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.

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


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…