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Critics help create blockbusters

Critics are responsible for sales of blockbuster video games

Quality matters: Sales of video games rise by 15% for every 10% increase in the review score 

The secret of what makes a blockbuster video game has been revealed for the first time by an economist – and it turns out to be the critics.

Dr Joe Cox, of the University of Portsmouth Business School, has found the winning ingredients in a video game are positive reviews by independent critics, followed by the game being released for a popular hardware platform and association with a major publisher.

Every one point increase in the average score given to a video game by a reviewer typically drives up sales by 1.5 per cent, with a 10 per cent increase in a review score leading to sales rising by 15 per cent.

Dr Cox said: “Reviews collated by are the most powerful predictors of a game becoming a blockbuster because critics are vital arbiters of quality and have immense influence in the decisions people make about buying a particular title.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, since high quality and commercially successful games are not always perceived as being the same.  The study found that licences and franchise agreements have much less of an impact on sales than one might imagine.”

Knowing what to leave out of a game also helps avoid a flop. Video games aimed at children or teenagers, or about adventure, sport or strategy will typically reduce sales by up to 15 per cent.

Dr Cox said: “The video game market has grown rapidly over the last decade and is worth billions of dollars annually, but this is the first time anyone has carried out an in-depth analysis of the different ingredients that add up to a winning formula.

“As an economist, these results confirm our belief that products you need to ‘buy before you try’ rely heavily on external indicators of quality.  Sequels are also more likely to sell well because they reduce buyers’ doubts about whether they will enjoy the game.”

According to Dr Cox’s research, in which he studied nearly 2,000 games, Nintendo is the biggest player in the blockbuster stakes, selling more consoles and increasing the likelihood of success more than any other publisher.

Dr Cox said: “The PacMan generation has grown up and are now in their 30s and 40s. Games are now pushing forward the frontiers of entertainment and will almost certainly continue to increase in popularity as they become increasingly immersive and break down barriers to play.

“They are responsible for generating higher revenues than movies and books. ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ set records by generating $US750m in revenue within the first five days of release and $US1bn in the first 16 days.  This outdid the movie Avatar which, until then, had held the record of reaching $1bn in 17 days.  Publishers Activision claim that the Call of Duty series has generated life-to-date sales that exceed the theatrical box-offices of both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.”

Major game developers see higher sales than smaller developers, possibly due to having more resources to spend on marketing, but Dr Cox believes some are trusted more because they have a long history of producing high quality titles.

He said: “Sometimes a truly great game is more than the sum of its parts, with a unique look, feel and playing style that shape the player experience but can otherwise be difficult to quantify.  However, this research demonstrates that there are a number of measurable and predictable factors that associate with blockbuster titles.”

The research is published in Managerial and Decision Economics.

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