The Myth of the Perfect 10
November 20, 2017

Objectively, no game is perfect. You know it and I know it.

When a critic reviews a game, sometimes you'll see an accompanying score of 10/10 (or 5/5 in this site's case; there are all sorts of scale). Some readers will call this the "perfect 10," but that's a misnomer. No game is perfect, remember?

Why do some critics award 10/10 when clearly there's no such thing as a perfect game? Why do some critics balk at the notion. I worked briefly at an outlet where critics weren't allowed to award 10/10 scores, because games can't be perfect.

I believe the answer is simple, and here it is: some people still follow the old thinking that a review is on some level objective. If a review is objective, then it makes sense to hold to the rule that since no game is objectively perfect, a score of 10/10 is inappropriate.

However, reviews are subjective. They are proudly subjective. And furthermore, they should use the whole scale. We don't need an industry where reviews are rated on a scale from 7 to 10 (or 9, if you chop out the possibility of a "perfect 10" score). We need an industry where critics use the full scale, whatever it may be.

So at HonestGamers, you'll see scores of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The scores on either end of the scale are used sparingly, of course. But the scale was intentionally simplified so that each of those scores will have a chance of appearing.

When a critic sits down to write a review, he or she shouldn't be worried about whether a game deserves a 9.3 or a 9.4, or even a 9 or a 10. "How close to perfect is this?" the critic shouldn't ask, nor "Do I shave .1 or .2 off that perfect score because there's too much rain in Hyrule?"

A consumer in the store doesn't ask those questions, not usually. A consumer asks "Is this game terrible, bad, so-so, good, or unmissable?" Those might not be the exact words used, but they get at the general idea. And any review scale a site implements, if it is set up to cater to consumers (as HonestGamers definitely is), ought to be designed in a way that helps to answer those questions.

If a scale shaves off the top number because "no game is perfect," it doesn't do a particularly good job of summing up the critic's subjective feelings when he or she plays a game that represents the attainable ideal. The 1-10 scale has essentially become the 1-9 scale, and for what practical purpose?

The next time you say "A game shouldn't score a game because no game is perfect," remember that few (if any) critics believe a score of 10/10 means a game is perfect. You're trying to interpret that score in a manner it was never meant to be interpreted. All a 10/10, a 5/5, a 100/100, an A+/A+ or whatever other "perfect" score you might see generally means is that the critic really, really liked the game. Like... a super whole lot. Who needs perfect, anyway?

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jerec jerec - November 20, 2017 (05:31 PM)
I do miss the 5/10 rating. Sometimes it's hard to say if a game is a 2 or 3 out of 5... which side of the scale and all that.
Masters Masters - November 23, 2017 (09:28 AM)
Yeah, I've never understood the "perfect" game talk, and the "objective" review talk -- both are nonsense. I've always followed the old Game Players magazine scale, whereby they give each number out of 10 a corresponding adjective:

10 - Brilliant 9 - Outstanding 8 - Excellent 7 - Very Good 6 - Good 5 - Average 4 - Fair 3 - Poor

The other two grades scarcely matter, and I don't remember them right now.

Of course, in more recent years, 7 has for some reason come to mean average, which doesn't make any sense at all. In our gaming culture, if a game doesn't score an 8 and up, it's worthless.

What's really strange to me are the publications, past and present, that use a percentile rating. Really? Super Metroid scores a 96% and Yoshi's Island an 87%? There's just way too much variance. On the flip side, the Steam model of either yay or nay creates situations where a review seems mostly negative but the reviewer gives the game a half-hearted recommendation and you end up with a POSITIVE REVIEW.

I don't love the five star system -- I still think the ten point model is best -- but it's better than those other options.

honestgamer honestgamer - November 23, 2017 (10:27 AM)
One never-ending problem with the 10-point model is that it was too easy to convert to those other scales that don't work. Readers insist on doing it, even if meta sites don't already do it for them. The 5-star model isn't perfect, and ours doesn't include half-stars (which some have told me they prefer), but it does seem to get the point across and the text is always there for more detail. I don't think any model can ever work flawlessly, because audiences and industry situations resist that.
Masters Masters - November 23, 2017 (12:06 PM)
My issue with the 5-star model is that in my experience, most games fall into the 3-star rating, and not all 3-star games are created equal. The difference between a 6 and 7 out of 10 is significant, and half stars would facilitate illustrating that. Anyway, it is what it is, and that's why the reviews themselves exist.
joseph_valencia joseph_valencia - November 24, 2017 (01:42 PM)
I think the four star system is ideal for reviews. You have three degrees of bad (1/2, *, *1/2), two degrees of mediocre (**, **1/2), and three degrees of good (***, ***1/2, ****). That's about all you need.

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