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Eurogamer reviews are changing

Star struck.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Hey again, Tom here. I'm really excited to announce today that Eurogamer reviews are changing. Here's a bit about how, and the thinking behind why.

In short, Eurogamer is moving to a five-star review rating system, beginning this week.

For years now, I've felt our existing review badges weren't working hard enough for us, or for you. We ended up recommending a lot of games, or not giving a badge at all to many others - which meant readers not acquainted with our odd four-point scale had nothing to go on. We rarely used Avoid, because it always felt a bit mean.

It's been eight years since Eurogamer ditched the 10-point review scale and we're not going back to that - the argument then that it felt broken through overuse of its upper half still stands. At the same time, I strongly believe we need to convey how we feel about games in a more straightforward manner.

Which brings us to five stars. It's universally understood, simple to take in at a glance, and easily shared.

In my blog post a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I was keen for Eurogamer to look back to its roots where appropriate, as a home for video game coverage that feels fearless and helps drive the conversation. It's a conversation I'm keen for our reviews to stand out in, to match the brilliant writing you've come to expect from our team. There's more about all of that below from reviews editor Chris Tapsell, including detail of a new accessibility options listing I'm also delighted to be adding.

For now, I can't wait for you to see Eurogamer's first starred review with our verdict on Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Join us then.

Newscast: Is Zelda playable in Tears of the Kingdom?Watch on YouTube

Chris Tapsell writes...

Hello! If you don't know me, I'm reviews editor, which means I spend most of my time either organising reviews for the big games you already know about, or scratching about in search of the cool ones you might not.

Before getting into the meat of review scores, I wanted to talk about one other thing we're adding to reviews I'm very excited about: information on accessibility options. Every review will now have a boxout - like the one which lists a game's developer, platforms, etc - which briefly summarises the accessibility options of a game in a couple of sentences of plain English.

For now it won't be criticism per se, and we won't ask our critics to factor it into the wider review - accessibility criticism is something that should be handled by those who truly know what they're doing, and we're just not equipped to do that proper justice for now. Instead, this is a summary of what options the game has, if any. The goal is to give our readers the info and to show developers and publishers we're paying attention - and that we believe these things matter. I'm hugely proud of the accessibility coverage we already have on Eurogamer, which has been led by Christian Donlan and a team of wonderful accessibility writers, but we've been wanting to find a way to include this topic more prominently in our reviews for a while, and I'm delighted we can finally make a start, even if it's just a small one.

Everything else stays the same. You will still see a headline, a strapline, a summary sentence, and the review itself alongside information on platforms, release dates, and now a game's accessibility options and our rating out of five. Here's a big breakdown in detail.

How will it work?

Eurogamer's reviews will rate games out of five stars, with no half stars and no zero stars. We'll continue to not put star ratings on hardware reviews, console reviews and the like, as these are reviews of products or services and serve a different purpose.

Will Eurogamer start reviewing films, TV, or anything else?

No, we're not going to start doing movie reviews, or anything else beyond games, on the regular. Our film review rule is exactly the same as before: we will only review films, TV shows and other media specifically based around games.

That said, we'll be adding stars to reviews on those very rare occasions where we review video game films, simply because it's a system that makes perfect sense for that medium, too.

What about Early Access games, betas, and games that change over time?

We think our current approach for these edge cases works well, and won't change. I understand the desire for consistency, but for Early Access games we take a common sense approach and play by ear. Our goal is to review a game at the point when that review is both fairest to developers, and most useful to readers.

Generally, that means when it's possible for the public to buy it with money (or spend money in it), when most or all of its key features are in place, and when it feels like interest and attention is at its peak. The same goes for betas, where we won't review from them unless that 'beta' is simply a label applied to a version that meets the criteria of Early Access games above.

We also generally don't do re-reviews outside of exceptional cases. If games are charging their players money and/or given a full release, then whatever score that version gets at launch is one its developers and publishers should be prepared to have stick.

Release window reviews also act as a part of video game history, and add to the culture of a period in time - it's worth keeping them around to show how games or gaming culture were faring. Plus, we cover games with other critical writing long after release, and our State of the Game series is a good way to see how long-running ones have evolved, for better or worse.

Will stars correlate to the old badges, and will they change?

No, our starred reviews won't correlate to the previous badges in any direct way, and our old reviews won't be converted to the stars system.

Are we adding any extra words, summaries etc to go with stars? Do they have any specific meanings?

We're not adding specific words to go alongside the stars. These words aren't necessarily what a critic might want to say about the game, and most of the time are either not accurate or, worse, not very interesting. A three-stars game isn't necessarily "okay", or "fair", or "decent", for instance - what if a game's exciting, and quite bold, and also messy as hell? I like to think we're deliberate about the words we'd use to describe the game in the headline, the summary, and the review itself for those to stand on their own, and so it's better to avoid boxing ourselves in.

