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Analyst: Review Scores Least Important Factor For Game Purchases
Analyst: Review Scores Least Important Factor For Game Purchases
November 25, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

November 25, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    27 comments
More: Console/PC



Many game publishers consider score aggregators like Metacritic and GameRankings to be a major indicator of their games' quality, frequently citing score data in dialog with their investors to demonstrate how the outlook for their portfolio is improving.

But game reviews and scores are far from a major factor in consumer purchases of games, finds a new fall-season survey by Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz. In fact, among eight different factors that influence a consumer's decision whether or not to buy a particular title, aggregator scores were judged the least important out of eight.

A more important influence on game purchase decisions is word of mouth, says Creutz. "We believe that while Metacritic scores may be correlated to game quality and word of mouth, and thus somewhat predictive of title performance, they are unlikely in and of themselves to drive or undermine the success of a game," he explains.

"We note this, in part, because of persistent rumors that some game developers have been jawboning game reviewers into giving their games higher critical review scores," adds the analyst. "We believe the publishers are better served by spending their time on the development process than by 'grade-grubbing' after the fact."

Genre is the most important factor influencing purchase decisions, says the survey -- gamers unsurprisingly gravitate toward their preferred genres. The second largest factor is whether players enjoyed an earlier version of the game: "This demonstrates the value of strong game franchises," says Creutz.

Price is the third-largest factor -- and average software prices currently trend $10 over the previous generation's, contributing to increasing marketshare for used titles. Word of mouth is fourth-most important.

Consumers cited advertising visuals as the next biggest factor, or "how the game looks when I see it in a store, online, or in advertising." Publisher reputation and Metacritic scores were considered largely unimportant factors by contrast.

And consumers are buying more games than ever, Creutz says -- over 40 percent of gamer households own more than 40 titles. 42 percent own more than one current-generation console: 31.4 percent own two, and 10.7 percent of all gamer homes have an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3, and a Wii.

Yesterday, we reported Creutz's finding that among users planning to buy a new console this holiday, PlayStation 3, at last competitively priced, may be poised to gain significant market share, with 21 percent of those who don't own one planning to buy one this season. The analyst also believes Wii hardware and software is continuing to decline.


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Comments


Fiore Iantosca
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Go to Metacritic. You'll see dozens of games where the review scores are far below players scores. Sometimes it's the other way around. I read reviews from as many sources as possible. I have a few I stick with because I find they do an excellent job of pinpointing the game's issues that I might not like.



Of course reviews should be completely biased, but that's difficult. Which is why you should read as much as you can, demo the games, talk to friends who have the game, etc.



"The second largest factor is whether players enjoyed an earlier version of the game: "This demonstrates the value of strong game franchises"

Modern Warfare 2 anyone? LOL

Bo Banducci
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Is this because most gamers don't read about a game online before they buy it? Or do they?

Chris Remo
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Bo, I don't believe most people who buy games do read much about games, particularly not actual reviews. I also think most people who do read reviews are more interested in seeing whether their opinions match up with others' than they are actually informing their own opinions. I've been playing games for a couple decades and have been reading and writing about games for nearly as long, and the number of times I've actually bought a game based on reviews is quite low. When that has happened, it tends to be for lesser-known games that don't sell well, not the massive blockbusters whose quality (be it good or bad) is usually evident to me without needing reviews.

Fiore Iantosca
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*UNBIASED - sorry about that.

Z Z
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Do you think GTAIV would have sold as much if it wasn't given perfect scores everywhere? No. The perfect scores built hype, so in that case the review scores helped it. So I guess unless it's a perfect score you're buying, don't waste your money on paying off reviewers.

Andrew Dobbs
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Eh, makes sense...review scores however can indicate a title's ability to become word of mouth material.

Bo Banducci
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Chris,



I think you're right about people looking to verify their opinions on games. I took a minute to think, and I can remember me doing this a few times. I wonder what that says about the role of game reviews. Maybe it's time the review process be revamped.



