Do video game critics matter?

Christopher Dring
Do video game critics matter?

Games critics didn’t like Aliens: Colonial Marines.

The game’s Metacritic score was just 49. But despite the critical mauling it reached No.1 during its launch week and is the fastest selling game of the year so far.

Meanwhile, last year’s XCom: Enemy Unknown was loved by game reviewers. And although it didn’t sell badly, its sales paled in comparison to critical disappointments Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Resident Evil 6.

YouGov research conducted in 2010 regarding film reviews found that the public place little faith in critics. Only one per cent of those surveyed valued the opinions of the  experts at Empire and Total Film.

This survey inspired popular film critic Mark Kermode to write: “No matter what anyone tells you, audiences generally don’t trust critics one jot.”

Is this true of game critics?

“Reviews make a big impact,” insists 2K president Christoph Hartmann.

“Take the Top 10 and put it against the scores, you’ll see very few titles which didn’t score at least 80. It’s just a direct correlation between the quality of the game and the sales numbers. High scores is the foundation. Without them, there’s no chance of success.”

Hartmann isn’t wrong. The Top Five games of last year – Call of Duty, FIFA 13, Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4 and Hitman: Absolution all scored ‘positive’ (75 or above) review aggregator on Metacritic.

 

"And just because a game tops the charts it doesn’t
make it a success. Medal of Honor: Warfighter hit
No.1 but it sold well below EA’s internal expectations
and the franchise has now been taken ‘out of rotation'."


And just because a game tops the charts it doesn’t make it a success. Medal of Honor: Warfighter hit No.1 but it sold well below EA’s internal expectations and the franchise has now been taken ‘out of rotation.’

Resident Evil 6, too, may have shipped almost 5m units. But Capcom was disappointed and changed its financial outlook for the year as a result.

It’s all about expectation. XCom may not have been a  sales sensation, but it was, in the words of its publisher 2K, a ‘success’. It didn’t have a multi-million pound marketing campaign like Resident Evil or Medal of Honor, it wasn’t created over multiple years by a huge development team. It was probably more profitable than many of the big titles launched last year.

But the question remains: What level of impact do reviews have on a game’s performance?

Social media agency Precise tracks review score sentiment online. So we reached out to the firm’s games analyst Kris Nordgren to uncover if Medal of Honor’s reviews impacted consumers’ intent to purchase.

Based on tweets and online comments, Nordgren found that, of the sample he studied, 31 per cent agreed with a negative review and said they would not buy or recommend the game as a result. Only ten per cent disagreed with the negative reviews, while three per cent agreed with the few positive reviews the game attracted (the remaining 56 per cent didn’t indicate either way).

It suggests that poor reviews of the game did have an impact on the its commercial performance:

“The results on social media correlate with other research results that showed reviews do influence perceptions and intent to purchase,” Nordgren concludes.

“In this case, negative reviews stopped some consumers who had previously intended to buy the game from doing so. After having read reviews, one third decided not to buy.

“Although peer opinion is a strong influence on game perception, these opinions were often based on published reviews.”

“The results on social media correlate with other research
results that showed reviews do influence perceptions and
intent to purchase. In this case, negative reviews stopped
some consumers who had previously intended to buy
the game from doing so. After having read reviews, one
third decided not to buy.”

Precise games analyst Kris Nordgren


Film and video games are very different mediums. Movies are more mass-market for one, but also they’re cheaper. Consumers may be willing to risk Transformers 3 for £8 a ticket, but for £35?

Good critical success doesn’t necessarily equal good sales on its own. If that were the case then World of Goo and Okami would be amongst the biggest selling games of all time.

Instead it requires a combination of quality gameplay with excellent marketing. Skyrim and Borderlands 2 are two perfect examples. Neither title (one a deep RPG, the other a cel-shaded shooter) are initially the sort you’d expect to see amongst the best sellers, but they were excellent titles and heavily promoted with inventive marketing. As a result, they were both amongst last year’s top selling titles.

Games can succeed or fail for multiple reasons. Fans may not like the new direction of a title or a game could happen to capitalise on a new fitness phenomenon. But in general, quality is vital. Gamers are more demanding than ever, and they don’t tolerate poor games.

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Tags: video games , reviews , critics , matter

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