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Perfect Game ≠ Flawless Game
Editorial by 
July 21, 2011, 09:24:28
Every single gaming editorial publication is asked this at least once in their lifetime. Why did you give a perfect score to to a game with flaws? I was recently asked this question in my latest review for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. It's a fair question and, in order to answer it, I need to get a little bit technical and philosophical at the same time.

A perfect game is not a flawless game. Negative World, like some other sites, has a review scale that goes from 0-10. If there is a game that is so terrible with absolutely no redeeming qualities (not even one), then I think it should deserve a big fat zero. However, if there is a game out there that does absolutely everything right, with maybe one or two meaningless wrinkles that are wholly overshadowed by the rest of the positives, then I don't see why I should deny the rarely given and elusive "Perfect Score." Like Anthony Burch once wrote (yes THAT Anthony Burch), "Perfection is an ideal, never to be practically reached by any art form at any time. That's just the way it works. With that in mind, why would you waste an entire point on the 1-10 grading scale by devoting it to something that can, by definition, never truly exist? Instead of calling 10/10 "perfect," why not just call it "will cure cancer"? They're both equally likely to happen within our lifetimes. To hold the 10/10 score back as an ideal for the perfect game, just in case it ever exists, is to degrade the entire 1-10 system into a 1-9.9 scale."

I feel that a "Perfect" game comes out maybe 1-2 times per system (sometimes 3 if we are lucky) , if that system has a lifetime of 4+ years. Let me list how many "perfect" scores there are per system, in my opinion.

NES: 1
Game Boy: 0
Game Boy Color: 0 For now. There are 4 games I want to play before making my final judgment.
Game Boy Advance: 1
SNES: 5 I find that the SNES constitutes the Golden Era of gaming.
N64: 2 And you already know one of them.
Game Cube: 1 and it's not Wind Waker or Super Mario Sunshine
DS: 2 and they are both remakes.
Wii: 1 I have to finish another game to see if it is worthy of a 10, but I'm not playing it soon.
3DS: 1 for now.

Game Gear: 0
Genesis: 0

PS1: 2
PS2: 0
PS3: 3
PSP: 0

XBOX 360: 2

If you look at other sites, you will see that, even though they have perfect scores in their review scales, they all agree that there is no such thing as a perfect game. I leave you with some examples:

10.0: PrimeThis exceedingly rare score refers to a game that is as perfect as a game can aspire to be at its time of release. Obviously, the constantly changing standards for technology and gameplay will probably make this game obsolete some day, but at its time of release, a game earning this score could not have been improved upon in any meaningful way.

Nintendo World Report:
10 - We don't believe any game can actually be "perfect." But some can get pretty close. We give our highest grade to games which are the best of the best. Games that aren't necessarily "generation-defining" can still be given top marks for this reason; if a game is all it can be and stands out among those like it, it can get high marks, too.

Game Informer:
Outstanding: A truly elite title that is nearly perfect in every way. The score is given out rarely and and indicates a game that cannot be missed.

And my favorite definition of a "Perfect Game" goes to IGN:

10.0 - Masterpiece
The pinnacle of gaming, a masterpiece may not be flawless, but it is so exceptional that it is hard to imagine a game being better. At the time of its release, this game is the not just the best the system can offer, but better than we could have expected.

Example: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I would like to conclude the same way I began, just to hammer the point. A perfect game is not a flawless game.

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Posted: 07/21/11, 09:24:28  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 23:10:02    
Why not sign up for a (free) account and create your own content?

This is part of the reason I generally listen to people on this message board more than I read reviews about games these days. I don't really follow any video game websites enough to get a feel for how the reviewer's tastes. For better or worse, I used to read IGN enough back in the day to read a review by Matt, Fran or Craig and be able to tailor it to my own preferences based on my knowledge of them. But now, I pretty much couldn't tell any reviewer from Adam.

Here on the other hand, I have a pretty good idea of whose tastes generally match up with mine and even those that don't, I know where we differ. If these were just faces in a crowd, I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of a lot of the impressions threads.