Andrew,



I think that happens sometimes, but think about what Chris is saying. If you were super, super excited about a game for months, and then it got bad review scores, would you immediately start calling it trash? I'm pretty sure I would still want to check it out for myself.



Come to think of it though, I was excited for Brutal Legend for a long time, but after reading the reviews I decided it wasn't worth my money and haven't played it. I guess it can go either way.



I definitely agree with the importance of word of mouth, though I'm including reading about it on forums, too, not just literal word of mouth. If intelligent people are making positive comments about a game en masse, that says a lot.

Andrew Dobbs
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@Bo I think word of mouth ties into a form of peer pressure...or perhaps social obligation is a better word. If your friends are all going to buy Halo or L4D or WoW and play multiplayer, then you are likely to do so. Even with singleplayer, if everyone is talking about a game, you want to go play it so you can join the conversation and be in the know.



That factor doesn't motivate me as much with games, but I definitely have seen many movies and tv shows I otherwise wouldn't because there was a personal reason to do so.

Tom Newman
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Reviews are very important, but the content of the review counts more than the final score. If I'm excited about a game, I check the review. If it's a terrible review, but I like the genre and developer, I'll still buy. If it's a great review, there are still certain things I'm looking for a reviewer to mention that still could dissuade me from making the purchase. A common example would be an RPG review. It can be an RPG I have pre-ordered and was anticipating for a year or more, but if the reviewer gives it a 9 and talks about the lengthy CG sequences, I'm not going to touch it, as CG is a huge pet peeve of mine. Also, there have been many games I have overlooked that a good review will bring my attention to. On this site alone there have been dozens of articles on how niche games flop despite great reviews. Imagine how those games would have sold with terrible reviews or no reviews at all? I buy at least 3-4 games a year I would have completely overlooked if I didn't read a great review.

Reed Walton
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Did the study mention anything about games that release playable demos vs. games that only release trailers?

Nollind Whachell
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Wow, I'm surprised. No mention of word of mouth in the article? I've been pretty active within game communities for years (since '96) and this is the number one thing that I've been noticing more and more over the past few years. As soon as a game has an open beta or launches, online forums swarm with people sharing info about it, as well as gamer's blogging about it on their sites. By reading a good cross section of this feedback, from different people and perspectives, you can get a pretty good indication if the game is worth purchasing or not.



BTW one person's word of mouth is another person's review. To me it really comes down to trusting your source which occurs over time. It one reason why I don't trust reviews from large ad supported gaming news networks but rather trust a small select group of gamers who've been blogging for years. I'd say 80% of my choice of purchase is based upon this small trusted source of people and the other 20% is based upon selective feedback from forums.



One final point. When times are good and cash is flowing, gamers are willing to take more risks. When times are tough and cash is in short supply, you can be damn sure they'll try to gather as much information as they can about the game before purchasing it, so as not to get burned (as many of them have probably already been burned before).

bob rice
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Market research is the conerstone of great marketing. I went to 5 game stores and asked them if game music soundtracks had an influence on the sales of games. All 5 stores said "Absolutely yes, they have a positive influence on the sales of games." They continued with "Lots of people come in to buy a game as a gift. These consumers will often look at the game music soundtrack section and assume that if a game music soundtrack has been produced and released, it must be a great game. Thus, they buy the game (s) that have a game music soundtrack."



I suggest that the industry expand on this research.



Bob Rice

four bars intertainment

Javier Arevalo
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"Wow, I'm surprised. No mention of word of mouth in the article?"



It's mentioned as the 4th most important factor.

Peter Dwyer
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I've said this for a long while now. In my experience it's word of mouth that determines a game purchase. Often one friend buys the game and the others wait for the verdict. This spreads like a bush fire due to the internet and so overhyped games don't always end up as best sellers or even breaking even. Game developers spend far too much time courting journalists thinking that a 10/10 score is a guaranteed AAA sale when gamers see rigth through such things and have done for a long time.

