Inspired by a forum discussion of review rating scales, and a question I received, I want to talk about why I choose not to use a rating scale for reviews on my blog that involves numbers or stars or anything else.
Although I am fine with giving a numerical score to games and may do so on my ratings posted on other sites, I don't like it, for one simple reason: reviewing games is not scientific and quantitative.
Beyond the basic question of whether or not the game is functional, everything else about it can be seen as a matter of taste. There are games that some people would give a 10 that I think are the most boring things in the world. This is because we have different ideas about what makes a game fun, what makes for a compelling story, etc.
I can compare a game to other games I've played to try to determine if I consider it above or below average, but again, this depends on my taste and what other games I've played. I think it's best to rate games on whether or not you would recommend it, and who you would recommend it for. I'm not going to recommend a shooter to someone who only likes RPGs, for example. The way I like to recommend a game is, "If you like X kind of games and the Y genre, then you'd probably like game Z." For example, "If you like playing co-op platformers with your friends and you're a fan of Super Mario 3, then you should try New Super Mario Bros. Wii."
As for rating components of a game such as the graphics and sound: I understand that there are games where these elements are legitimately bad, but it's difficult to give a numerical rating to them. I pretty much rate them on whether or not they were satisfactory for what the game is. Players of different types of games have different expectations for graphics. Were the graphics in the Scott Pilgrim game horrible because they were 2D and pixelated and didn't fully take advantage of the processing power of the latest video cards? No, they're just a certain style. What about Minecraft? Should it get lots of points off for bad graphics/sound? Some people argue yes, but others would say no, it's just a different type of game that has different standards. It's not trying to be like other 3D ones, so it shouldn't be judged on the same scale.
Additionally, expectations for graphics change over time. How would you rate the sound and graphics of the original Super Mario Bros.? 8 out of 8 bits? Comparing it to new releases on a current 1-10 scale, it'd probably be 1/10. Of course, no one would rate it that way. Why should a game that is great for its time and that has amazing gameplay have points deducted because it doesn't compare to the latest titles in the amount of polygons it uses? Most would argue that the graphics of Half-Life should be judged by a different standard than Half-Life 2 is.
Now, this brings me to my point: if these older games are still considered great titles because of their gameplay and despite their limited graphics, then is it fair to lower the score of new releases because they don't utilize the "best" graphics currently available to them? And because a game's graphics vary by style, can you even objectively say which graphics are the best?
Again, look at Minecraft: it's a sensation even though it doesn't have the latest in graphics. Apparently, it doesn't need them to be a game that people like. So, why should I lower a game's 1-10 score because of the graphics alone? This is just one example of why it's difficult to determine what, exactly, should go into a numerical score, and that's part of the reason why I argue against them.
As for rating a game's graphical/sound appeal, I think it's best to just show the game. This is why I include a video of gameplay with my reviews. Let people judge for themselves whether or not it's acceptable to them. Let them see several minutes of uninterrupted gameplay — not just a few specially chosen screenshots or cut scenes — and use that in conjunction with the full text review of the game to see if it's something that they'd like. Video is worth more than words, in this respect. It's a lot better than trying to assign a numerical score to something that isn't quantitative.
So, I show the game, I describe it, I point out the good and bad, and I make a recommendation. I can assign a number value to that, based on my taste and whether I think it's above or below average in comparison to what else I've tried. The number really doesn't mean anything other than that, so it's not something important to me. The description and recommendation matter more, and the number gives the false impression that the review is somehow scientific.
Maybe I'm just too picky about this. Maybe everyone already understands and agrees with my views, and they want to see numbers anyway, just for the sake of having some kind of scale for quick-comparisons, however inaccurate it may be. That's fine. However, I won't assign numbers to anything on my blog, and this is why.