And even though it may seem silly to know what someone did the day they watched a movie like Kris' example, context does play a huge part in whether a game hits that sweet spot for us as gamers or not, and generally I know a lot more about what's going on in someone's life on this board that might shade an impression one way or the other than I would for Joe Reviewer.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:04:45
This thread just solidifies my belief that we need a rating scale if we're gonna start posting reviews and try to get outside people to read them.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:17:58
@Guillaume This thread just goes even more to show to me that people think about scores differently and any sort of universal scoring system we could try to implement at Negative World would be messy at best. Some would insist till death that a 10 is unobtainable, others would insist that it should be given out rarely, others would insist that it should be more common. Which one do we pick, and how do we enforce it? Especially when we decided that reviews don't even require editor status, pretty much anyone here can write a review, which makes shooting for consistency kind of moot.

I mean, even when Mustache and I stated how most people score / read scores for games, you still didn't want to go along with that. So what system could we possibly have that everyone will go along with?

I agree though that it makes no sense to say a 10 has to be "perfect". Perfection can't exist. But 10s can exist. To me a 10 is basically just saying this is one of those rare must play games. But to other people it is less rare, which is fine as well. Scoring systems only need to be internally consistent.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:36:17  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:39:52

I just want some point of reference. Saying that everyone has his own grading system so there's no point coming up with some sort of guide makes no sense at all. No sense at all. Is the exact reason why we DO need a guide.

Let people dish out the scores they want, but we need to know at least what they mean.

edit - Well if you recall, the way my score was interpreted by you and stache was a complete surprise to me and I reacted pretty badly. It came out of the left field and made me feel like an asshole who had been completely wasting his time. Some sort of scoring guide would help eliminate these kinds of nasty surprises.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:41:39  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:43:59
I've always enjoyed the "Buy It, Rent It, Avoid It" scoring system.

It's quick and to the point and puts the onus of justification in the written review rather than the numerical score.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:49:25
Well what do you think about something like this?

90-100 excellent
80-89 good
70-79 ok
60-69 mediocre
50-59 poor
0-49 trash

That's probably about the way most people look at scores, generally.

This wouldn't actually add real consistency though. I'd bet 90% of people writing reviews would still score them however they want. And then we'd just be trying to trick the world into thinking we have consistency, when the fact is that our review system is to let pretty much anyone on the site write reviews, which by default means there won't be much consistency.

We could limit reviewing to a handful of editors who we double check for consistency, but I think that kind of defeats the vision of the site a bit.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:51:54
@New Forms

One battle at a time. Zero believes firmly in the 100 points scale.


That's a start. Really illustrates how ridiculous 100 points scales are, too.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:55:49
How does it do that? Because half the points are for trash? I only used that term because that is how gamers view games that they don't want to bother with. There is still a lot of variation within there. It ranges from games that are just boring to games that are a hot, broken unplayable mess.

Either way a ten point scale or whatever wouldn't solve that, because 5 and down would still be reserved for trash. You can try as much as you want to convince the world that a 5 is "average", but readers see a 5 and think it's trash. Actually "average" doesn't even mean anything, it's a statistical term, it holds no value of its own. What would a 5 be? "ok"? But not many people think like that.

I don't make this stuff up out of nowhere. Look at our statistics, out of everyone who scores games on the site (without any guidelines) you give out some of the lowest scores. But that's because you think a 6 is ok, whereas most people think it's a bad score to give. We can't convince the masses to change how they view scores. Not going to happen.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:04:12  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:06:37

I think a simple 1-10 with half or quarter points between suffices nicely. Hell even 1-5 does the trick.

I totally agree with how Xbob sees it. The text should be a description of the merits and demerits of the game while the score is a general "I absolutely loved this game" or "I didn't like it" or "I thought it was fucking horrendous".

All a score should be is a quick, general reference as to how much the reviewer liked the game, not an objective statement of it's absolute quality. Look at a game like Deadly Premonitions. I haven't played it however people love it. I'm sure some would give it a 10 they enjoyed it so much. That is in no way a statement of "this is a perfect game", rather that they enjoyed it immensely. The reasons why should be in the text.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:09:07

You focused on the joke (I took a dig at the 100 point scale right after I told NF it was the wrong battle, get it?), but my main point was that the description is a huge improvement already.

Of course, it's your site, you do what you want. You're absolutely free to disregard the feedback of the guy who wrote 31% of the reviews on it.

And I agree that a 6 is a mediocre score, by the way. Mediocre is the perfect descriptor.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:14:54  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:17:08
It's not just for reviews (though I guess being public they're more important to keep consistent) but for the ratings too!

I'm not against guidelines, I just don't think they will actually change much. One question is where would these guidelines even be? I guess Simba would often have text in the box that people post in, so they have to remove it before posting, and hopefully they read it first. This works for reviews, not so much for ratings.

