The videogame website VGRHQ interviewed Patrick Walker, EEDAR VP of Insights and Analytics, on the role game reviews and critic scores play in game sales.
VGRHQ: How big of a role do review scores play in the industry today?
Patrick Walker: "Well, we actually showed with an experimental design that a high-quality review will fundamentally change how a consumer views a game even before they play it. They see a high score and that product is suddenly more valuable. It's an understanding of psychology: Any information you receive before you interact with something is going to alter how you perceive it.
It's interesting to see it from this experimental side. And from my point of view, what's always been most important to me is that there's such a strong correlation between scores and sales. It means this is a system that works because there's a relationship between the scores and the value. If it didn't work, it would break. People would start ignoring review scores and those scores wouldn't correlate well with sales.
In other industries, reviewers are sometimes more interested in the intellectual side of things. What they say isn't always popular consumer opinion, so there's a fundamental disconnect there. In video games, the review system works because people are buying the highly reviewed content. [However], with the mobile market, it'll be interesting to see what happens because there's a lot of room for improvement in the new business models."
Do you think publishers put too much of an emphasis on scores when determining the sales potential of a game?
No, I don't. Because there's such a strong correlation between the people signing the checks and the consumers; if you don't make great games, your company will go out of business. I do know there's a strong dislike for the Metacritic score at development studios. They feel like they're held to it. But at some point, you have to create a line in the sand to determine quality.
Some development contracts task the developer with hitting a certain score and if they do, they'll get big bonuses. I can see why that might be seen as difficult or unfair because the difference between 79 and 80 isn't very big, but it could mean a big dollar difference. But you have to pick a threshold for quality.I think they [publishers] place the correct emphasis on it [the Metacritic average]."
From a financial perspective, which types of games tend to benefit most from a higher review scores?
"There's a relationship across every type of platform and game. But in general, the more casual the experience, the less the sales will be dictated by the review score. The more engaged the consumer is in the product, the more they're going to pay attention to reviews and hype. Review scores and sales correlate less on the Wii, for example, because a lot of those consoles were picked up by families...people who don't have a good sense of the quality across the industry. It didn't matter as much to them. The purchase decision was based on fewer factors, basically."
What would you say to a developer who wants to produce a virtual reality game that gets high review scores?
"I think you have to ask yourself: 'What are the things about game design and having fun that stay the same, and what are the new things you'll have to account for?' There are going to be lots of reviews because there's a very high investment required.
And it's all about the user experience. VR wasn't something that could be fun with a low-fidelity experience, so it wasn't good for the user. So, critics will be heavily looking at these new experiences; is it refreshing enough, how well does it move, etc."
What does the future of video game reviewing hold?
"It's going to be along the same lines as the trends we're seeing but it all depends on the user experience. If you have a highly engaged user, they're going to want as much information as they can get before they dive in, especially if the product is a high investment (money and time).
In mobile games, the user experience is really short. I'm basically the reviewer there; it takes seconds to download and it doesn't cost much. But even with some Free-to-Play PC games – like League of Legends – it takes time to figure out if you really want it. As long as there are these high-def, high-quality experiences that take a lot of your time at the initial investment, review scores will be important. The idea of some expert giving the public info based on their expertise won't disappear so long as the necessary investment is there."