Professional game reviews more important than user ones, research suggests

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Muppet Critics

Thanks to social media and increasingly social elements of platforms, everyone can be a critic. From amateur food critics detailing the pros and cons of restaurants to the ridiculous number of users posting their views on Rotten Tomatoes about the latest movies, to even that ability to put stars next to series on Netflix to warn or advise future viewers – truly, everyone’s a critic. However, when it comes to games, research shows that professional video game critics have a far greater influence on buyers than other consumers’ opinions.

New research being published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour essentially “turn upside down the strongly held belief that customers’ word of mouth is king in a market worth an estimated £60bn worldwide a year.” Reviews from professional critics are taken most seriously with mature players, showing that a 10% increase in review score leads to an 18% increase in sales:

This suggests mature gamers are more discerning in their choice of which games to buy and that they perhaps pay greater attention to professional critics than younger gamers do. This could be because they have less free time and so want to make sure they don’t waste it by playing a low-quality game.

In contrast, third party endorsements and word of mouth does not seem to have any effect on sales once researchers also accounted for reviews from professional game critics. It seems to come down to consistency – while consumers contribute more than twice as many reviews as professionals, their opinions varied wildly on games that were considered of higher quality while professional critics tended to be more consistence in their assessments of games regardless of quality. As a result, this lends a greater degree of certainty for consumers.

However, I’m a bit concerned about the policy analysis drawn from the research findings. The report recommends that game producers could strengthen their competitive advantage by focusing less on the opinions of gamers in general and more on the opinions of professionals. It even goes so far as saying:

The key policy recommendation our findings suggest is that publishers make increased use of metacritic scores when forming contracts with development studios, similar to a ‘performance related pay’ arrangement. This better aligns the incentives of both parties and might help ensure that developers prioritise the quality of the gameplay experience over any other factors. That’s got to be a good thing for video game players.

As soon as salaries are pegged to Metacritic scores, we can see a host of problems, from developers being afraid to take risks and make new or interesting games, to critics being pressured for high scores or even review events that take place on altered versions of games in the hopes of improving ratings. Sure, pegging bonuses to Metacritic scores could be likened to KPAs in any job, but if it becomes a norm in the industry and publishers put increasing pressure on critics to give high scores for games, it could end up muddying waters that are already perceived to be worse than the Hartbeespoort Dam.

Last Updated: November 16, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • VampyreSquirrel

    As long as they’re nothing like most of the Steam user reviews, then it’s all good.

    • I cam here for this comment
      10/10
      would read again

      • VampyreSquirrel

        Spawned in and got killed over and over again.
        10/10

        Would be spawn camped again

    • Hammersteyn

      Or metacritic

  • VampyreSquirrel

    Speaking of Steam users… do Unavengedavo and JJ work? The buggers are playing Fallout 4.

    • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

      JJ is “sick”

      I just think he is being a little bitch

      • VampyreSquirrel

        lol “sick”

        I literally am sick, own Fallout 4 AND I’m at work.

        • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

          Indeed.

          He gets quite moody when I pester him about how he is feeling, so either he is really sick, or he is a little bitch
          😛

          • VampyreSquirrel

            My vote is with little bitch.

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Motion carries

          • Anyone playing Fallout right now while we have to work is a little Bitch. It is the law.

            I am figuratively green with envy. 🙁

      • Hammersteyn

        eyeliner in the eye again? Out comes the patch

        • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

          My first question to him: “did you ‘drop’ something on your face again?”

  • Mistake Not…

    One thing I found interesting (weird) last week was:
    A dozen professional sites gives a game like Fallout 4 8+/10, some people are saying they’re biased or being payed off or they’re suckling on the consumerism teet of whatnot.
    Some users give it 2/10 or something and they’re automatically like “See, I told you, this game sucks and was destined to fail.” Like user reviews can’t be biased.
    Like Zoe always says: Reviews are just for confirmation bias.

    • That is due to hype. People who don’t even like that type of game got hyped up and now realize that this is not something they would play. Also everyone complains about the graphics. I mean come on! Why complain about something that was shown ages ago and seems to be true to the demos/trailer? This ain’t Alien that blatantly lied to us.

      But in the end all I really care about is if the game is fun for me … and it is. 🙂

  • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

    THERE YOU HAVE IT FOLKS, LAZYGAMER IS IMPORTANT AND MORE SERIOUS!!!

    [This was a PSA, brought to you, by the Admiral Chief]

    • VampyreSquirrel

      [Sub-Disclaimer: If the Admiral Chief says it’s true, then it’s… probably true… with a… 9 perc… ummm 99 percent chance of being wr*cough*ight.]

      • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

        Guess who is NOT being revived next time he goes under

        • VampyreSquirrel

          What did Otto do now?

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Your mind tricks won’t work on me

          • VampyreSquirrel

            So it was Trevor then?

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Strangely enough, no

          • VampyreSquirrel

            Wow… wonder who it could be then…

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            I wonder

    • The General of the Minutemen agrees!

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    That explains Evolve’s great sales.

    • The E3 from 2014 made me hate that game. Watching the stream on twitch and every freaking 2 min the Evolve ad would start.

      If you have to market a game that badly, you know it’s gonna suck. (Sorry to the 14 players currently online globally, but it got under my skin :P)

  • Dutch Matrix

    Here is the reason Lagz is awesome:

    1. You got some great journo’s writing great reviews.
    2. Then you got the community and their experiences with the game (for example Fallout 4)
    This is an awesome way to gauge if a game is good or not.

    • But somehow we still let CoD players sneak in.

      Better security is needed!

  • miaau

    In summary, a professional reviewer is supposed to remove personal bias from the review, while a user review has no such obligations. In addition, if you keep following the same pro reviewer, you get to know them and how their gaming reviews will relate to you (Non Ninja edit) becomes more and more clear.

    • Up until the point where you find out they got paid on the side by MS to promote the game.

      • miaau

        well, not totally fair to MS, I think other publishers have done the same.

        Your point is well taken, though. Hmm.

        • I just chose MS but I mean Ubisoft did it with Watch_Dogs and I am sure Sony did it for something as well.

  • Hammersteyn

    “mature gamer” – Or as a mature as they can get 😛

    • miaau

      I think in this case mature means experienced at buying and playing various games.

      • Hammersteyn

        I know, I took a stab at gamers and their immaturity in general

        • miaau

          Yeah, me too
          🙂

          But I do imagine my mother being questioned for the survey. Her knowledge of mobile slot machine games is hard to rival, the free ones at least.

          • How do professionals review those games?

            I won some credits and only spend $200 in micro-payments

            8/10

          • miaau

            Nah, it seems you play them without real money, in game currency and stuff. No winnings allowed, gambling is not legal

          • That sounds …… really stupid.

          • miaau

            Hey, I hate them. But my mother plays them, it is her fun time. Do not begrudge her that, each to their own.

            *edit* I do not know if I hate them or not, as I have never tried them and have no wish to try them at all.

          • Dutch Matrix

            You know ‘tolerance’ is a curse word in gaming circles!

          • miaau

            Yeah, well, something something, your mother.

            So there!

          • Dutch Matrix

            At least my mother does not like the sluts sorry slots!

          • Dutch Matrix

            I gamble every time I get on the N3…

    • If finding fart jokes and sports accidents really funny = mature then I am one old geezer.

      • Hammersteyn

        Skateboard videos and the like on Youtube are funny, but not the ones where they stick the landing

        • This guy gets it!

        • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

          Hahahaha

    • Dutch Matrix

      Isn’t mature just a name for smellier cheese?

      • Hammersteyn

        Best kinds of cheese has a strong aroma. Not smelly.

        • Dutch Matrix

          Strong Aroma and smelly depends on which side of the cheesewall you stand…

          • Hammersteyn

            hehehe true

          • If it reminds me of that time I had a decent Dutch Oven going then yeah … I won’t eat it. 😛

          • Hammersteyn

            XD

          • There is just one answer I am looking for.

          • Hammersteyn

            The show died when Charlie left

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            NOT winning anymore

      • miaau

        Nah, I love various cheese. Not necessarily smellier, just spent more time resting. Well, maybe I am biased, as I do not like sharp chess, such as mature cheddar, which does smell quite a bit, or blue cheese, which can be harsh too.

        Hmm, cheese.

        • Hammersteyn

          Cheese and um……. I dunno something for dinner!

          • miaau

            crackers. Used to be a great lunch on a Saturday. Cheese, various, and various types of crackers… Hmm.

            My wife is allergic to most cheese, so that is out now. Sad…..

  • Nikola

    I don’t trust user reviews and never will, too many trolls out there!

    • miaau

      yeah, reading reviews that start with “I hate this genre but thought to give the game a go” and then scoring it 0, just is not worth reading. Do they give points or something on MetaCritic for number of user reviews?

  • Gerard Matthews

    You see but there’s just one thing. I have noticed it more and more of late. It kinda feels like professional game reviewers are becoming less and less like your average Jo gamer and therefore one review will very seldom sell a game to me.

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