business Of Using Review Scores To Drive Traffic

This is one of those tricky, sticky, controversial topics that can incite plenty of anger and outright hostility.

But for the sake of consumer understanding, it should be addressed. Let's take a very recent example to kick things off; you might be familiar:

Naughty Dog's The Last Of Us currently holds a Metascore of about 96, making it one of the highest-rated games in video game history. Personally, I agree with the majority. However, as always, there are a few statistical outliers; in this case, it's Polygon's much-publicized 7.5 score for what many have deemed a total masterpiece.

Critic Philip Kollar has taken a lot of flak for that score, and then he got into it with Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida on Twitter. That exchange can be seen here. First, Yoshida takes a little supposed jab by asking, "who are you?" This is followed by a very interesting statement:

"Congratulations, you must have gotten lots of clicks for the review, incl. mine, I would have not read it otherwise."

See now, that opens up a whole new can of worms. Let me give you some insight on this from my perspective, and that perspective includes 13 years of writing for various gaming websites: Reviews for big games often equals big traffic. Everyone wants to read about the latest hotly anticipated title, especially if it's either A. scoring huge, or B. scoring well below what was anticipated. Either option generates plenty of discussion, which in turn generates traffic. However, a site doesn't really have any control over the general reception; it can only control its own review score.

And herein lies an obvious problem, as Yoshida so clearly stated above. One of the best ways to generate traffic is to go against the status quo. It's the easiest thing in the world: If your site needs a traffic boost and a big game is coming up, a regrettably common tactic is to wait for the initial round of reviews, and then run precisely counter. And when you run counter, you do so without any hesitation; go full on. If the game is getting 9s and 10s, give it a 4. If it's getting 4s, give it a 10. You get my drift. Sadly and unfortunately for consumers, this is a very real occurrence. Hey, websites are free; they need to generate revenue, yes?

That's no excuse, of course, but that's the reason editors will give. As for this particular situation, I'm not sure that's what happened. Polygon is too big to care that much about extra traffic. The only question I have concerns how they go about reviewing games:

"Games are not scored until a review is written and finalized. Once a review is complete, the reviewer meets with a group of senior editors to determine which score on our scale properly reflects the text as written. We do not write with scores in mind."

In my honest opinion, that's wrong. Meeting with a group only dilutes everything and completely eradicates the one voice, the one cohesive opinion, that is necessary for writing an accurate review. Trying to incorporate the opinions and thoughts of a big group doesn't do anybody any good, especially when a portion of the analysis is subjective. That's a critically flawed policy in my eyes. That being said, it doesn't mean the reviewer went out of his way to score The Last Of Us low for the sake of traffic. I doubt there was an ulterior motive.

There may have been a personal ulterior motive but hey, this is a crapshoot. Everyone is human. No critic can be 100% objective at all times and for all reviews. And if something about this game really got to Koller, well, so be it. But I just wanted to clarify the subject for those who aren't quite familiar. Yes, it can and does happen. No, I don't believe it happened in this case. It doesn't seem logical.

Related Game(s): The Last Of Us

Tags: the last of us, the last of us reviews, polygon, shuhei yoshida

6/13/2013 10:56:43 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (49 posts)

WorldEndsWithMe
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:22:28 PM
Reply

That was a hilarious exchange between those two.

Back to the matter at hand, I also find this to be a hugely flawed policy. I can write a review that is critical but still brings a pretty good score or I can write a review that is overall positive but hands down a lower score.

The problem here is they have a council interpreting the words of another, sending them through a meat grinder, and then slapping a score on it.

Rene Descartes said (speaking with a metaphor in mind) that a building is at its best when it is completed by a single architect with a single vision. When others add onto that building and complete it with their own visions the foundation is both literally and figuratively unstable. I believe this whole heartedly.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 6/13/2013 11:23:42 PM

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Cabalavatar1
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:56:52 PM

Descartes was a crazy individualist whose ideas are ideologically haunting us but are not philosophically relevant anymore. We're all made up of the influences of hundreds of people we've met in person and millions of people who've all interconnectedly affected each other. Thus you don't ever get one "single" vision; you get a plethora of visions cast in a so-called singular embodied form.

