the artistry and psychology of gaming


Why is 8.8 a bad score?

Why is 8.8 a bad score?

When I started to do research on this series, I was pleased to discover I’m not just an aimless reviewer howling against the wind. This problem is a thoroughly documented and often mocked issue with industry game reviewing. For evidence, look no further than the Google search results for 8.8: 8.8 is the score The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess infamous received from GameSpot a couple days before its release, an it has resulted in the first search result being the TVTropes article on 8.8, named for exactly that controversy. For a while, Googling 8.8 gave the Twilight Princess review itself, but fortunately for the meta-obsessed among us, searching for 8.8 now gives an article about searching for 8.8.

Diving a little further into the TVTropes article (as we are basically helpless not to do), we find the article on the Four-Point Scale, which covers the tendency of game reviewers to operate based on a 4-point scale (6 to 9) rather than the 10 point scale they claim to carry. Excuses for this tendency vary. Many defenders of the current system claim that the system’s metaphor is to grades; anything less than a 60% is failing, so if you give a game a 6/10, you’re saying it’s failed — what’s the point in going any lower?

I don’t personally buy that argument. I could write an entire article on why I find that to be a silly and inaccurate metaphor, but suffice to say I don’t agree with it. We’ll get more into it in a few weeks when we more clearly define what a review system needs to do, but in a nutshell, the grading system defines failing at 60% because there is a certain minimum level of content mastery necessary to advance in education. There is no reason for gaming to adopt that system.

So why does it? According to TVTropes and many others, it’s a product of “executive meddling”. Put simply, game review outlets rely on industry aid to put out reviews. If an outlet reliably gives low scores, the industry can refuse to send them advance copies of games, thereby completely handicapping them against the rest of the industry that can build up hype through previews and advance reviews. Therefore, the outlet has to inflate scores; so, despite a game being subpar, it might get an 8.8, with the logic being that by inflating the score, the game producer will still be happy. At first, that might be true, but the long-term effect is that grade inflation becomes the expectation, not the exception. Therefore, 8.8 takes on the perception of a bad score because of so many years of inflation. In effect, readers start to assume some degree of inflation, and a score of 8.8 suggests the “true” score was much lower.

I’ve got a problem with this argument as well, however. That might be the reason the inflated scoring scale came about in the first place, but the truth is that the system has been so engrained into our collective psyche that where it originated is completely irrelevant. I’m sure some executive meddling occurs to help reviewing outlets stay on good terms with the industry, but I feel it’s likely gone past just meddling with the score and has drilled into the content as well. But the fact is that we’ve come to accept this inflated system, and there is no more evidence necessary than the way people approach amateur reviews. This brings us back to my point on my own reviews. I have by far the lowest average score I’ve seen anywhere on GameFAQs at 6.075, right at the bottom of that supposed 4-point scale. But if the above explanation of score inflation was commonly agreed upon, I wouldn’t be held to that standard; I have no conflict of interests, and thus a score of 6 ought to be the norm. Instead, however, my reviews are labeled quite often as simple troll reviews, someone stirring the pot just to be controversial, all because I don’t agree with the agreed-upon standards. If those standards were attributed to the big outlets’ score inflation, I wouldn’t be labeled as such. But instead, we have commonly bought into the inflated system that has been handed to us.

Now, some might say that the problem is a non-issue, and they have a point. the purpose of a scoring system is to establish some communication between the reader and the reviewer, such that the reader can see the reviewer’s score and determine their opinion. If that’s the goal, who cares if we’re operating on a 10-point system, a 4-point system, or a 1-point system where every game gets a 9.X? It might seem silly, but what harm does it do?

It’s exactly that harm that will be the focus of next week’s article: the dangers of a narrow review score spectrum.


  1. It might also be worth pointing out that, on Metacritic, the thresholds for moving from a red score (bad) to a yellow score (okay) to a green score (good) are significantly higher for video games than they are for movies, TV and music.

  2. I find myself falling into the 4 point rating scale as well, but mine is a bit larger than the industry “standard.” I put 7 as a playable game, which really should be a 5 or a 6, but I also include the 10 rating when rating specific parts of a game and when giving a rating to a game I always use the round-up rule, so a 9.45 would be rounded to a 10 where there is no decimal scale and a 9.4 would be a 9.

    I try and use the entire 10 point scale, but so few games fall in the 2-4 range that by all rights those three numbers should just be elimated and be rounded up to 5.

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