It’s a topic that’s been discussed for years, that of whether or not we should score games, or review them without any scoring/rating/grade at all. For all the emphasis the mainstream industry places on Metacritic, you’d think by now there would have been some sort of push to standardize the system. But, in light of the wild west nature of the internet, no such luck. That being said, IGM has been reevaluating our scoring system, and as the indie community grows and evolves, so too must IGM adapt.
I personally come from a background of not scoring my reviews, probably because I’ve always been allowed to write on my own terms. Turns out, my own terms are long-form (~2000 words) and scoreless. I personally believe a good review stands on its own merit. While I won’t be requiring the writing team to write 2000-word reviews, we will be dropping the scoring system currently in place.
The decision for this stems from the fact that, given all of the innovative, quirky, or otherwise imaginative experiences the indie space has to offer, it’s become increasingly apparent that judging games based strictly off of Gameplay, Graphics, Sound, and Lasting Appeal no longer works. What about the audio-only games? What about the story-driven experiences that you only play once, but hold emotional weight? Sticking to a rigid score system, or static primary qualities, is detrimental in an industry that embraces thinking outside the box. With scores being comparative by nature, and the indie community’s desire to be unique, the two ideas are no longer compatible. So, effective immediately, we will no longer be scoring our reviews. (This change will go into effect for the Magazine as well, beginning with the May 2014 issue.)
With that in mind, here are the questions and notes our writers will be asking themselves whenever they prepare to write a review:
- How does the game play? What are the mechanics and features? Detail the mission structure, collectibles, upgrades, etc.
- How does the game look? Cel-shaded, voxel, photorealism, etc. what is the intended aesthetic, and does it fit within the context of the game?
- What is the story? Is the narrative cohesive, or does it fall apart? Which parts stand out, and where does it go wrong?
- What about the soundtrack? Does the score evoke the proper emotional response to match what’s happening on screen?
- How long or short is the game? Does it have replay value? If not, does it stay with you long after you’ve stopped playing?
- Was it fun? Is there a steep learning curve or difficulty spike? What was your personal experience with the game, and how much experience do you have with the genre?
- Does the game innovate within the genre in any way? Does it refine an age-old style or mechanic? What does it bring to the table to make it stand out from the many other indies out there?
- What is the price point? Is there enough value to justify the cost, considering all of the above?
If writers can answer these questions thoroughly, and justify each of their answers, the review will speak for itself, which is exactly how things should be. If you read a review and still don’t A) Have enough of an understanding of the game to make your own informed decision based on personal preference or B) Have a sense of how the writer felt about the game, than the author of that review failed at their job. For those in a hurry and want a quick rundown of the good/bad of a game, the Pros and Cons list will still provide a brief outline of the experience, highlighting what works and what doesn’t.
I want our reviews to stand on their own merit, the same way I want to review games based on their own merit. If the best a reviewer can do to explain a game is to tell you “it’s a Metroidvania” or “it’s kinda like Crazy Taxi meets Angry Birds, (Note to devs: Get on that!) I say that’s a bogus review with little value. I want to inform our readers while providing a fair critique that developers can take to heart and use to improve their next project. Or totally ignore us. Either way, the information will be out there. I don’t expect to usher in a new wave of scoreless reviews or anything like that, but I do challenge our media peers to reevaluate their scoring systems as well. Metacritic is not a healthy system; I think most developers would agree if they weren’t so (rightly) afraid to speak out about it. If reviews were more about the critique, and less about some arbitrary number that only means something within the vacuum of that outlet, perhaps game journalism would be “taken seriously”. But that’s another story for another day.
TL;DR: IGM is getting rid of review scores in favor of more in-depth, analytical critiques. Pros and Cons are staying for those who only have time for a quick fix. Vinny wants a game about angry, crazy taxi birds. Or something. And apparently now refers to himself in the third person.