2007 was undoubtedly one of the greatest years in video gaming history, in the eyes of many a game enthusiast it even surpasses 1998, the year that gave us Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, Starcraft and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time, games which have and will continue to be held up as the ‘greatest game of all time’. Gamers were blessed with titles that not only provided endless hours of entertainment but served a greater purpose, these games pushed the boundaries of what made a high-quality game and many of them were instrumental in taking video games as an industry and a form of entertainment a step further. Bioshock and Portal instigated an evolution in story-telling, Assassin’s Creed closed the gap on realism by means of the frighteningly life like movements of Altair and Halo 3 showed that a first-person shooter can be so much more than a mindless shooter.
It’s obvious that 2007 won’t be forgotten anytime soon and its effects will be felt for years to come, but the biggest change to the industry didn’t stem from games, but from the Journalistic aspect of the industry. One particular event has taken the fundamentals of video game journalism and thrown it into a blender, only time will tell if what comes out is a deliciously nutritious smoothie or a disgusting carrot based vegetable shake that we’ll be told is good for us but tastes like a rancid treat.
The first widespread industry changing effects of Gerstmann-gate are being felt courtesy of Ziff Davis Media, no I’m not talking about James Mielke’s bump up to Editor in Chief, I’m talking about the welcome change to how games are rated. In a recent press Ziff Davis Media said;
‘1UP Network is making changes with its game scoring system on 1UP.com, in EGM and in GFW. Games will be graded on a letter scale, A+ to F, rather than a numerical scale. All previously scored games on 1UP.com will also be converted to the new letter scale. Look out for these changes in March on 1UP.com, in the April issue of EGM and in the April/May issue of GFW."
Up until now the majority of websites and magazines have utilised a numerical rating system often with increments of .5, this has resulted in the emergence of a review bashing culture and fanboy campaigns to smear the good name of a writer simply doing his or her job. Gamers have proven themselves as the most temperamental, demanding and picky group of enthusiasts, we make the rabid anime fans look humble and accommodating. You only have to look as far as the forum posts found on the Gamespot boards after Jeff Gerstmann’s review of Twilight Princess to understand what the existing form of scoring has done to us, gamers have become blinded by the glistening 9.0’s and 9.5’s and reject anything below this as an insult, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and focus all of our attention on the numbers, not what they represent, if any of the uncompromising Zelda fanatics took the time out to truly think about what an 8.8 represents they would have arrived at the same conclusion that Jeff Gerstmann and many other rational fans did, an 8.8 is a great score.
The broad number based scoring system leaves too much open for debate, while in actuality there isn’t world of a difference between an 8.0 and an 8.5 in this day and age a potential buyer is more likely to buy the game that is rated an 8.5 even though both would be categorized as ‘great’ or ‘excellent’. The aforementioned grade based system being implemented by Ziff is a positive step forward, it places less focus on the specific nature of review scores which fans have become so anal about and instead aims to project the opinions of the reviewer, the system can be universally understood and doesn’t require any additional explanation or tacked on words like ‘gggrrreat’ or ‘AWESOME!’, everyone knows what a grade B encompasses.
In an ideal world other popular websites and magazines would follow suite, there needs to be less of a spotlight placed on the actual number a game is assigned and more on how the content of the game comes across, solving this problem opens doors to fixing a number of other problems the games industry is currently facing, advertiser pressure could finally be a thing of the past…again.