Mike Lopez
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I believe a huge factor in sales success is how the early-adopters are hooked into buying. I believe the early game buyers are more hard core, well informed players who rely much more heavily on game reviews and scores from those reviews than does the average consumer. Were it not for the early buyers the world of mouth would never get started and the real public hype machine would not fly sky-high.



Also, I see genre as more of a filter than a specific buying decision. Most consumers filter all the choices by their own preferences (genre, # players, etc.) before actually deciding to make a purchase. Price could arguably be another filter and not really a buying decision. Perhaps filter vs. buying factor is just a semantics discussion to some but for me there is a clear distinction.



$0.02

Buck Hammerstein
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Word of mouth from friends who have actually played a certain game plays a huge role, especially from friends who can relay good points and bad ones in a balanced fashion. But with so many gamers making pre-order purchases previews, trailers and beta reviews become more of a determining factor. In the end, review ratings are a validation for most that they were right to buy/avoid a game.



I've seen great games get the same 9.0 rating that was given to completely average, formulaic games and I've seen youngsters review games they haven't even played just to share their biased opinions to anyone who will listen.



It's true in today's heavily FPS market that all other genres pique the interest of those who enjoy said games. We're lucky that their are many good titles being made and fewer duds then in the past there is still a need to have some sort of review content to clarify a game's merits, even if jaded and biased.

M M
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Too many young biased kids are critics from what I've seen, leading to unrealistic scores. Publishers leaning on these for decisions have rocks in their head IMO.

Andrew Dovichi
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I've been noticing a different type of word of mouth advertising that comes in the form of my friend's list. When I sign into Xbox Live and see that 20 out of 25 of my online friends are playing the same game, it certainly gives me pause enough to consider purchase.

Tom Newman
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Metacritic gives The Big Lebowski a 69. What does that tell you?

Amir Sharar
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Andrew Dovichi: I second that. I was planning to buy MW2 at a later date but bought it soon after launch after seeing nearly all of my friends playing it for 2 days straight. I nearly bought Borderlands for the same reason.



Twitter and Facebook can be used as "word of mouth" tools and so I feel that official connectivity between Steam/PSN/XBL and those social networking tools should be a priority for Valve/Sony/MS. I understand that to some extent there is a relationship (both PSN and XBL will/had recent updates that integrated facebook), what I'm talking about is, for example, an option to auto-tweet what game you are playing once you decide to jump on your PC/console to play a game.



Nollind Wachell said, "BTW one person's word of mouth is another person's review."



Never thought about it that way, you are absolutely right. What this could mean then, is that we don't take stock in "critical" reviews and put more stock in the reviews of our friends.



An recent interesting case-in-point that relates to Cruetz's hypothesis: Forza Motorsport 3. It's a game that has received unanimous praise from non-racing gamers to hardcore PC sim racers. It's aggregate score is extremely high, and compares admirably against MS's other first party efforts in Halo and Gears of War...games that sell millions upon release. However FM3 only sold 175K during October in North America when it was released in the last week of October. The genre of "simulation racer" rarely sells well. PC sims like Live for Speed, Richard Burns Rally, rFactor, and iRacing (subscription based) aren't top selling games either. PS3 racing sim "Supercar Challenge" may not hit Stateside because it is such a niche genre. Yes, Gran Turismo sells well but it does so for other reasons, which I won't go into now.



The reason why I find it interesting is because one factor that could have helped sales, the "word of mouth factor", was sabotaged by the game's publisher, MS. The game boasts a picture export feature that allows users to upload photos taken in-game onto the web. It could have turned out to be an incredible form of grassroots advertising for the game, with game owners sharing near photo-realistic pictures with their friends. Instead, the feature was marred by horrible compression on the pictures, done to save bandwidth costs. Ironically hardcore fans of the game were ashamed to share pictures of the game as a result. In my mind this will go down in history as a marketing blunder on the part of MS.

