Gaming executives often emphasize the importance of a game's critical reception, and a new study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research and the Southern Methodist University offers one reason why. The study, which measured how game reviews affect perception of quality, purchase intent, and likelihood to recommend to others, found that positive scores can dramatically elevate a high-quality game in the mind of consumers.
Conducted in conjunction with SMU during the week of March 29, the study involved 188 participants (23 of which were disqualified as inappropriate for the research). The study made use of Plants vs. Zombies, a highly regarded tower defense-style strategy game that participants had no prior knowledge of. Participants were divided up into three groups, with the first initially exposed to high-scoring reviews before participating in a 20-minute play session. The process was repeated with a group who were shown low review scores and a control group who was shown no review scores before its play sessions.
Following the play session, participants were tasked with providing a numerical score to the game on a 100-point scale, as well as selecting whether they'd prefer to receive $10 in cash or a copy of the game as recompense for their time. The study's results found that those who were shown a high review score on average rated the game six points higher than the control group and 14 points higher than the group shown negative scores.
"Even with first-hand experience of time spent playing the game, those exposed to high review scores give the game a higher review and those exposed to low review scores gave the game a lower score," the study noted. "Clearly, this initial review exposure influenced their opinion, even after they played the game themselves."
The data also indicated that 38 percent of those shown high review scores took a copy of the game over the $10 payment. That figure dropped to 21 percent who took the game from the control group and 17 percent from the negative-score group.
"The findings of this study indicate that critic reviews, independent of product quality, significantly influenced participants' willingness to purchase the product," the study found. "As painful as it may be for developers to consider, even with the creation of a high quality game, a game is likely to achieve greater commercial success if reviewed highly, than if reviewed poorly or not at all."
Continuing the trend, those shown a high review score also said they would be more likely to recommend Plants vs. Zombies to a friend. Ninety-one percent of those shown high review scores said they'd recommend the game, whereas only 65 percent of the negative-score group and 79 percent of the control group said they would.
"The most surprising result is Group B (low review exposure), where the majority (65 percent) indicated they would still recommend the game to a friend even though 73 percent of the group would not purchase it themselves…Group B's review score was higher than the anchored review score of 61, indicating that, while reviews influenced their behavior, they still felt that the game was much better than what the 'experts' suggested. This suggests that if a company releases an inherently good game that receives lower than 'deserved' review scores, the company may be able to increase sales through a widely played demo."
As for other real-world applications, EEDAR's study noted that publishers could be well served to offer select media outlets a period to review a game prior to release, for the purpose of selecting choice critique for use on box art. However, the study notes that this method would only work if the prerelease review process remained untainted and that the game itself is of a high degree of quality. These blurbs could also be used in game demos, as well as other marketing campaigns.
EEDAR also said that its conclusions only apply for those games regarded by professional critics as high quality. The market research firm noted that a variety of other factors could contribute to a game's success, or lack thereof, including "marketing, pricing, release timing, and brand awareness."