Metacritic scores matter, kind of

2 min read


As one who reviews games, it’s nice to believe that those reviews matter. Before I wrote reviews, I read them, and I can remember specific instances when reviews prompted me to buy or pass on certain games. But just how important are those scores for purchasing patterns?

Over on Ars Technica, they are running a Steam Gauge project and decided to try to tie down the relationship between a game’s critic reception and its sales success. By comparing sales estimates on Steam to aggregate review score averages (aka Metacritic), they found that your intuition is correct. In general, the games with significantly better reviews sell more than those with lower scores. But there is a ton of variability.

There are a ton of caveats to include here. The study acknowledged that the data was from publicly available sales information, and that Metacritic isn’t a perfect review aggregator. They also gave notable examples of games that went against the general findings:

First-person shooter Orion: Dino Horde has managed a respectable 314,000 estimated Steam sales despite an abysmal Metacritic score of 36. On the other end of the spectrum, a game like NBA2K13 has sold only 50,000 or so copies on Steam despite a Metacritic rating of 90, though this number obviously doesn’t take into account sales for the more popular console versions (or other options for playing on the PC).

Yes, that is the other caveat – these are just Steam numbers and don’t take into account other forms of distribution. However, all things being equal, a game with better review scores has a better chance of selling well than one with worse review scores.

I’m curious how many of those outliers took part in a sale. I think Steam is a unique platform. Sure, they may show off the Metacritic score for a game on the store page, but I think many people will buy games with lower scores if they can pick it up for cheap. I certainly have a bunch of less-than-excellent games in my Steam library thanks to sales and bundles. It’s nice to see that reviews are vaguely important on Steam, but I think the Steam Sales are more likely to drive those numbers than people’s actual perceptions about a game’s quality.

Last Updated: April 24, 2014

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