Steel cage deathmatch fight: Tom Chick vs. Bruce Shelley
TomChick - News - 01/22/06 - Link

I have nothing against Bruce Shelley. Except that I think he's too literal with his math. Sometimes, three fifths is not the same as 60%.

Let's talk 7-9 rating system. To re-cap, you cannot simply translate a 5-star rating into a percentage rating. The 5-star system uses the entire range of ratings. On the other hand, percentages and 1-10 scales are used in the same way as grades in the US school system (91-100 is an A, 81-90 is a B, 71-80 is a C, and the other 2/3s of the scale is a tract of unused wilderness into which subpar games are banished to wander aimlessly).

So it's really disappointing when someone as seminal, talented, and experienced as Bruce Shelley -- a fellow who did 3D programming for Microprose's F-19, which got me hooked on flight sims and therefore computer games way back in 19something-something -- so blatantly misrepresents the way ratings systems work.

If you scroll down his blog a ways, you'll find this:

Review Disparity: I believe that reviewers give extra credit to games that show them something really new because they see so many games and they can all start to blur. Conversely, games that don’t dramatically innovate can be penalized. I believe we did innovate significantly in Age 3, but some reviewers disagree obviously. Our marketing guys tell us the average review score for Age of Empires III is in the low 80s (out of 100) and I say the innovation bias is costing us 5-10 points on the average (at least).

I am struck by the fact that the two biggest PC gaming magazines in the US gave Age 3 such disparate scores. Computer Gaming World gave it 60% (three stars out of five), while PC Gamer gave it 91%. That seems like it would be very confusing to readers who are considering whether to try the game. Players will establish eventually if the relative score of the game was at one of these extremes or the other, or somewhere in between. Data we’re seeing says that Age 3 has been perhaps the best selling PC game in the world since release in mid-October and that certainly suggests that the 60% score miss-represents the true achievement of the game.

This sort of ratings confusion happens all the time, largely because of, which dutifully logs the 3-star review in Computer Gaming World as a 60%. Since I wrote that review, and since I consider a 3-star review a thumbs-up, it's worth noting that if I had to use a 1-10 or percentile scale, Age 3 would abso-frickin'-lutely not have gotten a 60%. Let me reiterate: I would not give Age of Empires III a 60%. Thanks, Gamerankings, for misrepresenting the opinions of me and everyone else using a 5-star system (Computer Games Magazine, Gamespy, and Yahoo, for instance).

It's also disappointing that Shelley seems unconcerned with the actual text of my putative 60% review. My complaint wasn't about innovation -- something that matters not one whit to me in a good game -- but about problems with interface, design, and graphics. Also, Shelley frets that PC Gamer's 91% review might "confuse" readers. And while I tend to give gamers credit for recognizing differences of opinion as such, I think confusion is a fitting reaction to Age III, a game I alternately love and hate in a way that cannot be expressed with math, algebra, calculus, or even non-Euclidean geometry.

Finally, I trust Mr. Shelley knows better than to expect that being "the best selling game in the world" necessarily implies any particular level of quality. By that criteria, Brittney Spears has trumped Mozart.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Mr. Shelley, his body of work, and his opinions. I know it must be frustrating when people are disappointed, for whatever reason, with something you've created. But I hope he understands that I think far more of Age III than to give it a 60%.

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