Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why are Video Game Rankings so Wibbly Wobbly?

     I'd like to take a quick departure from Warcraft goldmaking to talk about something that caught my eye recently in the world of video games at large. I have always received my gaming news from two places: pod casts and gaming news aggregators. Honestly, I've always been much more interested when someone datamined that Blizzard is changing the male troll model, than with all the hullabaloo surrounding Saints Row right now; I mainly stick to WoW.  But here's the thing, as blogging has become a bigger part of my weeks, I've been wanting to learn more about the gaming industry and have been slowly sucked into the maelstrom of information out there in the interwebs (it's kindof fantastic). As I keep reading, this nagging problem keeps boiling up inside me though: everyone needs to fix their freakin rankings!

I call this short story. "Descent into the Maelstrom of Video Game News, with a Cask of Merlot, after waking from a Gossamer Sleepytime, Quoted the Blackbird." Pretty sure it'll be a hit. 

     In short, back in the day, there were still a ton of games out there, and about as many systems to choose from as there are now. The top ten was essentially fisticuffs between Mario, Zelda, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Different "sites" (they were actually magazines back then, R.I.P. Nintendo Power) would go back and forth between the current adaptation of those two long as the discussion didn't interrupt a First-to-20 Temple run of Goldeneye 007, because clearly, that was the best game ever. However, looking through the sites today, something will jump out at you. Of all the Top 10 lists, there is almost zero overlap, and not just in games listed, but in ranking systems as well.

Go ahead, pick Oddjob. I'll be Jaws and STILL destroy you. 

     To be clear, I love all of these sites and think they do a fantastic job at reporting gaming news. The four I'll focus my ranking critique on are larger ones that actually have rankings. has what I would call the most "traditional" rankings. Every game has a full page write up by industry professionals, and is given a X.X/10.0 ranking. focuses on a different audience than IGN does (anime, the Blizzard crowd, and Uber-GFX guys), and their site-popularity driven Top 10 reflects that, but it has no expressed justification or numerical ranking for their system. is very well organized. Its overall Top Ten is a few tabs away from their default New Release rankings, but I won't fault them for that, because what they're doing is great: showing good ratings, screenshots, and reviews for what their audience probably cares most about. That's their bag. uses a 0-infinity heat scale, which is a "proprietary algorithm," but essentially adds up how many hits articles about specific games have received. So, if Grand Theft Auto V has two articles written that each get 1000 hits, but Diablo has 10 articles that each get 200 hits, they would each have a heat score of 2000 degrees. Neat.
      As you can see, each site uses drastically different measures to determine what qualifies as a good game. But we've all seen the TED talk where uneducated self-scoring and group scoring approximate expert grading, so surely these varying systems listed above are close, right? Hint: No, dude, we're doing an article about it.

The Rankings:
By themselves, each site is very informative, but if you're comparing lists, they're like a big ball of wibbly wobbly ranky wanky...stuff.

Games are listed by website and if it, by some strange magic, appears in more than one list, it is given a unique color.

1Dota 2Diablo IIICivilization V: BNWWalking Dead:400
2Walking Dead: 400Starcraft 2: SwarmWalking Dead: 400Battlefield 4
3Cities in Motion 2Battlefield 3Dota 2FF XIV: A Realm Reborn
4Shadowrun ReturnDota 2Rogue LegacyAssassins Creed IV
5ReusCrysis 3Mortal Kombat KompleteGrand Theft Auto V
6RIPD: The GameHalf-Life 2Magrunner: Dark PulseDeadpool
7Leisure Suit LarryStarcraft 2: LibertyFist PuncherWatchdogs
8Legends of DawnCivilization VCompany of Heroes 2Call of Duty: Ghosts
9N/APortal 2GuncraftSaints Row IV
10 N/A SW:TOR Neverwinter TitanFall

Two games! Out of thirty-four of the top games out there, there are two that hundreds of experts and reviewers, and millions of gamers can agree are worth looking at. It's fascinating how diverse this is and I'll explain why in a bit but one thing first. I am thrilled as a gamer that there are so many good games out there, and that there are so many diverse gaming communities, but where could this diversity be a negative? Let's paint a picture. Your name is Thelma and you're 68 years old. Your grandson Jonathan's birthday is coming up, and while you consider yourself pretty good at computers (after all, you can do the emails now) he  likes video games and has one of those quad-cores the news talks about. So, you do a google and try to look around for what the experts say he might like. Everything is guns, sex, or zombies, so you give up on trying to find something wholesome. Now that you're in Thelma's shoes, look at the chart above again, and try to make up your mind. This right here is why you you get crappy games that you don't want as presents.

The Solution
As rude as this picture is, I couldn't not write the "please." Straight up pavlovian.

     Casual gamers would also be at a disadvantage here. You qualify as Casual if you 1) haven't been to E3, 2) don't follow gaming news daily, and 3) don't regularly play a full spectrum of game genres (depth vs. width argument valid here). Note to self: when you're designing rules for who's cool and who's not, make them so you can fall under the cool category next time. For casual gamers these Top Ten lists may be more for information than for buying decisions, but still, how is someone who casually follows the news supposed to use information though that doesn't agree with itself? Not too much damage can be done here other than awkward water cooler conversations, but it's indicative of a social shift in society as a whole...

The Reason:
       Everyone plays video games. Back when Top Ten lists agreed with themselves, not everyone played. If you're under 35, chances are, you game. You may not game a lot, but you have a preferred genre/system. Let me put this in perspective, the Wii has sold more systems in 2 1/2 years, than the Nintendo 64 and SNES system sold 20. Then throw in the XBoxers, PS3ers, and oh look!, you're on a computer! Guess how many people have those.
      So, what has happened is that, as audiences have grown, they seperated themselves into like minded groups. Back in the day, you had 8 bit and 16 bit games that were cute. They were all cute. Now we have such fantastic capabilities that even a game as complex and beautiful as Dark can have a 3/10 rating. There are MMO junkies, adrenaline heroes, FPS cults, and even enough people who care about making gold in a single game like World of Warcraft that I can blog about this niche-within-a-niche.
      The initial bewilderment of looking at the contradicting lists comes from the idea that, in large numbers, statistically, the average of a group always shows itself. So, if there is an averagely good top 10 games, we would expect thousands or millions of people to come to some agreement. The error is that we're dealing with different groups and different averages. As games have taken over more of the media market (TV, movies, etc.) asking what the best game is becomes equivalent to giving out just one Oscar; you have to divide it up into categories. That's what these sites are, different games for different groups people.

Silly Sandra Bullock. Forgot to check the mirror 
at the end of the hall before moving forward.
      As large as the gaming community is, rankings should not be looked at as a whole anymore. Top Ten lists have traditionally been used by two groups: parents trying to by Christmas presents for their kids and technophile adults. If you're the former, ignore all the other sites out there and read IGN and Gamespots's write ups. Or, better yet. Ask your kid. If you aren't a kid, and you are an adult who is just into gaming and wants the latest info, then chances are you already have a favorite site because there are so many more people playing nowdays that gamers have to group together to reinforce their own views and limit information they don't care about. So hey, keep reading and stick to it. Don't let me sway you. I'm just a guy on the internet who thinks numbers are neat.

P.S. I'm also pretty good at making gold in WoW, this Blog's main focus, so feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel, or follow me on twitter for future posts.

P.P.S. So, omg, Walking Dead: 400 isn't even a full game. One of two games that made it on multiple lists is an interim game while they're waiting to release a sequel. GG.

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