The relationship between review scores and sales is oft-questioned, but now a groundbreaking new study examining the impact of review scores on video game sales finds that high scores do indeed push sales -- even when players make their own quality assessments at the same time.
The Guildhall at SMU, together with analyst group EEDAR, studied a total of 165 people who'd never before played PopCap's popular Plants vs. Zombies -- the only game chosen for the study, due to what was described as its unique combination of high quality and mass appeal.
Study participants were split into three groups: one exposed, prior to playing, to high-scored reviews of the game; a second exposed beforehand to negative reviews, and a control group who was not shown any reviews. After playing for 20 minutes, players were asked to give their own evaluation of the game.
On completing the study, participants got a choice: Take $10, or take a free copy of the game. Fascinatingly, "participants exposed to higher review scores were twice as likely to take a copy of Plants vs. Zombies over the $10 cash, and 85 percent more likely to take the game than the control group," says the study. And they were 121 percent more likely to take the game than were those who had seen poor scores beforehand. Players who asked about the game's real-world online or retail pricing didn't get an answer.
"The EEDAR/SMU study posits that the relationship between video game sales and professional review scores are not correlative but causal," it suggests.
Critical opinion not only affects purchase willingness, but also a player's own opinion: The group that saw high scores tended to offer their own scores on average 20 percent higher than those that were shown low scores, but only 6 percent higher than the control group who had not seen any scores.
"Consumer review scores had a greater variance from the mean than professional critic review scores, which had a tighter clustering around the mean," says the study. "The review score standard deviations of all the experimental groups were significantly higher than the standard deviation of professional reviews. Participant review scores ranged from 40 to 100, whilst the range for professional reviewers ranged from 60 to 100."
And being exposed to positive reviews has a strong effect on whether players recommend a game to a friend or not: "91% of participants exposed to high review scores for Plants vs. Zombies would recommend the product to a friend if they were asked to recommend a 'good game to play,' compared to only 65 percent from Group B (low review scores) and 80 percent from the control group."