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How Do I Rate Games?

If you’re the type of person who visits and enjoy these sort of review sites, you’ve probably noticed that everyone seems to use a different rating system.  Some people use a scale of 1 to 4, or 1 to 5, others use a percentage, some assign letter grades, and still others rate individual aspects separately and average them together for a final score.  By now you may have noticed that even the Nerd Berry and I use different rating schemes.  For those interested I thought I’d go into a little bit of detail on how I rate games and rough translations of numbers.  Before I forget to mention it, this applies only to video games.  When other areas of the site are expanded on I’ll include separate sections.

When playing a game I look at a few specific things.  Graphics may be the most obvious for some people but I am far from a visual fanatic.  I like to know what I’m looking at, but for the most part I’m pretty forgiving in this area and rarely is the case where graphics alone can make or break a game.  The main elements I take note of are how responsive the controls are, how enjoyable the game is (meaning I like to find that medium ground between super hard and too easy), and how easy or hard it is to master a game’s particular set of controls:  basically, how long does it take to be able to pull off specific sequences without thinking about them, how easy is it to make the character (or whatever I’m controlling) perform the actions I intend for them to perform.  My own subjectivity plays a large role too.  I always ask myself “how fun is this game?” with respect to how fresh or monotonous the gameplay is, how creative but practical are the level designs, and how much balance there is between finger numbing button pushing and actually thinking about or searching the environment (if applicable).  Secondarily I also take into account replayability, length, and the natural progression of the game:  does it get better? worse? harder, or easier? does the overall flow of the game make sense?  Some of this is only noticed by its absence, which is exactly how I feel about sound.  There are some audiophiles out there who really pay attention, but I am not one of them.  If it’s extremely bad or noticeably amazing I’ll be sure to note it.

Far too often amateur reviewers make the crucial mistake of not fully understanding what middle ground is.  Many amateurs will have a cluster of ratings in the top 25-35% of their rating scale or either in the bottom 0-25%.  This amounts to little more than two checkboxes:  one for “like” and one for “dislike.”  The reality is that the middle 50% of any rating scale should be where about 60-70% of the ratings fall.  Practically this isn’t possible because I haven’t rated every video game ever.  There is obviously going to be some bias here since I am rating games from my own collection and not being handed titles at random.  While the nature of collections such as these includes buying some bad games on purpose, let’s assume for the most part that I know what I like and I tend to buy similar games.  This may shift the average of my ratings, likely towards the above average end of the spectrum.  I suppose what I want to really make clear is that an “average game” is not a “bad game.”  People looking at scores on a 10-point scale may automatically assume everything below a 7 or so is garbage, but this is not the case, at least when it comes to me.

Essentially I am rating on a 20-point scale excluding 0, which will only be reserved for the severest of atrocities, if at all.  I use the numbers between 1 and 10 with fractional increments of one half, or .5.  First I begin by determining whether the game is good, bad, or average.  Poor games belong somewhere from 1 to 3, average 4 to 6, and good 7 to 9.  Ten’s will only be awarded to the best of the best, games that are literally flawless.  (Are there any…?)

Afterwards I weigh it against other games in it’s class.  If it’s about the same as other games in those categories, I give it a 2, 5, or 8 respectively.  A little less well done and it gets a 1, 4, or 6.  If it’s a notch better, 3, 6, and 9.  Then I start thinking about games on a more specific level, especially the major aspects mentioned above and my own subjective experience.  If and when any of these strike me as particularly well done, I’ll bump the score up by .5 points.  If there’s a sole quality dragging the game down, .5 points are lost.  On rare occasions this may warrant the addition or deletion of an entire point, but what is likely to happen is that if multiple elements of the game are lacking or exceptional it will probably find it’s appropriate place in the previous step.  Any rating is subjected to any pitfalls of higher ratings; ratings also include any merits of lower ratings.

