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Why it's worth continuing to cover games with low review scores

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Note: This post was updated on Sept. 21, 2015.

"Why are you still talking about a game that only scored six out of 10?"

This is a question I often read on Facebook, and in the comments of one of the (many!) articles covering Destiny. It also popped up in stories about the deeply flawed Alien: Isolation. Most recently it's come up due to articles about Mad Max.

There's this idea floating around that a site's review is the last word on whether that game is good and, more importantly, whether that game is worth further discussion.

Here's the important thing: A site's review doesn't tell you what the staff of a site thought about a game, nor does it tell you what you'll think about the game. It's a critical look at that game from the point of view of one person, the writer of that review. Trying to make any review the monolithic last word on that game is pure folly.

The review is the beginning of the discussion, not the end

The review for a game — and that includes its score — isn't a means in which the review can close the door on future coverage, nor is it evidence that the game isn't worth further scrutiny. Of course there are tons of Destiny stories; it's a rapidly evolving game with a dedicated and vocal user base and readers love clicking on stories about it. Combine that with a part of the year when there aren't many new releases asking for attention and you have a recipe for some pretty heavy Destiny coverage.

But all that aside, the idea that a low score on a review means that a game isn't worth further coverage or scrutiny is kind of silly. Alien: Isolation scored a 6.5, and it was a game that I found more brave than good; I still haven't finished it and I'm not likely to return to it any time soon.

"Why do you keep talking about a game you rated (a certain score)," is an odd argument

But I wrote about its design and why that aspect of the game helped it stand out. Danielle is a passionate defender of the game and took another pass on whether or not it was one of the better games of last year in December. It's still a game that I often find myself thinking about due to the fact it tries to do something very different, and it felt and acted very differently than most big-budget licensed games.

It would be uncomfortable to work for a site that used review scores to measure how the entire outlet felt about a game or, even worse, use that review score as a sort of barometer to gauge whether or not that game is worth further discussion and exploration.

"Why do you keep talking about a game you rated (a certain score)," is an odd argument, especially if the writer of the story you're complaining about didn't write the review. What's surprising is how common that argument can be when faced with stories about games that didn't do well when it comes purely to review scores.

Games change, how we look at them changes, and even games that have major flaws that negatively impact the score are often worth further discussion and coverage, especially as players do interesting things in the game or prove that there is a market for that discussion and coverage. Which is the other interesting aspect of this discussion: What you want to read about can guide what is written about.

Looking at what our audience is interested in absolutely drives some decisions

It's not about chasing clicks, which is the uncharitable way to look at the decision to let coverage be at least partially guided by what people read. It's about letting the audience give you input on how to spend the finite resources of your day.

The Destiny guide about how to get the best gear in the least time was an idea I brought to the writer and paid for out of our freelance budget because I knew it was topic that interested our readers. It will likely be one of the most popular pieces this month, and it will help many people play the game in a way that fits their style better. Looking at what our audience is interested in absolutely drives some of the decisions about what to cover and how.

That's also the reason we ran a story about the character design of Mad Max, even though the game was given a relatively low review score. What the reviewer did and didn't like about the game doesn't mean that there aren't more topics to explore in that game. Review scores don't close the door on further coverage, and in fact many of the most interesting games aren't very well received, at least numerically.

There is always a good conversation to be had about what is covered and why, but the review score is not some magic gavel designed to either grant writers permission to explore a game or forcing them to leave it behind for other topics. It doesn't work that way internally, and a game doesn't need to receive a minimum score to "earn" coverage post-review.