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Study: Professional game reviews strongly affect consumer behavior

Do review scores matter? Does all the 1-through-10 fuss mean anything when the games hit retail? Absolutely, says an EEDAR/SMU study which concludes "a strong causal link between professional critic reviews and their ability to affect consumers’ actions and perceptions."

188 students who had never played Plants vs. Zombies were asked to read an information packet before playing the game for 20 minutes. One group received packets containing positive reviews (a score of 90), another received negative reviews (a score of 61), and a control group received no reviews.

After their play session, the participants were asked to rate the game. The group exposed to high review scores rated the game, on average, six points higher than the control group, and 14 points higher than the group exposed to low scores. Members of the positive-review-influenced group were also more than twice as likely than the low score group to choose a copy of the game over $10 cash, and were more likely to recommend the game to a friend (91% would recommend, compared to 61% of the low review score group).


Above: The blue bars represent the review scores given to participants, and the red bars are their scores after 20 minutes of playing

The recommendation factor is important, because most consumers indicate that they trust recommendations from friends more than review scores. This study, however, links review scores and a person's willingness to recommend a game:

"Word-of-mouth is usually considered a more influential catalyst than critic reviews. The EEDAR/SMU study indicates that the amount of word-of-mouth spread is directly impacted by critic reviews, making reviews an important element in the purchasing decision process."


Above: Willingness to recommend Plants vs. Zombies (blue) compared to unwillingness (red). From left to right, the group exposed to high scores, the control group, and the group exposed to low scores

The study did have limitations. The reviews given to participants contained both numbered scores and qualitative statements, such as "Game of the Year." It is unclear which was more impactful, if either. The study also used a game generally accepted as "high quality" (well, we think so), and while the researchers assume that the same results may also apply to lower quality titles, another study would be needed to confirm that. The study also did not examine the effects of marketing (trailers, screenshots, give-aways, etc.), and only indicates that critic reviews influence those directly exposed - it does not make conclusions about word-of-mouth recommendations which occur down the line.


Above: If anything can be concluded, it's that this works

A link between review scores and game sales was already assumed, and tested, but these results further reinforce the importance of a positive critical reaction. Garth Chouteau, Vice President of Public Relations at PopCap Games, explained what the study means to PopCap:

"We've always known that good reviews are beneficial to a game's sales, but we didn't realize just how significant a role they play in the purchasing decision process. This study illustrates not only that game quality trumps hype, it also shows how important it is for game makers to establish and maintain good communications with the media outlets that cover video games."

That was a lot of numbers and stuff, so now we'll throw it to you for gut reactions, which'll be much more fun. What's your take? How much influence do reviews have on your decisions? Do you read many reviews, just a few, or do you prefer recommendations from friends? Do you consider that your friends' recommendations may have been influenced by reviews? Tell us in the comments!

Jul 7, 2010

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26 comments

  • Spybreak8 - July 12, 2010 7:57 a.m.

    The problem is there are just so many games, if you didn't use a filter it'd be like you were playing crappy games as a kid again (we didn't know better/internet wasn't around lol).
  • Manguy17 - July 9, 2010 5:08 p.m.

    normally i choose based on in game footage and reviews, but thats mainly because i only have a couple friends who know much about good games, or choose to play good games for that matter ( getting bored halfway through gta4, ME2 and red dead? madness) so its safe to say that most of my friends play lots of games, but cant appreciate great ones. however i do take advice from one of my friends who can generally appreciate great games despite being a bit of a ps3 fanboy so i dont listen to his views of sony exclusives..
  • pin316 - July 9, 2010 3:32 p.m.

    key point in this article is that a game generally accepted as good was used... if a game has no obvious major flaws (i.e. - something that would bring a score down), then the tendancy of non-professional reviewers would be to rate the game more baed upon opinion, and opinion is more easily influenced by external factors...'following the crowd' syndrome, for want of a better expression The true test of this would be to put a game which is technically poor in front of people who'd never played/heard of it and do the same thing. i would imagine that, unless you have a panel of complete muppets, it would be much more likely for people to ignore the reviews and just rate the game with a low score, as it would not be opinion but just the fact that playing the game was anannoying/glitchy/generally poor experience. In general, I would suggest that a poor review (by a respected source, obviously) can negatively affect sales of a good game, but a good review by the same source is less likely to positively affect a poor game.
  • V13Dragongal - July 8, 2010 5:37 p.m.

    I don't pay attation to bad reviews, but if a game I'm thinking about buying gets a good score then I'll usually buy it. I guess a good review is just an extra push to buy.
  • HonestGuy - July 8, 2010 4:40 p.m.

    Me? if the review score of a game is 50-above? I buy it. :)
  • Robusken - July 8, 2010 2:24 p.m.

    If I buy a game its usually because ive been waiting for it. I'll read up as much information and reviews for the game, but I'll still buy it no matter what. As for recommended games, sadly I dont really have the money to just buy games from recommendation. Renting? Hell yes.
  • Thecakeisalie - July 8, 2010 9:30 a.m.

