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Metacritic scores matter, kind of

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Youdontsay

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

44 Comments

  1. Matewis Jubilai

    April 24, 2014 at 13:35

    It always saddens me when a game gets stellar review, deserves it, and yet managed to fail on sails πŸ™
    There are too many examples. Recently I finished Startopia (an excellent game) and found this heart breaker at the end of the credits :

    Reply

  2. Uberutang

    April 24, 2014 at 13:38

    Yeah that Orion game was like R10 or something…

    Reply

    • Wincethis

      April 24, 2014 at 13:40

      Very valid point here.

      Reply

    • Mossel

      April 24, 2014 at 14:52

      Indeed. $0.99 on a sale. I litteraly bought it with money I made on steam by selling cards.

      Reply

      • Admiral Chief in Space

        April 24, 2014 at 15:05

        ka-ching

        Reply

  3. Wincethis

    April 24, 2014 at 13:41

    Stellar Reviews, Tomb Raider, stellar sales? πŸ™ Too soon…

    Reply

    • Dutch Matrix

      April 24, 2014 at 14:36

      The same thing that is happening with movie reviews I believe is starting to happen to video games and reviews.
      Critics will love a movie, hail it as the grandest thing ever and Joe Public will still go and see The Fast and the Furious 75 that same said reviewer ripped to shreds because hot girls and gorgeous cars.

      Reply

      • Wincethis

        April 24, 2014 at 14:41

        Totally man. Tough I think some more hesitation with a $60 game. I don’t mind going to watch FaF as it’s escapism that isn’t too much. Spending $60 on A:CM I wouldn’t be able to do. That being said, I went and saw Spider-Man 2, wrote a review, and expect some vitriol from it next week from the fanboys.

        Reply

        • Dutch Matrix

          April 24, 2014 at 15:03

          I take movie reviews with a grain of salt. No offence meant, but that is how it is…

          Reply

  4. Umar's Sin

    April 24, 2014 at 13:41

    I just wish people would be more open-minded about games. There is a world of gaming that most will never enter. Scores are not the only thing that matters

    Reply

    • Wincethis

      April 24, 2014 at 13:42

      Pink hair matters. It does. A lot.

      Reply

      • Umar's Sin

        April 24, 2014 at 13:44

        So what if it does? You’re colorist! Don’t discriminate based on hair color!

        Reply

        • Wincethis

          April 24, 2014 at 13:45

          Saying that to me is actually the funniest thing I have read all day! BWAHAHAH!

          Reply

        • Grant [_G_] Hancock

          April 24, 2014 at 13:59

          Wait … Wincethis is a colourist ? … Dude I need my highlights done !! πŸ˜›

          Reply

          • Wincethis

            April 24, 2014 at 14:16

            Damn straight. If it has pink hair and sighs I have issues 0-O

          • Jedi JJ

            April 24, 2014 at 14:18

            Only then do you have issues? That doesn’t sound right.

          • Wincethis

            April 24, 2014 at 14:19

            Well if it sighs I know it’s probably Trevor listening to OVG go off about some game. If it has pink hair then I know it’s a Thursday for Trevor. If it sighs AND has pink hair, It means I am seeing Trevor and OVG on a Thursday and that cannot be a good thing 0-O

          • Jedi JJ

            April 24, 2014 at 14:20

            So you’re seeing them tonight then? Shame

          • Wincethis

            April 24, 2014 at 14:22

            Sigh… Wait, NO!

    • Jedi JJ

      April 24, 2014 at 13:48

      You saying that size also matters?

      Reply

      • Umar's Sin

        April 24, 2014 at 13:54

        Nope but you get Sangoma’s that can help with that though

        Reply

        • Jedi JJ

          April 24, 2014 at 13:55

          Only works for length. Not girth.

          Reply

          • Umar's Sin

            April 24, 2014 at 13:57

            Yeah the circumference of those discs are shrinking

  5. Alien Emperor Trevor

    April 24, 2014 at 13:46

    I know I was more inclined to buy an average-scored game, or poorly reviewed game, if it was cheap & a type of game I enjoy. Alpha Protocol springs to mind – everyone hated it, I thought it was great – but the only reason I bought it was because it was R50.

