The History of Blizzard Game Review Scores and the Magic 90%

Note: this is a companion article for “Why I’m Afraid to Review Diablo 3.”


With Diablo 3 less than a week away, reviewers are getting geared up to analyze and rate Blizzard’s latest oeuvre. While Blizzard titles have always been well-received by critics, recent releases haven’t been met with as much enthusiasm by fans.

We decided to take a look at historical review scores for Blizzard titles — along with non-professional user ratings — to see if we can observe any trends, and what they may mean for Diablo 3.

First off, let me say that I don’t know of any game reviewers who have been paid off to write glowing reviews, and I’m positive that these underhanded deals happen far less often than some would have us believe — if at all. What is more likely is that reviewers offer high scores in order to remain within a developer’s good graces for fear of upsetting them — and that’s what I bet has many Diablo 3 reviewers sweating.

I posit that, over the last ten years, gaming reviews have become increasingly disingenuous as mega-developers and mega-publishers have grown to dominance in the industry. The threat of souring a relationship with a company like Activision hangs over the heads of successful gaming websites; there exists a fear of being cut off from exclusive interviews and early review copies for some of the most sought-after — and traffic-driving — titles amongst gamers.

But why hypothesize when we can take a gander at some numbers — specifically, aggregated Metacritic review scores and user ratings for Blizzard titles over the past 16 years.

Title Metacritic Score User Rating >89%
WoW: Cataclysm (2010) 90 5.2 81%
StarCraft 2 (2010) 93 8.1 91%
WoW: Wrath of the Lich King (2008) 91 6.6 85%
WoW: The Burning Crusade (2007) 91 7.1 78%
World of Warcraft (2004) 93 6.9 91%
WarCraft 3: The Frozen Throne (2003) 88 8.8 57%
Warcraft 3 (2002) 92 8.7 80%
Diablo 2: LoD (2001) 87 9.0 43%
Diablo 2 (2000) 88 8.4 47%
StarCraft (1998) 88 9.2 73%
Diablo (1996) 94 8.3 67%

Note — StarCraft: Brood War is absent due to a lack of Metacritic reviews. The average Metacritic user rating for this title is 9.1

This is by no means a scientific process. Metacritc holds records of far fewer reviews for the ’90s titles than more recent titles, and user ratings are flooded with unfair scores of 0 and 10, but the general trends of the numbers do speak to the prevailing culture within both gamer and reviewer circles.

If we plot these data on charts, we can more clearly observe the emergent trends.

What this chart tells us is that, over the course of the past decade, there has been no significant change in the average review score that Blizzard games receive, which hovers around 90%. There is a slight upward trend if you take the original Diablo out of the equation, but the difference is negligible relative to the next two trends we’ll take a look at.

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10 Comments on The History of Blizzard Game Review Scores and the Magic 90%

Maywiki

On May 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm

They won’t be honest, today the gaming press is so tied to the gaming industry trough adds revenue, having reviews copies of the games in advance and beeing or not invited to press previews, exclusivities and so on.
That’s why I think that a large portion of the gaming press is accomplice of the greedyness and lazynees of some publishers.

Eddie

On May 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Anybody else think a similar argument could be applied to why most game reviewers are hesitant at best to criticize bioware and ea over the mass effect 3 ending? This great site excluded of course.

CJ Miozzi

On May 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm

@Eddie:

I completely agree. I had to resist the urge to bring up the whole Mass Effect 3 ending thing, because I didn’t want to make it seem like I was milking it. But I’m glad you brought it up!

Shikaka

On May 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

“The user score, instead, decreased. How, then, does a re-release of a 1998 game score better than the original?”

Tall poppy syndrome.

Red Menace

On May 9, 2012 at 11:43 pm

There will always be a disconnect so long as I pay to play and they play to get paid.

monotoy

On May 10, 2012 at 10:26 am

the interesting thing is that, like a self-fullfilling prophecy, 89% *is* becoming a bad score because thanks to the insane score inflation for big ticket mainstream games, the variance in scoring is these days maybe between 87% and 96% … if then now 87%=1 and 96%=10, 89% amounts to a 3/10! And I’m personally convinced that there is a lack of objectivity in reviews from major gaming sites these days, games like skyrim are predestined to get insanely high scores, while I (sorry) think that they are, technological aspects aside, quite often shallow and bland and therefore from a *gaming* perspective, not a tech demo perspective, not as interesting as many games with sub-90 ratings.

Userscores

On May 11, 2012 at 1:27 am

Trying to draw a valid conclusion from the user scores is a fairly dubious idea when the very nature of comments, reviews etc. online are extremely polarised with fanboys overrating products and those with an axe to grind being more excessive in their underrating of products.

Stone

On May 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm

It could also mean that Blizzard still makes some of the best games available. I mean come on the low user scores for WoW and its xpacs are the work of trolls and people that for some reason have a personal vendetta against it for some sad reason. WoW is one of the most played games ever, I don’t think a score of 70% is accurate.

I think a better explanation is that gaming has become way more wide spread as time has gone on (ESPECIALLY Blizzard games) and thus more people are getting on to express their opinions.

Snow

On May 12, 2012 at 8:04 am

Your comparison fails to take somthing into account: ALOT of people (fans) hate blizzard. They Hate wow for stealing years of their (or significant otthers) life, they hate Activision because of percieved greed and they just straight up like to go against the flow.

That, is all the explanation you need for the disparity, reviewers review for what the games listed above are, Great! People review at a whim, and often rate 1 or 2 for no reason at all except its fun.

DA

On May 13, 2012 at 11:48 am

Metacritic user ratings are worthless. Or do you really believe Mass Effect 3′s weak ending makes it a 3.9 and one of the worst major releases of all time?

The best predictor of high user ratings is low hype. Since everything Blizzard does is high hype now, the user ratings have gone down. The only thing it means is user ratings on Metacritic. You want to see how fans *actually* think? Look at how many people buy the game and how long they continue to play it. By that measure, Blizzard is doing great and the reviewers are spot on. Yes, people are starting to stop playing WoW but uh, the game’s been out 8 years now…