  • 0 – Unplayable.  Glitches due to development, completely unresponsive controls, something that was released as a “video game” but can hardly be called one.
  • 0.5 – Awful game with minor flaw or unplayable game with small merit.  Unlikely to be often used.
  • 1 – Awful.  The worst of the worst.  Poor graphics, difficult gameplay, either no challenge present or so hard it’s impossible.  Can be hard to find now; mostly the product of 3rd party developers while the industry was in its infancy and licensing was unstandardized.
  • 1.5 – Awful with one exceptional quality or poor with one minor flaw.
  • 2 – Poor.  A generally bad, but playable game.  Progress can be made, the main objective can be understood.  Anything and everything else is up-in-the-air.  Cheapest bargain bin games.  Can be hard to find now; mostly the product of 3rd party developers while the industry was in its infancy and licensing was unstandardized.
  • 2.5 – Poor with one exceptional quality or bad with one minor flaw.
  • 3 – Bad.  Coherent enough to be recognizable as a video game, but with major flaws in more than one area relating to graphics, concept, or controls.  Lowest possible rating for “so-bad-it’s-fun.”  Possibly confusing game structure.  Many bargain bin games.
  • 3.5 – Bad with one exceptional quality or mediocre with one minor flaw.
  • 4 – Mediocre.  Playable games made with a decent level of competence, but often times are boring, pointless, or poorly designed.  May possibly include pointless and/or disparate elements of game play, but may also be somewhat fun or enjoyable for one reason or another.  Many bargain bin games.
  • 4.5 – Mediocre with one exceptional quality or average with one minor flaw.
  • 5 – Average.  The “I’ve seen better, but I’ve seen worse” games.  Games that one would consider at least somewhat fun or enjoyable.  Smooth flow, workable control mechanics.  Little if any glaring errors but also nothing to set it apart from similar titles.  Probably relies mostly on reflex/button pushing ability.  Adheres to accepted genre conventions.  Mid-priced games in bargain bins.
  • 5.5 – Average with one exceptional quality or fair with one minor flaw.
  • 6 – Fair.  More fun that 5’s.  Usually contains some element of note, even if other games possess stronger appeal in the same areas.  Smooth, adequate controls, a game worth playing again.  Nothing is wrong with the game even if nothing is all that special either.  Mid to upper priced bargain big games, especially 5th and 6th generation games; can also include games that came to rest at a respectable price point during and after the life of the system.
  • 6.5 – Fair with one exceptional quality or good with one minor flaw.
  • 7 – Good.  A game someone would recommend as a good game.  Worth buying.  Fun with precision controls and clear objectives.  No confusion over objectives or in-game items, nice balance of using in-game mechanics as well as creative techniques to solve problems.  Perhaps somewhat influential.  Helps to define and reinforce genre conventions, often with original and memorable touches.  Price steadily decreases but stabilizes at ~$20 during and sometime after the life of the system.
  • 7.5 – Good with one exceptional quality or great with one minor flaw.
  • 8 – Great.  Extremely enjoyable game with novel and progressive elements to be imitated and ripped off by others.  Cutting edge from a technical standpoint when considering its era.  Sometimes complex gameplay that is both easy to understand and execute.  Absolutely no issues with controls.  Perfects genre conventions.  Many highly revered launch titles would fit here.
  • 8.5 – Great with one exceptional quality or outstanding with one minor flaw.  Influential.
  • 9 – Outstanding.  Almost perfect.  No major or minor issues, only nitpicky, situational, or rarely encountered problems or difficulties with gameplay.  Precision controls, unambiguous objectives.  Refinement and expansion of new ideas presented in “8” games.  Redefines genre conventions.  Could include popular and critically acclaimed sequels to “8” games.  Highly influential.
  • 9.5 – Outstanding with one exceptional quality or perfect with one minor flaw.
  • 10 – Perfect.  A perfect game with absolutely no flaws.  No minor annoyances.  Likely to also include wondrous achievements never-before seen until its release.  Pushes the envelope of video gaming in its era and influences future titles for technological generations to come.

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