In order to bring an air of discussion to editorials here at OnlySP, we’re introducing a new category of them, called “Discussion Points.” They present the essential details about a current trend or topic and propose a question about them for the community to debate in the comments and forums. Opinions from our staff will sometimes be included as well, separate from the summary.
A few days ago, Polygon made quite the splash in gaming news circles when editor Russ Pitts updated his review of EA’s SimCity reboot, downgrading the score from 9/10 to 8/10 and once again to 4/10. He did this on the basis that the game’s servers, which players were required to connect to even in single-player, were inadequate for supporting the large number of people playing during launch.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first time a publication has changed their review score. Back when our manager Nick Calandra was writing for Velocity Gamer, he changed his score for Modern Warfare 3 from a 4.5/5 to a 3.5/5 a few days after publishing the review, much to the detest of the community. Gamesweasel also changed their review score of Splinter Cell: Conviction from 8/10 to 7/10 once, and Clevver Games lowered Spider-Man: Edge of Time from a 7/10 to a 6/10 during their review of The Amazing Spider-Man.
However, this is definitely the most significant case of a review score change yet, since it has occurred in the wake of a game that, for all intents and purposes, functions and performed objectively differently upon release than it did in the hands of reviewers who played it early. From this, the following question can be raised:
“Is it okay for publication to change their review scores?”
It’s certainly a controversial question, and one that challenges the traditional concept of reviews, wherein once it’s published, it’s more or less set in stone, a sort of definitive judgment and summary.
Keep in mind that there are, at least as we see it, two reasons someone would want to change a score: A) They discover a bug/patch/gameplay issue upon release, or B) They have simply reconsidered their opinion on the game after revisiting or reflecting on it. They’re two radically different reasons, and not everyone will approve changing a review score for one of them.
Is an updatable review system needed in this modern day and age of the internet? Are certain things able to justify a review score change while others are not? We encourage you to discuss the matter in the comments section below and on our forums. Happy debating!
Points To Consider:
– What should justify a critic to change his/her score? Could they only do it if seemingly objective factors, such as undiscovered bugs or an update, arise? Or could they also do it if they simply rethought their opinion?
– Today, critics hurriedly try to get their review out in time for the lifting of the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) so that traffic and interest can be maximized. Should they be allowed to take more time with their reviews, making sure they’ve solidified their opinion and touched on all aspects they wanted to cover?
– Would a changeable review score system make gamers less trustful of reviews? If they knew a review score could change at any time, would they weigh it less open initial publication?
– Is it excusable for a game to not be completely finished and polished to its best degree on day one? Today, budgets and time constraints are higher than ever and the act of releasing an unstable game and patching it later is more tempting than ever.
– Should a ‘first impressions’ system be adopted, where critics can give their initial opinion while confirming their final score later?
– Do you feel review scores should be abolished or be fundamentally altered as a result of this controversy?
– One must factor Metacritic into this. We don’t believe they change review scores once they’re posted, which means each submitted review, as well as the Metascore, has to stay right where it is.
– Similarly, advertising must be considered. What if a game commercial stated that IGN gave a certain title 8.5/10, only for the consumer to buy it and later find out that they changed their score to, say, a 7.5/10?
Michael Urban –
I can definitely relate to the concept of wanting to change a review score. Back when I reviewed Dishonored last year, I ultimately rewarded it a 9/10. However, after starting my second playthrough of the title, of which I wasn’t able to receive review copy and rushed to finish and get a review out during the first time through, some noticeable flaws came to light that made me want to downgrade it to around an 8.5/10. In fact, looking back on it now, I kind of wish I wrote the entire review differently, as parts of it feel a bit vague and under-written.
However, the simple fact is that it was solely my fault and not the fault of the publisher or developer. As opposed to a game-breaking bug or server connection issues upon launch, I was the only one to blame for not dwelling more upon Dishonored after finishing it and coming to more confident conclusion about it.
I’ve always been one that thought reviews should be ‘timeless,’ an ultimate and airtight opinion on the game that one can reference at any time to get the critic’s definitive opinion. However, I’ve also always thought that review scores were rather inadequate means for judging a game with, since they’re rigid and rather scientific as opposed to the largely creative and subjective process that is reviewing. As a result, I always held the actual meat of the review, the reasoning and justification of the critics points, in higher regard than the actual score.
Overall, I encourage critics to take their time with reviews and to truly flesh out their arguments and reflect on their experiences before making a final verdict. For that reason, I find that changing the review score based purely on a critic rethinking their opinion to be a hard sell. However, in cases like SimCity, where issues cropped up after the review launched that were solely the publisher’s fault, I think a score change is definitely reasonable so long as it’s explained and justified. After all, reviews are in part purchasing advise, and they should convey exactly what the customer will be getting into.
Lastly, I don’t think review scores should be changed simply due to demand from the community, as was the case with Polygon’s first update. Reviews represent the thoughts and reasoning of the reviewer, not the audience that reads it. A critic should never be ‘peer pressured’ into changing their review against their will. Everyone has an opinion these days, and they’re free to express it via user reviews, forums, commenting, etc. A greater sense of individuality and variety within games criticism is ideal in my book.
Lachlan Williams –
So, review scores.
First of all, I find that review scores are rather an inaccurate measure of a game’s overall quality. Which, I guess, is why we write words to go with the number, and hope that those words will inform a potential purchaser of points of interest so that they may decide if that particular game is worth their time. Which brings us to changing scores after the fact. I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal, provided that it is adequately addressed and publicised. Games – and more specifically games that require an online connection – frequently change immediately after release, and sometimes drastically. I think that a certain leeway can be afforded in the rare cases where an extreme change after release can call for a second look. As long as the first review remains intact, and it’s clear this is additional material, I see no conceptual problem.
The two issues that do arise is the Metacritic score not changing once initially being posted, and the exact reasoning behind changing the score in the first place. Metacritic’s policy is to never adjust their scores once posted – and this has been known to impact developer bonuses in the past. An initial high or low score on Metacritic can skew the perceived response to a game, even if the game changes significantly after release. Secondly, the reason for the change must be transparent. In the SimCity review by Polygon, their initial revision from 9.5 to 8 was stated to be because of feedback from their readers, and not from first-hand experience of the reviewer. Their second revision to 4 was based on personal reviewer interaction with the game. The issue I have is that a vocal minority – and I am not saying this is the case in this instance: I don’t know – could potentially create a knee-jerk reaction to supposedly satisfy readership. Just like I can’t review a game based on what my friend says about it, an outlet should not be able to change their score of a game based on hearsay.
TL;DR, it’s okay to change scores if the change is transparent, justified, and explained based on first-hand experience, but it should only be applied where the game reviewed was not representative of the final product as available to the consumer in the first few weeks after release. If the reviewer cannot experience real-world conditions for the game, then they should declare that, and perhaps withhold a score until real-world conditions can be met.