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Should sports video games ditch "Overall" player ratings? (plus more on the system) 
Posted on August 8, 2011 at 02:01 PM.
This is something that I've thought about for too many years, and with the recent discussion on Madden's ratings, I think it's time that it becomes a debate with the masses.

Year in and year out, regardless of the sport or video game, there is always a select few gamers that are up in arms over what kind of distorted overall ratings some players have. In their defense, they often tend to be on the correct path. Although, sometimes it's an "opposite end of the spectrum" argument, where certain people will claim that Kobe should be the highest rated player, and LeBron should take second place. The debate is endless.

Whichever way you spin it, I don't think anybody can ever win. I ask: why does it matter? The facts of the matter are:

1) Overall ratings are nothing more than a mathematical formula derived from all of their other attributes. The formula is a creation of these attributes pulling certain weights, based on what the developers believe are the most important attributes in the game/sport. You know when IGN scores their games, and then gives their overall rating but they mention, "(not an average)"? These games aren't like that. No, these games aren't an average as well since they are a weighted distribution, but IGN's overall scores are an individually selected number, just like their subscores. There is zero mathematical calculation involved.

2) Adding onto the first point, overall ratings are just a number. Even if Kobe was rated an 89 in the game, if his values for dunking, speed, and rebounding were all the same, that number would hold no weight for how he will play on the court. With that said, the number truly becomes meaningless. It might help you determine what overall value the player has on all levels, but again, it's really just a number generated from a formula, created by the development team.

To add onto my own argument, overall ratings are simply too high in general. I remember when World Series Baseball 2K3 came out, a developer who was posting on OS claimed that there were 25 players rated over 100. This didn't really help the cause, as you can't tell which "100" players are rated better than others. Bonds was the highest rated player in the game at an invisible "147." What needed to happen, in this game (like other games probably do now), is take that "147" rated player, and re-proportionate the formula based on that, so that now Bonds can be rated, say, a 98, and now a normal 98 rated player will be rated a 65. How it currently is undervalues Bonds and overvalues the 98-rated player.

This will bring me onto my next point about ratings being too high, because many people will complain that a 65 is too low for a "good" player. Ratings are so high, that a player who is rated a 65 on any sports video game won't ever be looked at or regarded as a player with skill. I will agree, those players aren't comparatively good to the great players in the game. But what does that leave us with? What would a player with a rating of 30 look like? I don't know about you, but I don't even see them being drafted, let alone being picked up by a local community college. These are stinkers. I say: why don't they spread out the rating system a little bit more? This way, it doesn't clump a bunch of players into the 90-range, and it truly allows you to appreciate the best players in the league. Those players rated in the 60s should spread out to the lower end of the 0-100 spectrum. The way I see it, a player with an overall rating of 2 simply says that they were good enough to be looked at by a professional organization. Anything below that, really, wouldn't even squeak this video game anyway. You might as well use the entire spectrum.

That would then bring me to my next point: everybody is so adamant on numbers down to the very unit. What is the difference between a 92 and a 93? One unit, obviously... but what is the real difference? I still crack up over the fake letter to John Madden from Ethan Albright about his ratings, and I just think out loud for a moment, asking "Who honestly comes up with these individual units of measurement, especially for 'out of position' attributes such as punt ratings for a center?" The laughter ensues with the analogies in the letter, but the bottom line is that numbers tend to lead to arguments. I remember when MVP Baseball was using slider bars instead of numbers, and the OS community was in an outcry. I kind of like the idea of bars indicating ratings, because you can look at a general picture of where they're at, as opposed to nitpicking the 75 versus the 76 in the agility department. Yes, there will be a difference between the two players... but I don't think it should be judged incrementally. All Pro Football 2K8 was really good at changing up this system with the different skill calibers that players have. It was an interesting alteration.

