The History of Blizzard Game Review Scores and the Magic 90%
Given the observations gleaned from the previous chart, you’d expect a flat line across the percentage of reviewers that historically scored a Blizzard game at 90% or greater. Instead, we see an overall upward trend, with games like World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2 receiving an overwhelming 91% of their review scores in the 90-100 bracket.
90/100: The Magic Number
Why has 90% become such an important number in the game review world? Because the difference between an 89% and a 90% is the most meaningful one percent that can be deducted from a review score.
Psychology is at play here — the same psychology that drives markets to price everything at $19.99 rather than $20.00. No, it’s not some evil ploy to make us carry around loose change, but the simple reality that $19.99 feels cheaper than $20.00, whether we wish to collectively admit to it or not.
Likewise, 89% feels cheaper than 90%, as though the game failed by a single point to achieve excellence and must thus be written off. A casual glance at the comments left on reviews would show just how many people believe an 89% to be a “bad review score.”
This psychological perception translates into real-world figures, with games that score 90 and upwards far outselling games that don’t make it into the 90s club. Because of these huge market pressures, a major developer/publisher doesn’t see the difference between an 89 and a 90 as one percent, but as hundreds of thousands of sales.
Finally, we look at the user scores. In a perfect world in which both reviewers and users gave honest ratings, the trends should match up. They don’t. There is a distinct downward trend in user scores, largely due to World of Warcraft and its expansions. Again, the actual numbers are skewed due to unfair rating, but the trend bespeaks the increasing disappointment of a significant portion of Blizzard’s fanbase.
Taken together, these charts speak to a widening disconnect between reviewers and players. For instance, StarCraft 2, while a fantastic game, was at its core the original SC with updated graphics, but managed to score higher than SC1 amongst reviewers. The user score, instead, decreased. How, then, does a re-release of a 1998 game score better than the original?
What these trends may suggest is that, as Blizzard has become a powerhouse in the gaming industry over the past decade, reviewers have become increasingly leery of rating their games below 90%. That is not to say that Blizzard doesn’t deserve the high ratings — we’ve come to expect nothing short of excellence from them for a reason. But if Diablo 3 doesn’t live up to those standards, will reviewers be honest?
Be sure to read Why I’m Afraid to Review Diablo 3 to find out why the game may not live up to Blizzard’s past standards.