    Reply

    • Jedi JJ

      April 24, 2014 at 13:47

      We are friends with Rince after all, we clearly like strange things.

      Reply

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        April 24, 2014 at 13:51

        HAHAHAHAHAHA… wait… are you being serious?

        Reply

        • Jedi JJ

          April 24, 2014 at 13:55

          About the “friends” part or the “like” part?

          Reply

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            April 24, 2014 at 13:56

            All of it really πŸ˜‰

          • Wincethis

            April 24, 2014 at 13:59

            Wow, Friday burn and this is what happens!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            April 24, 2014 at 14:00

            I am a vindictive bitch. πŸ˜€

          • Wincethis

            April 24, 2014 at 14:00

            Wow, door 1 AND 2 open!

  6. Jedi JJ

    April 24, 2014 at 13:47

    I don’t usually take meta-critic scores to heart, (unless if I’m in the middle of a Steam sale and have no idea what a game is about). There have just been too many times that I felt completely different about a game than they did.

    Reply

    • Mossel

      April 24, 2014 at 14:49

      I like the Steam user reviews as well. Some of those guys give a nice roundup and makes n steam sale easy to decide upon.

      Reply

      • Jedi JJ

        April 24, 2014 at 15:14

        Yes. Absolutely. Those I find particularly, and often hilariously, helpful.

        Reply

  7. MakeItLegal

    April 24, 2014 at 13:59

    I play games to escape

    I want triple AAA +++ games that remove me of my void existence ( being melo dramatic ) but that’s why I play games

    I haven really gotten into indie games as yet ( have yet to lose my virginty with a steam sale ) that will change soon tho , will pick up a $100 steam voucher from Evo points for the next one if I have the bucks

    Really my point is that , as many cool and cheap indie games that are out there , I will mostly be buying triple aaa games that review well

    Reply

    • Rags

      April 24, 2014 at 14:07

      Slightly off topic, why would you buy a voucher for more money when you can just buy directly from steam with credit card or paypal?

      Reply

    • Mossel

      April 24, 2014 at 14:47

      $100?! Do plan on buying every single game ever released? lol just kidding, I remember when I attended my first sale. During steam sales, many games go for $5-$10.

      Reply

      • MakeItLegal

        April 24, 2014 at 15:01

        No ha ha ha , but thinking $100 is not a bad start , if I could pick up 5 to 7 really tops games would be tops for me , and then maybe 2 or 3 random indies

        Reply

  8. Kromas

    April 24, 2014 at 13:59

    The true key is to have a huge banner on your page telling everyone that this game is a very very early alpha and still in a horrible state and you should not buy it.

    Worked for DayZ. πŸ˜›

    Reply

  9. FoxOneZA

    April 24, 2014 at 14:18

    What ever happened to console game bundles? I remember Megarom doing them way back in the early days of XBox 360.

    Reply

  10. Ultimo_Cleric N7

    April 24, 2014 at 14:29

    Metacritic reviews have to be taken at face value, both from a critics and users alike. Critics are sometimes paid to give games a great rating..cough….DRAGON AGE 2 ……cough….., while trolls will always downvote franchises/ developers that are seen as ‘uncool’ (eg. CoD franchise)

    Basically, I go onto metacritic to see a BASIC view of the game. Then I come to Lazygamer for the for the real reviews πŸ™‚

    Reply

  11. Tarisma

    April 24, 2014 at 14:47

    I feel that reviewers often take games too seriously, because its serious business you know, and forget that the people often just want to escape their day to day grind and have some fun.

    Reply

  12. derp

    April 24, 2014 at 16:53

    For me, Metacritic removes the most important part of a review: the reviewer. I like to know the type of person who is doing the review. Raw numbers are stupid for a subjective analysis.

    Reply

  13. iAmWeasel

    April 24, 2014 at 17:41

    Maybe the best way of looking at it is not that games with good review scores sell well as a result, but rather than there is a symbiotic relationship with good reviews and strong sales. It is natural to expect a good game that garners positive feedback from reviewers, to also attach well with consumers, because the quality of the game dictates such.

    Reply

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