Now, how does this tie all back into the overall ratings? I think that cutting off overall ratings in sports games would help in many departments determining a player's true value to your team:

1) It will allow the gamer to focus more on the player's individual ratings, and I think this is really important. When I played my Chargers franchise in ESPN NFL 2K5, I was in my seventh season with what I believed was the best team in the league, despite it saying that my offensive and defensive ratings were in the 60s and 70s, respectively. Why? Because I played to the players' strengths. I had a special WR as my kick returner, with top-valued speed, agility, and acceleration ratings, and a better-than-decent break tackle attribute. I have a feeling that, since he was my sixth WR on the team, his run-route, catch, and awareness attributes didn't need to be that high. I only controlled him on two specific occasions, and he didn't play otherwise. I didn't focus on my free safety pass-rushing ever, and he was mostly important for coverage, awareness, interceptions... you know the drill. They played to their specialties, and I deemed other attributes to be negligent. Yet, the overall ratings factored in their weaknesses, and they "appear" to be inferior as a result. I don't think general managers for sports teams say, "Well, he's a good overall player," as opposed to breaking down what things he's good at. Obviously you would want a player to be well-rounded with many tools, but they will note that in the breakdown. Break. Down. Not package.

2) The video game itself would interpret each attribute as a whole, and could improve on AI trade logic. There isn't a video game in the world that would trade an 80 for a 60. But what if the team needed a powerful designated hitter (60), and was willing to trade a utility infielder (80) for it? The DH might have terrible glove, arm, steal, bunt, and fatigue ratings that will lower his overall score, but in the thick of things these aren't exactly what you need out of your DH anyway. He might even be a bit low on contact, but if you are the Seattle Mariners you will take him over what you currently have at DH anyway if he can provide the thunder on occasion. Or let's twist the trade logic another way: maybe your starting rotation is desperate for a strong left-handed pitcher. I know that the Milwaukee Brewers might be looking to ship Casey McGehee if they can balance out their rotation a bit. The "average against lefties," or whatever rating is in place, will be the one factor to look at in this trade. This is something that the developers can implement in their logic, seeing what kinds of balances they want to make their team better. "We want to get more speed in our lineup." Heck, maybe you just want somebody who can pinch run. These small things will allow for otherwise seemingly unbalanced trades, if they make sense for the team's demands.

3) Most importantly, it will end the tireless forum debates. I don't know how else to put it, but what's just as bad as the arguments over the player's ratings is the demand for what the player ratings are beforehand. "Can you tell me what Tom Brady's rating is please?" If I told you a number, what high would that get you on for the next hour? How does that help explain his composure rating (which should be up there, by the way), or his scramble rating (which should be low)? It just becomes an annoyance, mostly because the number is very untelling. I would say this stems to Madden the most, because the biggest issue that comes out of that game is it goes to a lot of online gamers who are so adamant on the overall rating. They don't learn who players are as a whole, and gamers can be more educated on how these players are best utilized, outside of what overall score a developer gives them.

4) I'll add this last one even though it's already been implied, but it takes pressure of the development team to decide what ratings are important for us and the game. I don't want the game to reject my trade just because a player's OVR is too low, and I don't want the game to tell me that my player is inferior because his slap shot ability is more important than his backwards skating. I'll decide that for myself, as I look into the player's abilities and what I deem to be most valuable for my team.

In the end, I just think the system is broken. I am in favor of ditching "Overall" ratings, but if they don't, I also think there's a better way to go about it (going back to the bars for example, or at least putting them at the end of the column list so they don't signify overall importance). I know that this wouldn't ever happen because it seems to be such a fad to be able to rank players by their overall values, but I kid you not that it allows gamers to remain uneducated about the player's specialties, either in-game or in real life. I could help tie all of this into a completely new discussion involving the player progression, but let's save that for another blog.

Oh, and one final thing: since player ratings affect team ratings, I have no idea why people complain about "Boston being the best ranked team in the game." The developers don't independently sort teams after doing their player rankings, they are direct effects of the player rankings. Again, it seems to be a numbers argument here. Don't just look at the overall ranking, see why they're ranked the best. Furthermore, just because they are the highest ranked, does not mean that they suit your needs the best They might not have the deepest rotation, they might not have enough bullpen specialists and they might not boast many ground ball pitchers. This just continues to be an endless cycle of arguments based on the "overall" look of how sports games affect us on the forums, and I think if we cut back on the overalls slightly in terms of their importance for the game and its gamers, it would mean a lot for the sports gaming industry.

Of course, this is just one man's opinion. Let's look at the "overall" score of opinions to see if this argument is justifiable.
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