    Curious. Being someone who closely follows the games industry and the games journalist sector, I do find myself more likely to buy a high-scoring game over a low-scoring game. However, I do not necessarily attribute this fact to individual reviews, but all reviews as a whole. Let me explain. Being a well-informed gamer, I read many game reviews. I pay attention to what makes a game good and what makes a game bad. Because I read many reviews and I am able to identify what makes a good game, should I stumble across a good review with points that properly validate the score, It is very likely that I will buy that game. The point I am trying to make is that I am not necessarily well sold on a game by reviews, I am well-informed so I realize that a good review must be about a good game. A less-informed person (informed about games) may react entirely differently towards reviews, being easily swayed by a score, rather than the points used to validate that score.
  • wampastompa - July 8, 2010 5:27 a.m.

    I definitely know that reading reviews impacts my view of a game. Especially when I listen to Talkradar, if one of the guys goes in to detail about something he didn't like about a game, I tend to fixate on that one thing. I always wonder if things would bother me if they weren't pointed out beforehand
  • FriendlyFire - July 8, 2010 3:25 a.m.

    Unfortunately, many people do "impulse buys", not knowing the quality of the game or any review for it. At that point, the only things that matter are the marketing/visual appearance of the box and how the person feels about the game. Sadly, liking a movie and deciding to buy its related game is usually a bad move, but most people who DO buy those games also don't go read reviews first. It's clear that reviews influence people who read them, but sometimes I wish it'd also influence people who don't.
  • theemporer - July 8, 2010 3:08 a.m.

    "Reviews also give me a tendancy to look at games in a different light and I'll notice things that I didnt appreciate before." -Clovin 64 My point.
  • theemporer - July 8, 2010 3:05 a.m.

    IMO, if a game is at least good from a certain point of view, then if a person reads a review that praises the game from that point of view, they would better understand how the game is good, rather than just by how they saw it. But if a game is simply bad, no amount of good reviews will convince you.
  • StickyLungs - July 8, 2010 3:04 a.m.

    Cool article, Tyler! Me gusta!
  • CandiedJester - July 8, 2010 2:14 a.m.

    Very interesting. I think it's probably because when we hear people are giving a game good reviews we go in thinking "well everyone likes it, so I bet it's going to be good." and when they play they focus on all the good/fun things about the game, while overlooking the flaws. Versus when we hear bad reviews we go in with a mindset of "Well it's probably not going to be very good then." and instead focus on all the negative things about it, and the problems it has. And with no reviews we go in in a neutral state of mind, not focusing on either the bad or good. At least, that's usually how my mind works. I think your state of mind going in can have a very big impact on your final opinion.
  • speno93 - July 8, 2010 1:35 a.m.

    i also have limited funds when it comes to games so i like to get games that get good reviews from sites like you.
  • Clovin64 - July 8, 2010 1:18 a.m.

    Review scores have a massive influence in my buying decisions. I'm not really rolling in money, so I like to make every purchase count. I bought Bioshock 2 just because of the praise-filled review on this very website. I never listen to my freinds opinions on games because they are idiots who only play stuff like Gears of war or Modern warfare 2 because all the cool kids are doing it (I dont hate my friends by the way, they're nice people...for the most part). According to them, Okami and Shadow of the Colossus suck. Reviews also give me a tendancy to look at games in a different light and I'll notice things that I didnt appreciate before.
  • reaperman22 - July 7, 2010 11:50 p.m.

    if i want a game i will generally just get it, i will look at review scores and if my friends have played it then i will ask them but for the most part i decide on my own... unless the reviews and recommendations are all telling me its terrible in which case i will ignore it at least until it drops down to bargain bin price, for example i had decided i was definitely going to get naughty bear regardless but after i read all the reviews started coming in i decided not to waste my money (although that probably had more to do with the price of it)
  • Metroidhunter32 - July 7, 2010 10:39 p.m.

    I can see this really. You go along ticking off what you find in the review.
  • Bobbety - July 7, 2010 9:55 p.m.

    I totally agree with twishart, I tend to take professional reviews over simple recommendations from friends. That's part of why I love this site; because I generally agree with the reviewers.
  • 510BrotherPanda - July 7, 2010 9:39 p.m.

    I don't have a wide circle of video game playing friends; I just get stuff when I feel like it. Why should outside opinions taint your own buying process? Reviews are still just opinions after all. reCAPTCHA: mcdonald decided to buy the farm? or the burger business?
  • crumbdunky - July 7, 2010 9:30 p.m.

    Meh. What the great unwashed do is no concern of mine. I NEVER listne to mates about games or anything related to them after four of them forced me(via constant badgering over how great they were)to read a bloody Halo novel-it was the single worst piece of popular culture I've ever been exposed to and I wouldn't give it the compliment of calling it a "bad, bad, awful mess of a book". One of my mates even told me that Damnation was a good game that the critics didn't understand. It was the worst game I played a second of last year! So mates and word of mouth can eff right off and never come back. As for professional reviews, and as someone who's reviewed a ton of crap themselves, I only listen to me and the three reviewers online who tend to agree with what nonsense I'm currently spouting. So, on the whole, NO.

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