Why change from the badge system?

While intended as a way of marking out a game that had 'special sauce' (sorry, there's just no better way to put this!) it ultimately became a signifier of an overall recommendation, like an Official Eurogamer Seal of Quality, losing the nuance along the way. That's understandable - the Recommended badge did ultimately say "recommended". But this then lead to the "No Badge" meaning "not recommended", rather than any absence of one. Additionally, too many games fell into one of these two categories. Games have changed and with them, our purpose: there are now an incredible amount of very good, very interesting games, and our role as a site has shifted away from simply evaluating all the important things coming out.

Now we aim to be a site which still does that, but also acts as more of a curator, actively seeking out things you might not have known about, or might not be considered important, to highlight and recommend. It means we've generally reviewed two types of games: prominent ones readers already know and care about, where scores varied; and hidden gems we're trying to unearth for our readers to check out, which generally skewed to Recommended or above - because the fact we reckon they're good is exactly why we've taken a look for a review.

To many, our reviews understandably became a question of "thumbs up or thumbs down." This is a terrible way to think about video games. Games are weird! They are maybe the weirdest things of all things that people write reviews for. Reducing them to a binary statement of "good" or "bad", regardless of whether that was our intention for the badges, is painfully reductive, and in many ways unfair. We could've changed the word - maybe it says "Highlight"? - or just got rid of the Recommended badge, but those options felt too weak to change already-ingrained ideas of how the system worked, or just involved even more explaining again. As much as nuance is an essential part of reviews, a sense of clarity is essential, too.

Why not ditch scores altogether?

I have massive respect for websites which have done this, and I've seen this suggested by readers. We're extremely fortunate to have readers who care about good writing, who want to read critics who think deeply and seriously about games, who love the medium and who hold it to high standards as a result. And honestly, we're lucky to have readers who just want to read.

But the reality is reviews without scores will be seen by and read by fewer people, and have less influence on the industry overall. That's more than just a cynical point about 'getting clicks'. Trust me when I say reviews genuinely aren't major traffic drivers for sites like Eurogamer - even the ones you disagree with! - but we believe in our reviews, and their relative visibility and weight matter.

Removing scores altogether would feel like running from that problem rather than trying to engage with it - which doesn't feel particularly 'Eurogamer', or like the right thing to do, either. Score-aggregating sites, social media accounts, and internal publisher feedback reports and scored mock reviews will still exist. Developers will still see bonuses tied to metascores. Maybe most importantly, readers - not just Eurogamer's - will still, naturally, compare our reviews to others, because this is just how humans think about things. It's better to get involved.

As much as people focus on them, scores also add at-a-glance usefulness, and so if our reviews can be clear and useful, and entertaining and insightful to read, that's a good thing. My personal hope is also that by seeing our scores amongst the others, people will realise that just as in film criticism, food criticism, or reviews of books or plays or TV shows or just conversations amongst your own friends, people respond to things differently. It would be weird and frankly rubbish if they didn't. Ultimately, we have a better chance of impacting that for the better - and become much harder to ignore - if we get stuck in with scores of our own.

Why five stars over scores out of 10, or a 100-point scale?

Five stars is clear, sophisticated and well-recognised, and more appropriate than other ranges. People use and understand two and three stars more than six-and-below out of 10 for instance, for strange psychology reasons. Scores out of a 100 meanwhile feel less suited to video game reviews than physics exams. No system is perfect, of course, but we're confident this system is the best, by some way.

Ultimately, there are only ever three options for reviews: remove any kind of score, add numbered ones, or make up our own awkward, slightly esoteric system which people have to figure out before they can properly use. I love that I work somewhere that's brave enough to try that last option, and I'm glad we did it, but I think we're over that phase.

Will the way you go about reviews change to fit the stars system?

The way we evaluate games will stay the same. As before, we won't review games like they're toasters: as in, it's our philosophy that they fall under the general umbrella of media, culture, and art, as opposed to consumer products - as much as some people would like to position players as mere consumers, and some consumer issues can indeed arise at times.

This means that, while reviews should still be informative and tackle those issues when they come up, that can't be their primary goal. We'll still talk about performance when it stands out particularly prominently in either direction, or feels specifically appropriate to the game - a similar common sense approach to Early Access reviews above - and Digital Foundry will still give you the most exhaustive and informative tech reviews out there.

But our reviews will remain closer to a review of something like a book - where it's much more important to tell you what it feels like to read, to describe the experience it can give you, and to evaluate how and why it does that, than it is to tell you how many chapters it has. You can find that kind of information anywhere; it's our goal to make our reviews the type of thing you can only find on Eurogamer.

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