As you may have read on our news site yesterday, the oft-maligned Harvey Smith--often referred to on the internet as "the man who destroyed Deus Ex" and other such grandiose condemnations--recently ranted about the apparently cursed development of his latest game, BlackSite: Area 51, developed by Midway Austin.
The thrust of that post was about Smith's lack of personal investment in the title and the development hell that followed. This strikes me as somewhat surprising, because he became known for heavily evangelizing the game--and I mean him personally, not just his PR staff--throughout its development, frequently on the grounds that the game explores all kinds of deep political subversion ("How can you look at all these elements and not think this is super fucking subversive?" he exclaims even now).
But the thing I want to mention as well is his belief that his game deserved a better score. "I would give it an 80 [out of 100]," he said. I'm not here to argue whether that's a true statement, as I haven't played the final game (I'll leave that to the comments), but I do find it interesting that he chose 80% as his appropriate score.
I find this interesting because I've actually heard it many times before. Numerous developers have told me that their mixed-review games actually deserved an 8/10. That seems to be the baseline. Sometimes I think they do believe it deserves higher, but that's the score they think they can say without being overly presumptuous.
The ever-outspoken David Jaffe of course made waves (small tsunamis?) when he lashed out against GameSpot for its 6.7 review of his Calling All Cars! Responding to 1UP's 8, he wrote, "It does seem 8 is a bit low...but what the hell...8 is good in my book, so thank you guys!"
That does seem to be the magic number. It's worth mentioning that there are plenty of other examples that were delivered to me personally, but that I can't share here for reasons of personal confidence. I can't quite put my finger on what this trend means, or if it means anything at all really, but it probably says something about review scores and the scale that is generally used.
8/10 or 80% is still defined by just about everybody as "great," but I think it's widely-acknowledged (even if not actually by the review outlets themselves) that that's not the case. I don't think these designers are actually going around claiming their games qualify as "great," even if they believe they do. More likely they're saying something like, "I think my game is pretty solid--it does some cool things, even if it's not incredible." I think that's actually how most gamers interpret an 80 as well.
Then, there's always Jaffe's more introspective comment, "Or it could be that the game really is a 7/10 and I just WANTED it to be more." I imagine this kind of thing nags in the back of the minds of all people who do creative work. It's tough to judge your own creations.