The Average Gamer

Are We Overscoring Blockbuster Video Games?

When trying to decide where they should spend their hard earned cash, where else would a video game consumer look for guidance, than the scores handed out by the gaming press?  But when all the blockbuster titles are picking up near identical 8/10 or 9/10 scores, how is anyone supposed to differentiate between them?

Let’s take a look at the top selling games and movies from 2010, to see how these massive earning, blockbuster titles were dealt with respectively by the game and movie press.

Top Grossing Movies 2010 – US

Toy Story 3 92
Alice in Wonderland 53
Iron Man 2 57
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 58
Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Pt 1 65
Inception 74
Despicable Me 72
Shrek Forever After 58
How To Train Your Dragon 74
Tangled 71

Source: Box Office Mojo

Top Grossing Games 2010 – NPD US figures

Call of Duty: Black Ops 87
Madden NFL 11 84
Halo: Reach 91
New Super Mario Bros Wii 87
Red Dead Redemption 95
Wii Fit Plus 80
Just Dance 2 74
Call of Duty: MW2 94
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood 90
NBA 2K11 89

Source: Gameasutra (for multiplatform games, the top scoring edition was used)

The reviews and subsequent Metacritic scores awarded to most of the Top Ten films are fairly decent, but not great. In fact, four of the Top Ten received scores in the 50-60 range. Yet despite these scores, the films were all a resounding box office success in 2010. In light of that, should these sub-60 scores be seen as ‘bad’ for a blockbuster movie? Probably not.


Pain is temporary, pride is forever. Do you maggots understand that?

Compare that to the scores awarded in the Gaming Top Ten of 2010. Only one of those  blockbuster games titles came in with a score of less than 80, and 4 of them scored 90 or more.

Wow, those must be some games… right? Surely they aren’t just sequels to established franchises, featuring near identical gameplay to last year’s editions? Well, OK, maybe a couple of them are. Fair enough.

But the other games on the list must surely be comparable to some of the masterpieces of modern cinema, given their exceptional ratings? Well, not necessarily.*

Modern Warfare 2 is a prime example. Sure, the single player campaign was pretty spectacular, with bodies flying everywhere and a snowmobile chase, but did anyone really keep up with the frankly ludicrous and confusing storyline? Looking at its Metacritic rating of 94, is this game really deserving of more praise than such classic war movies as Apocalypse Now (Metacritic Score: 90), Full Metal Jacket (78), or The Deer Hunter (73)?

Red Dead Redemption (95) was undoubtedly one of the best games of 2010. It is a brilliant and evocative take on the Western genre, but boy was it long and pretty darn repetitive at times. Surely its cultural significance is not greater than the Oscar winning Unforgiven (82), in which Clint Eastwood reinvented the fading Western genre for a new generation of film goers.

Just Dance 2 (74) has fantastic mass market appeal, and is a great cross generational casual gaming title, but is it really that much more of an achievement than the Patrick Swayze starring, all singing and dancing ‘offically-all-time-most-popular-chickflick’ Dirty Dancing (66)? Or even Flashdance (35)?

Would you put Sharon in the corner?

In giving out scores to these blockbuster games, should we not be saving the exceptionally high ratings for truly original, thoughtful, innovative and creative titles? By readily handing out over the top scores for blockbuster titles, which sometimes flatter to deceive, are we not devaluing the concept of the scoring system? If every AAA title that gets released receives a 9/10, what scope is there for improvement, and where does it leave the rest of the gaming industry, the part that isn’t working with marketing budgets greater than the GDP of many small countries?

In addition to this tendency towards awarding high scores too readily, there seems to also be a trend in game reviewing for over scoring mediocre games – illustrated well by the achievements of the slightly-less-than-classic Mafia II.

Sitting outside the top 10 for 2010, Mafia II came in with a comfortable Metacritic score of 77 (PC), easily outscoring the Puzo-penned, Coppolla-directed movie The Godfather Part II. Coppola’s cinematic classic limps in with a paltry 71 in comparison. Without really wishing to offend any section of the Mafia, I would have to stick my neck on the line and say that, in a Mafia war, Pacino’s crew would get the nod from me.

Looking at this summer’s movie and game releases, it seems apparent that the game scores being handed out are far more generous than those given to movies, particularly in terms of the middle ground. Three quarters of the games released on Xbox 360 this Summer have garnered Metacritic scores of 60 or more. In comparison, only just over a third of movie releases have managed the same.



What can this mean? Was this round of summer video game releases really that superior to their movie equivalents? Or is this more indicative of a scoring pattern that has shifted inexorably towards the top end of the scale, where video games are concerned?

Far too many games seem to be awarded comfortable scores of 6, 7 or even 8 in the gaming press without really deserving it. There are a number of games currently sitting in that 6-8 comfort zone that I have tried, and would frankly not encourage anyone to waste their time playing. By the same token, there are some absolute gems that have been lumped into that same 6-8 scoring band, which may have been missed by a large proportion of the gaming public. Is it not time for a bit more maturity and self reflection in the use of scoring systems, so that the products being reviewed are more accurately described, and we actually start discriminating properly between what we feel are good and bad games?

I know that the gaming industry is still very much in its infancy, and is really only just being accepted as part of mainstream media culture, but don’t we owe it to ourselves, and to the industry as a whole, to be slightly more honest about the quality of product that is being produced? There is still going to be a market for low scoring games, and we don’t have to kid ourselves that every blockbuster gaming title produced is going to be an instant classic. By regularly over scoring these blockbuster titles, are we not denying coverage to some of the more interesting games that tend to get overlooked, and fall far too quickly into the ‘bargain bins’, or sit gathering virtual dust on the digital shelves of the Xbox Live and PSN stores?

Scores out of 10 for this article are welcome below. They will possibly be sorted and presented in the form of a pie chart at some point.

*Disclaimer: I do realise that it is slightly facetious to directly compare movies and games, but I am doing so to make a point. Thank you.


  1. M@

    7th Sep, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    There are a lot of dynamics that make movies best-sellers that don’t exist for video games. For example:

    – people go to movies in groups, but don’t buy games in groups
    – movies involve far less time commitment, so people will go to a mediocre movie because the worst they’ll lose is two hours
    – same with money — the price point for movies is far lower than for video games

    I would suspect that there are some differences in the way advertising works for the two media as well.

    In short, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. If the gaming industry tends to make better games its best-sellers, that’s a good thing.

  2. Dan Crawley

    9th Sep, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for your comment, M@.

    I agree that it is unrealistic to compare movies and games directly, as they are very different media, but the comparison served a purpose in the context of this article. I am really trying to make broader point about games scores in general, where we frequently seem to be dazzled by the bright lights and big budgets associated with blockbuster titles and dish out scores that perhaps aren’t fully deserved. Once the dust has settled, and the games have sold in their millions, are we really left looking at the pinnacles of achievement in our industry?

  3. fanpages

    25th Sep, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Dan: In case you were not aware, your article (above) is referenced in this article (published today) at

    “Review Scores | Fear And Loathing And Cultural Worth”
    by Matt Gardner
    25 September 2011

    [ ]



  4. Pingback: Review Scores | Fear And Loathing And Cultural Worth | Video Game Deals & UK News |