No review is made up by just one person alone, devoid of back-story and numerous outside influences. That hope for objectivity is just absurd.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:03:14 AM

"Rene Descartes said (speaking with a metaphor in mind) that a building is at its best when it is completed by a single architect with a single vision. When others add onto that building and complete it with their own visions the foundation is both literally and figuratively unstable. I believe this whole heartedly."

The central theme of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."

Cabalavatar1: The geniuses of the world, upon whose shoulders we all stand, worked alone. Michelangelo didn't create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a group of painters. Tolstoy didn't write War and Peace with a group of writers. Mozart did not compose with a group. From Copernicus to Einstein, the only true advancement mankind has ever known has come from INDIVIDUAL efforts.

The only thing group efforts has ever gotten us is mediocrity and laziness, and worse, mass acceptance of mediocrity and laziness. The only thing "haunting" us today is the manic, insidious drive to destroy the individual. ...could be the reason we haven't had, and may never have, another Michelangelo, Tolstoy or Mozart.

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Akuma07
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:29:03 AM

Communism FTW!

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Beamboom
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 7:13:13 AM

Oh well. Science is one giant group effort... The biggest achievents in the history of man is found in those efforts.

Last edited by Beamboom on 6/14/2013 7:14:26 AM

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ZettaiSeigi
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 7:25:29 AM

Thanks for reminding me about The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Ben. Haven't read them in a while. This might be a great time to do so again.

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ZettaiSeigi
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 7:32:55 AM

There's another review on metacritic that seems to want some of the traffic. They gave The Last of Us a 60/100. I looked at the name of the site and said "The who?" Needless to say, I did not bother clicking the link for the 'review'.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 11:08:51 AM

Beamboom: No, the group effort is only AFTER an individual has made the strides that others will utilize. And even that only works if someone somewhere is a genius and is allowed to shine.

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Beamboom
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:42:02 PM

Well obviously you need to have a brilliant mind to contribute with any significance. But science today is far, far too complex and even costly for one individual to get far at all. It's your blanket statement that ALL group efforts are mediocre that I allow myself to smirk at, the implication that brilliance can't be found in groups.

Major breakthroughs that are done in science today is very much a collaborate effort, a result of many, many scientists, brilliant minds contributing within each their fields.

I can highly recommend BBC Radio 4 in these regards, they have several very good radio programs that covers current science and discovery. Programs like "Science Today", "Material World", "Discovery" and "Life Scientific". Each are available as podcasts on the BBC website.

Last edited by Beamboom on 6/14/2013 12:48:59 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:16:35 PM

Firstly, that's science. Secondly, even today, any and all major breakthroughs are ultimately attributed to one person, with further advancements built on top of that attributed to the group.

Thirdly and lastly, there is no brilliance in groups. There never has been and there never will be; that's not how humans work. Brilliance is an individual trait.

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Beamboom
Saturday, June 15, 2013 @ 2:40:58 AM

Sorry Ben but this is nonsense. Again you take this utterly polarized stance.

Let me use another example that is a bit more hands-on: Music bands. The very, VERY typical syndrome is that if you take a a group that together creates pure magic, when each individual artist goes solo none of them manage to make more than fair release by themselves.

Now, according to your logic all bands should give mediocre results at best, while once they go solo brilliance should start to shine. In fact the exact opposite is what is the rule *almost* without exception!
That is because brilliance were found within the totality of the *group*, it's the dynamic of the group that is the catalyzator.

Take Beatles, for example. Both Paul McCartney AND John Lennon has numerous times explained that it was the dynamic between them that made them create their masterpieces.


Last edited by Beamboom on 6/15/2013 2:49:16 AM

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xenris
Saturday, June 15, 2013 @ 1:08:28 PM

Ben tell one brilliant genius to build a space shuttle or I dunno a pyramid.

The space shuttle couldn't have even been conceived by one person. It was a process of trial and error, it took many failed attempts before they got it working and thousands of peoples combined efforts. You have material scientists, and engineers, and physicists ALL of these are different fields and require completely different schoolings. Your statement is absolutely ludicrous.

"Firstly, that's science." I actually laughed incredibly hard at this statement. Science is the driving force behind all of our advancements today, and while one person might have a eureka moment, 9 times out of 10 someone else is going to take that and expand on it.

That is how things work and that is how we have advanced as a race. We play and build off of other peoples ideas and actually in a group we are at our strongest, and smartest.