Morgan Ramsay
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Chris Remo:

"I don't believe most people who buy games do read much about games"



Refer to the 2006 Magid study for the MI6 conference. I believe the figure was around 25% of buyers use reviews to decide whether to purchase products. Personal networks (i.e., friends and family) are, of course, vital, but so are official product websites, especially to influencers.



http://www.mi6conference.com/Magid_MI6.pdf



Also, my interpretation of the results:



http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/04/improving-game-marketing/



"the number of times I've actually bought a game based on reviews is quite low."



Unfortunately, those of us who are as close to the business as we are generally cannot, or should not, use our own personal decision-making processes to predict consumer behavior.

Martin Reimer
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Sure the general public has no idea that games are probably reviewed and scored on a regular basis. But gamers like us, those that have an interest in games probably use game scores. Even if used only when we are on the fence when buying a game.

gstarr W
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Game reviews are just like movie reviews which are just like music reviews. Critics are jerks that no one cares about except other critics. The critics can fault Transformers 2 for the "insipid dialogue", Lady GaGa for her "pop sensibilities" and Wii Sports for being just a "tech demo". People enjoy them all anyway. Critics train the public to ignore their reviews. Unless you are doing a small independent movie/song/game, the reviews are irrelevant. And the public knows this. Or just doesn't care. There are about 25 employees at my place of employment. Only two do not own a 360/ps3/wii. Only one goes on the internet to gaming sites. (That would be me.) And I don't even agree with the reviews. When the 48 year old female assistant manager comes and asks me if she should buy Wii-Fit, I never quote her the Metacritic score. Critics don't get it. At least not for the average person. I tell her go buy it. You'll love it. Guess what? She did, and she loves it. My opinion will always be more valued than the critics.

Word of mouth, baby!!

Nollind Whachell
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"It's mentioned as the 4th most important factor. "



Javier: My apologies, I must be blind because I scanned this article like three or four times and didn't see "word of mouth" until I did a page search with my browser. No idea why I couldn't see it mentioned in the third paragraph. Maybe the big M logo kept pulling my eye away from it. :)

Ted Brown
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I've heard anecdotes from other developers that their bonuses have been based on the Metacritic score of their game. In a way, this makes sense, as it's the only part of the process the developer (and not marketing or distribution, etc) really has control over.



Of course, I say that with a sardonic smile on my face, since any publisher "relying" on Metacritic scores for payment has probably set impossible milestones that guarantee a mediocre game.



But this does help explain their attention to the reviewers.

chad l
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I've been gaming for 20+ years and pretty much know without a review if a game is going to be good or not just buy watching a video of it (youtube or IGN). A review very rarely swings me towards buying a game that I normally wouldn't and it never stops me from buying a game I normally would. There are certain franchises that are rock solid (COD, MLB The Show, Battlefield, EA's NHL) that I will purchase sight unseen regardless of a reviewers opinion. I've been burned too many times buy getting sucked into games with great reviews and purchasing them only to find out I really didn't like them (Grand Theft series, Wii Zelda, Metal Gear Series, Madden, to name a few).

Derek Smart
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I tend to agree that review scores are largely meaningless to gamers. At least to those who have more than a few functioning brain cells and so don't leave their bargaining power in the hands of another person. Usually that other person is an utter moron who couldn't write a 100 word essay on "Why I don't like burnt toast" without getting an F, but somehow thinks he/she is qualified to write about and grade someone else's work.



Most reviews these days are just pure fodder for criticism. And when you throw in the fact that games are catering more and more to the console crowd, writing reviews for games designed for that crowd is like writing a limerick for ADHD challenged folks and then asking them to make sense of it. In other words, it is pointless. And it is that very notion that sees otherwise high end games either not being reviewed or being completely trashed because the "reviewers" simply can't take the time to learn, play or get into the game. And when they can't "get" a game, you end up with a shoddy review and a bad score to boot.



I wrote an extensive article about this farce in a recent blog.



http://www.3000ad.com/aaw/2009/09/developer-blog-17/


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