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A Brief History of Gaming
In Search of the Average Game Score
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on July 20, 2009   |   Episode 14 (Show Archive)  

   
EGM Issue 1
I give this commentary on art critics a 50%! Or maybe it's 70% ... whatever average is these days!
Reviews scores are the bane of my existence. I cannot even count the number of people who have emailed me over the years asking me why I gave their favorite game a certain score. Had these people just read my review instead of looking at the score, they wouldn't need to waste their time (and mine) by asking ridiculous questions. But alas, that's not the world we live in. These days' people expect to know everything from one simple number. These lazy bastards don't even read the summary; they go straight for the score and don't look back.

It's bad enough that these people rush past the paragraphs I spend so much time putting together, but half the time they don't even go to the review site. Instead of going to a website to see the score, they get the information from a forum or worse, from one of those Metacritic-style review aggregators. They just scan the numbers to see what they should and should not buy, keeping the critics almost entirely out of the process.


These days sites like GameSpot and IGN seem conflicted on what number denotes "average"!
As a game critic, I consider this to be a major problem. But it's not for the obvious reasons. Oh sure, I would love to have everybody come and read my review instead of just going to GameRankings. And yes, I wish people would at least read the summary before looking at the score. But my problem lies in the fact that not every score is created equal. One critic's 7 is not always equal to a 7 at another website. There's enough discrepancy here to warrant a further look at the history of video game scores.

For years a 5 has been used to denote that the game is average, since that's right in the middle of the grading scale. However, lately a lot of game critics have started to take a different approach, making 7 the so-called
EGM Issue 1
We're not going to talk about Incite Video Gaming, but that's not going to stop me from posting this picture (again)!
average. They claim that a 70% in school is the same as a C, so by their rationale a 7 is the average. These two conflicting schools of thought end up invalidating many of the numbers crunched by Metacritic and GameRankings.

But it hasn't always been like this. Issuing the 7 as an average score is a relatively new phenomenon when it comes to the video games industry. It didn't use to be this way, but thanks to a giant influx of internet game journalists and websites that often hide (or simply do not publish) their score guide, more journalists are just using this 7 average by default. This made me wonder, where did this new scoring table come from and who started it? This sounds like a perfect occasion for my sleuth hat and reading glasses.

When talking about game scores on a ten-point scale you can immediately eliminate certain magazines. While GamePro may be the longest running video game magazines still in business, their scores are based

If you accept IGN and GameSpot's scoring system, then Devil's Crush (reviewed in the above issue) is merely average!
on a 0 - 5 system (using funny faces). NEXT Generation is another hugely influential magazine that, for whatever reason, decided to go with a five-star scale. The star ratings also apply to Incite Video Gaming. Right there I've been able to eliminate a number of magazines, and that's before even opening up my first magazine.

When it comes to game magazines, a safe bet is to start with Electronic Gaming Monthly. Although the magazine was unceremoniously killed earlier this year (and later brought back to life by Steve Harris, the original creator of EGM), it did have a twenty year run and, with the
EGM Issue 1
It's not pretty (or even centered correctly), but this is the rating's guide EGM used for years!
exception of the final years, featured a ten-point scale from day one. Throw in the fact that most modern journalists credit EGM as one of their biggest influences and a lifespan that proved the periodical's popularity, and you have the perfect jumping off spot.

Electronic Gaming Monthly has always been good about telling their readers what each score meant. Even back in the first year, EGM made it a point to explain that 10 was a perfect, 9 was outstanding, 8 was excellent, 7 was very good, 6 was above average and five was the average. That useful bit of information could always be found on the first review page, something that the magazine ultimately stuck with throughout their two decade run.

Things didn't change any when I went from issue 15 in 1990 to issue 75 in 1995. The game critics and magazine layout may have changed, but the 5 average remained the same. The same held true for issue 135 in 2000 and 185 in 2005, this is a magazine that was consistent with their review scores. Even in the issues

Adjusted for inflation, this 30 page magazine retailed for close to $5!
preceding the switch from numbers to letters, EGM made sure to point out that 5 was the average. Heck, they even emphasized it by changing the font color to red so that people would notice. It's a shame that the magazine's editorial content wasn't as consistent as its review scale.

After putting all of my old issues of EGM away, I decided to check out some of Sendai Publishing's other video game magazines. This involved me digging up my old issues of Mega Play (the Sega-centric magazine put out by the editors of EGM) and Super Gaming (their Nintendo offshoot). Both magazines featured a
EGM Issue 1
I agree with Bonk, I'd slam my head into something too if I had to review Skate Or Die!
layout very similar to that of EGM, only the issues were smaller (for awhile, at least) only came out six times a year. But no matter how many times you had to run out to your local newsstand, both Mega Play and Super Gaming featured the exact same grade scale as their bigger brother. When it came to magazines published by Sendai, 5 was always average.

After striking out with Electronic Gaming Monthly and its spin-offs, I decided to look through some of the older issues of Game Players. Nobody remembers this now, but back in the early to mid 1990s, Game Players was a strong competitor with GamePro and EGM. For many issues Game Players refused to issue scores (something we talked in great detail about in an article called In the Beginning There Were No Reviews), but in 1991 that all changed. For the first time in the magazine's short life, Game Players posted a review scale and started being honest about what they really thought of the biggest games of the era. And what was the average score? You guessed it, Game Players said that 5 was the average. And four years later they continued to say the exact same thing, only this time around referring to average as, and I quote, "so-so".

Up until this point things have gone pretty much as I expected. I remember spending a lot of time reading these old magazines and knowing that 5 was the average, so nothing so far as surprised me. But still, I decide to press on, in hopes of finding the birthplace of the 7 average.

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