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Xombito
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:24:15 PM
Reply

When I first saw headline of this article I thought it was about someone else's review score recently. I shall not mention his name. We need to not care about this man.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:39:18 PM

I actually haven't been following any reviews on TLoU but the one here, however two names spring to mind. Neither should be mentioned anywhere.

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Killa Tequilla
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:21:09 AM

Does that include me?

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Killa Tequilla
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:26:20 AM

I've been on this website long enough for Ben to remember my name before he goes to bed. Even though you might not see me post I visit this website daily, but I honestly don't know what happened to TheHighlander. I read you told me it was because of how great Ps4 was being accepted? That makes no sense...

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Xombito
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:00:33 AM

@Killa
Unless your name is.........

Haha you almost got me there.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:14:01 AM

I was thinking Tom Chick and Jim Sterling actually.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:32:58 AM

The fact that someone like Sterling is actually allowed to call himself a "journalist" is just...embarrassing. It's part of the reason gaming journalism will never be taken seriously.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 6/14/2013 1:33:17 AM

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Xombito
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:58:16 AM

Sterling actually gave the game a 10/10.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 10:19:13 AM

He's still insane.

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Norrin Radd
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:29:23 PM
Reply

The problem is no one remembers the ending to the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf anymore. How many times can a site do this to drive traffic before people just write them off as hit whores?

Internet users are becoming more savvy about sifting information - especially as bad info proliferates. It only takes one outlier (like this review from Polygon) for me to decide never to visit their site. It no longer holds credibility. Why? I don't need their site. There are literally hundreds of sites reviewing games. I'll stick to the top 5-10 that I know have integrity.

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Temjin001
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:34:47 PM
Reply

I wonder though if a site wants to be known as the contrary opinion. Wouldn't this ultimately drive most readers away? I suppose their could be a nitch community who thrives on bad mouthing everything good and lifting up everything bad. But if this Koller and a group of cohorts came to this conclusion that The Last of Us deserves only a 7.5 then it would seem to me they wouldn't gamble the sincerity of their reputation on a one-shot expense. Maybe the dude really feels it's a 7.5, even if his view is not a common one among peers. Didn't Gamespot also nail this one too? They've been around for a long time. I'm sure they know the tricks. They probably know gimmickry like that doesn't work in the long run. I don't always agree with mass critical reception, but I generally do.

Sorry, but I don't think The Walking Dead had any business winning GotY over many of the front runners last year. I doubt it was for easy hits too. I think enough of the right 'types' of minds came together and all agreed on it somehow.

Anyway. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is in fact the best action game ever made. End of story. Love or hate me now =p

Last edited by Temjin001 on 6/13/2013 11:37:18 PM

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sawao_yamanaka
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:55:01 PM

I agree. Ninja gaiden is the tits. Wish a new one was made for the ps4 when it releases. Or just stick with the devils third.

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KidPresentable
Thursday, June 13, 2013 @ 11:58:56 PM
Reply

I got it early today. No way this game should EVER be awarded anything lower than a 9. I respect others opinions fully and I will always encourage dissent. But I think that any self respecting reviewer should look at the game itself beyond personal feelings.

Last edited by KidPresentable on 6/13/2013 11:59:50 PM

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Gabriel013
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 4:48:52 AM

Doesn't it depend on how you view the 10 point score? If you think 7 is mediocre and only a 9 + means 'Good' then I see why you would say that. Is it possible some reviewers see mediocre and average as.. well.. The average. a 5? With that system a 7.5 would be good and a 9+ would mean exceptional in every assessment category.

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KidPresentable
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 7:02:06 AM

Awesome, man. I never really thought of it that way. Thanks for that perspective. I guess I was thinking of it more as there is a general consensus of what scores are. In the internet world 9 is good, 5 is bad. Hell, 7 is bad. So, in some extremely weird way, aren't reviewers obligated to the audience to give a number that they would expect is 'good'?

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Gabriel013
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 8:16:21 AM

I see where you're coming from. That's kinda why I would always look at the content rather than just the number. I haven't read the review highlighted here but it could be full of praise despite the score awarded.

