I bet you love some terrible games. I do. Just Cause 2's plot-by-numbers and awful voice acting, for example, couldn't put me off it's intoxicating blend of grappling-hook action and big explosions. Dwarf Fortress looks like a spreadsheet circa 1987 and is about as comprehensible, but I can't help but get swept up in the lives of my little miners.
That's why I'm a little sceptical of the announcement by a team of psychologists that they've come up with an objective measure of whether or not a game is any good. Or, to be more accurate, the amount of "satisfaction" it'll bring players.
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Nine Factor Authentication
It doesn't help that the scoring system is called "GUESS" (which stands for "Game User Experience Satisfaction Scale"). It considers nine different factors that, the researchers say, "provide a complete picture of how satisfying a game is". Those factors are: usability/playability, narratives, play engrossment, enjoyment, creative freedom, audio aesthetics, personal gratification, social connectivity, and visual aesthetics.
The researchers tuned their system by getting 1,300 people to rate 450 different games, from World of Warcraft to Candy Crush Saga. A score is awarded in each category from one to seven, which is then averaged out across the nine categories to get an overall score. Unfortunately the team didn't publish the scores that different games got in their survey, which would have been fun.
"Developers could use this information to broaden their games and help them identify their strengths," the designers of the system wrote in an article explaining how it works.
"They could also find areas where their designs could improve. For example, adding a narrative element to that first-person shooter could make an otherwise run-of-the-mill game a crossover hit. Or investing more in the music for that MMORPG could really set it apart from similar titles."
While I rather doubt that adding good music to an otherwise-average MMO would bump up people's enjoyment of it that much, it's an interesting attempt to bring some consistency to how games are reviewed.
"Consumers can use GUESS scores to help them choose games that are high in factors that are important to them," they wrote.
"If you like lots of graphics and cool sounds, but don't know what kind of game you want to buy, you could look for games with GUESS scores high in the aspects you are looking for." I don't know about you, but I always demand that my games have lots of graphics and cool sounds.
If you want to see the full list of questions, or use it in a review system of your own, the team has published it online under a Creative Commons license. The paper that explains how it works and was validated, however, was published behind a paywall in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
Oh, and it's worth noting that over the last five years or so, many professional games review sites have actually dropped scores, or never had them in the first place.
Eurogamer, Joystiq (before it got shut down), Rock, Paper, Shotgun, TechnoBuffalo, GameXplain, and Kotaku don't do scores. Ars Technica summed up the problems with review scores pretty well in this great article. Oh, and it's worth noting that games can get a positive review on Steam for $5.
So maybe it's best to stop looking at numbers and use your gut instead. If it's fun for you, it's fun for you, whatever an arbitrary number tells you.
- Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.