Hmm, you agree that 6 is mediocre? The problem is I'm trying to give general guidelines, but in reality I think most people consider low 7s to be mediocre, mid 7s is where things get ok, and maybe high 7s are good. Which is another reason I don't like the 10 point scale, what does a "7" mean to most people? Though this is a problem in any scale really. For some reason most people view the 7s range as like... the fastest shifting. A game can go from good to mediocre just in the course of the 7s.

None of this would make the "10" controversy go away though...

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:19:42  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:22:52

If you explain that a 10 isn't perfect, yes it will go away. If someone says "why did you give this game a perfect score?", you can just point silently at the sign.

Looks like you figured out the solution to where to put the guidelines yourself already. Another solution would be to have those "Great", "Good", etc. words show up under the score. And clicking on the score leads to a page with the explanations.

edit - Okay, the descriptions definitely won't work if you don't stick with the value you assign to them. You need to stand by them. Stop moving the goalposts. And stop worrying about "most people", the whole point of the descriptors is to give people a clearer idea what the score means. If they can't or won't read them, we can't do much about that. But at the very least you'll have provided the reviewers with some sort of guidance.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:23:44  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:27:06
I'm talking about guideline for reviewers. If we're going to allow -2 to write reviews the guidelines have to be in their face somewhere.

And I don't think explaining that a 10 isn't perfect makes the controversy go away. Because many people will think that a 10 means perfect, regardless. I think you're putting too much faith into someone reading a description and that making everything make sense, despite their core beliefs telling them otherwise. Probably because you (and I, and some others) know that scoring systems are completely relative... not everyone accepts that. To some people a 10 should be this, to others it should be that, and no site can tell them otherwise.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:27:06
I'm not moving the goalposts, I'm telling you how most people view scores. At the end of the day, not everyone is going to shift how they think about a score because a site told them to. If you start assigning meanings to scores, you darn well better be thinking about how most people view scores.

I think my first list works, but only because it'd get confusing to break it up even more. Realistically it's still a bit off next to how people seem to view scores.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:30:34
Proposed Negative World Scoring System:

0 - All-time classic
-1 - Great
-2 - Good
-3 - Average
-4 - Mediocre
-5 - Poor
-6 - Horrible

It's a seven point scale no one else uses or understands but us and it fits our little Negative gimmick into the scoring system. What do you think?

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:32:24
I actuall agree with @Guillaume. I think we should have a rating scale with descriptions. I'm actually partial to IGN's review scale.

@New Forms I agree. I believe a score should be the interpretation of your overall experience, not the sum of its parts. Perfection should also take into account stylistic choice. For example, some would argue that one of your perfect games, Pac-Man CE/DX doesn't take advantage of the PS3's/360's power. I am of the idea that designers should't try to use the powers of a system just because they are there. They should use whatever is necessary for the style of the game. The Neo-retro graphics suit Pac-Man CE/DX perfectly. Just like the cartoony graphics and retro sound fit OOT3D perfectly. Sometimes, as in Chrono Trigger's case, the graphics and sound were perfect to begin with. I think it would be a disservice to the game if they change them. I feel the same way about Wind Waker. Final Fantasy IV DS is a game that I feel is better with the old school graphics and sound. That is why I was so excited to to hear about the PSP remake that just uprezzed the graphics and allows you to choose the soundtrack. Some things are meant to be fixed; some things are already perfect the way they are.

By the way, AC2 is one of my perfect games and I had forgotten about Batman AA. Which means that I have one more PS3 game and 2 360 games because they are both multi-console. I will correct that shortly.

@Oldmanwinter My feelings exactly. Perfection is an ideal, after all.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:33:27
@kriswright It's backwards though, and too many numbers. Everyone knows that here at Negative World -5 is the best.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:33:31  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:34:00

Shouldn't it be the other way around. 0 is horrible, -1 poor, etc. Since the highest level is -5 (Zero)?

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:34:42  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:36:17

Hurray, some backup. I'm getting really tired of this conversation all the time. I think it's something that necessary. There's a reason why every review site out there has descriptions for their scores. I know NW isn't a professional review site but the people who write reviews for your site are telling you it would help them.


You make no point in these two posts that I didn't address already here.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:37:35
@kriswright Does this mean that @Zero is perfect in your eyes? I think you'll have to fight with his girlfriend.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 22:38:24
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