Also there may be little bias on the basis of personal taste. I for one generally dislike multiplayer so I may score that quite low whereas a fan of online play may value that component and we'd be vice-versa on the core story possibly.

what would be great is if there was a key which had 1-10 listed and underneath a sentence to describe it.
10 - Practically perfect across the board.
7 - Generally good but lacking in a few key areas.
1 - No redeeming qualities. Kill it with fire.

That way you'd know what that actually meant on that site.

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newchef
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 10:50:00 AM

@Gabriel013, normally i would agree with you but it seems this reviewer just missed the point of the game, he just doesn't seem to like it and has alot of gripes that i haven't seen anywhere else

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Gabriel013
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 2:36:00 PM

@ newchef, that's cool. I've not read the article and was commenting more as a devils advocate.
I take it the review content comes from a "We're different look at us" angle?

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newchef
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 6:28:29 PM

yeah, i cant really think of much else that could have sent him down the road he went

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newchef
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:18:21 AM
Reply

read Polygons review when it first came out and it seems hthe author didnt like how realistic the game was, and that at times it was too hard cause Joel is just a person...

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unapersson
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:16:13 AM
Reply

I also think there's a big of gaming of Metacritic scores going on. It's seems such an influential site. They also seem to game the system themselves. I see metacritic has picked up a new 6/10 score for Last of Us, while ignoring lots of other reviews. At times they can seem quite arbitrary about which sites they pick, and their average score can easily be altered by a few outliers. One of the reasons I don't really trust the site.

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kraygen
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:30:22 AM
Reply

One huge problem I see with this is they're basically saying they have a group of people scoring a game they've never played simply basing their score on what someone else has told them about it.

Bad way to do things.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:57:12 AM

Exactly, they are interlopers interpreting a review. They are adding to someone else's work in a way that undermines it.

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Akuma07
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:31:29 AM
Reply

one of the complaints polygon made was that the aiming mechanic was too erratic. I hope this is a lie!

I will probably try this game eventually, when it comes down in price. Not sure if I will like it, i've never played any ND games.

I mean, you guys convinced me to get Bioshock Infinite, and I liked that game. So maybe i will, who knows.

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Banky A
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 2:59:45 AM

ND are the industrys pride

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Knightzane
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 2:59:19 AM
Reply

Thats why i love your reviews Ben. Sometimes i disagree with a score, but i know your doing it for an actual score and not for publicity. In fact, your the only site i visit for reviews.

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Beamboom
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 3:14:38 AM
Reply

I have such a hard time believeing this is a *common* practice.

If we look back to before the Internet and clicks and links meant anything, there were still always the odd stray reviewer who really didn't see what the others saw. There were those who just didn't - for whatever reason - think Michael Jacksons Thriller were *that* special, or that Abba actually were quite good (Abba were *slayed* by the average reviewer back in the 70s).
I mean, isn't this humanity in a nutshell?

And if we read the accompanying review that follows these ratings, they don't look like something that's just whipped together in order to gain a short term traffic bonus.

I'm sorry guys but I doubt these theories.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 10:21:23 AM

I'd say it's common in the sense that it happens every time a 10 candidate comes out, but not that there are LOTS of occurrences each time.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 11:11:20 AM

You can't doubt them because I've been privy to such occurrences first-hand.

They're not going to be obvious. People aren't stupid. The review will be written as any other review and they will attempt to come up with legitimate reasons for the score. But scoring significantly lower or higher for the sake of traffic has happened and will continue to happen, so long as there are literally thousands of smaller sites that need traffic to survive.

You will ALWAYS be able to find a very low score somewhere for a game that's scoring off the charts. Always. That isn't just due to normal human differences, either. And a "short-term traffic bonus" is often plenty to nab quick campaigns that can keep a site afloat.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 6/14/2013 11:13:25 AM

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Beamboom
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:26:56 PM

Please note guys that what we are discussing here is if this is a *common* practise - not if it has ever happened.

And these are your assumptions, and you're not alone in making them. But assumptions are all they are.

To me it is rather weird to place suspicion on any review that sport a notably lower rating than the majority, and question if they are fabricated. It is, in fact, quite paranoid.

I really don't see anything out of the ordinary if two-three reviewers out of 60-70 are straying radically off. There can be many reasons for that but it's not in itself an indicator of any wrongdoings - quite the contrary. It's statistically quite sound.

