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.