But yeah - I know you believe it is like this. All I'm saying is that I don't believe the same. :)


Last edited by Beamboom on 6/14/2013 12:28:20 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:19:18 PM

I don't get it. I just told you I've seen it first-hand. I've been part of sites and have known reviewers that have done it and have admitted to doing it. And it's a dirty little secret that ALL veteran journalists acknowledge as being quite common. Not among major sites, as I've said several times, but among sites that are much smaller, sites you may never see.

It's not a theory or a belief. You're just going to have to accept it as fact because it is.

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Beamboom
Saturday, June 15, 2013 @ 2:56:09 AM

You have seen it first-hand, at a site that delivered ratings to the meta-sites?
If we now talk about how people can write trash in a blog site noone reads to gain attention, then that is a *completely* different discussion. I hardly see anything *but* that.

I don't talk about blogs and scramblings on Facebook and Twitter and the likes here - but sites of a certain level, that at least is included in the metascore engines.

Well, if so then I stand corrected. But that begs the question: WHY? To get a couple of hundred trash-talking random readers who dump their curses on them and leave again? Just... WHY is that of any value?

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___________
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 5:05:12 AM
Reply

writing a review without a score in mind until the whole text is finalized, than having others read it and discuss a scores probably not such a bad idea.
so many times ive read a review, and said ok theres a few gripes but there only minor, hell thats whats said in the review, than scrolled down to see a 6.
a 6 is a game that has few minor gripes is it?
IGN im looking at you!
and other times ive seen the complete opposite, the reviewer wont say a single positive thing about a game, than give it a 7.
a game that has nothing good about it is a 7?
really?
sorry, but i stopped holding one light of truthfulness and accuracy to reviews the day GTAIV got all its perfect scores!
now you gotta go on hype and gut feeling, luckily those are far more consistent!

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PC_Max
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 8:18:03 AM
Reply

Well, I takes reviews and scores with ..... well I use them as a guide and not the reason I purchase a game.

Like taste and preference in games to the gamer or consumer, critics may approach a review of a game based on what criteria they or their bosses lay out. Example for me, GTAIV. It got some really good scores from critics and fans alike. I have repeatedly tried to play the game and find it flawed and buggy. Gameplay wise... not enticing enough to whatever my tastes OR moods are at the time. Does not mean its a bad game... nor a great game at that.

The Last of Us I have seen get perfect scores. Sorry, that I cannot believe. NO game is perfect and every game as some level is flawed. Again, does not mean its a bad game, not a great game either. Comes down to what you are seeing and experiencing as a gamer and/or what your criteria is that the game has to meet for a game critic.

Uncharted 3 got a high score meteoritic, some perfect scores from PS critics, but as much as I enjoyed the game and a big fan of the entire series, they game had some flaws, minor, and a rather disappointing gameplay ending (excluding the very last cut scene which was a good ending to the series for the characters).

So just because someone rates a game with an average score based on their own criteria and not anyone elses, especially fans whether critic, gamer or both... just let it go. lol.

For Last of Us is a pick up for Xmas and I will probably buy Two Souls first of the two anticipated titles. For me LoU has mostly good reviews, which tells me that at some point its worth taking a look later. Is it perfect, doubtful, but fun. Just like Jurassic Park was not a great and flawed film, it was a fun ride.

Keep Playing!

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WorldEndsWithMe
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 10:22:46 AM
Reply

I like to use the text of the review to help me decide anyway, the score is just kind of an expectations marker. I can always tell just from the writing if the reviewer is trustworthy.

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LowKey
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 12:32:02 PM
Reply

That's the thing about reviews, they are just one person's opinion. That's why I stick with this site. You ALL know how much I trust Ben's reviews, in most cases when I'm trying to decide between 2 games I'll come here to check out a review to help me decide. You can't always trust the larger websites 'cause alot of them are nothing but shady characters.

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Tmllyjr
Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 1:50:25 PM
Reply

I wouldn't mind an editorial review that ensures the review text matches the sites scoring standards. Asking a reporter to verify his claims is never a bad thing. But a review board interpreting another's work to come up with a score for them? That's ludicrous. Every piece of information can be subject to interpretation. I've written things that readers have told me meant something entirely counter to my intent or ascribe meaning to things I did not put thought into at all.

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