Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Getting the word out

There was a long discussion recently on this blog about whether game companies that pay some publication or YouTuber to report about their game would expect that this coverage was positive, basically buying a good review. I think the discussion somewhat mixed up two very different cases, which I would like to separate:

One case is big, triple-A games. This is really big business, and those games not only cost millions to make, they also have an advertising budget of millions. Gaming is now sufficiently mainstream that you can find huge ads for a game on New York's Times Square or painted all over a bus, and not just in specialized gaming publications. Which means that the game company can assume everybody has heard about the game in question, and then it becomes a problem of persuading people to choose this particular game among a large range of other choices. For triple-A games, review scores are important, and there is an interest in promoting positive coverage and in some cases even trying to suppress negative coverage.

The other case is everybody else, the much larger number of much smaller games. That can be established game studios bringing out yet another medium-budget game of a series, or indie studios launching a completely new game. In that case while of course a high review score on Metacritic is nice, the primary problem is that most potential customers haven't even heard of the game and are unaware that the game exists. Paying $20,000 to $30,000 to a YouTuber with several million of followers is not primarily about positive coverage, it is about coverage, period.

That is especially noticeable when the developers make a deliberately controversial game, like the JFK shooting simulator or Hatred. In such a case the hope is that negative coverage is better than no coverage at all. Hatred ended up getting a Metacritic score of 42 not because it was controversial, but because it was simple a rather bad and boring shooter game. Without the controversy, nobody would have even noticed the game. They'd rather have somebody like TotalBiscuit condemning their game in front of 2 million viewers instead of him not talking about the game at all.

From my point of view as a consumer, I can see the problem. I went from not being able to play all the games in my Steam library to not even being aware any more of every major PC video game release. Especially as I like games like turn-based tactical or strategy games, which aren't often the kind that get advertising at a bus stop. And while it's already bad on the PC, I am completely lost regarding iPad games, where I play a more or less random selection and have no idea which are the best games on the platform. It doesn't help that if you google for the "top 10 best iOS games" and look up 10 different sources, you'll get 100 different games with no game mentioned twice.

The more games we get, and that appears to be a rising flood, the more important simple awareness becomes. If millions of people are aware that a game exists, chances are that some among them decide to buy the game because of their specific niche interest, even if the game doesn't have a great review score. I bet among the games you are currently playing there are a few which have a not so good review score on Metacritic, but you like them anyway. And that problem of awareness means advertising that rather targets basic visibility than great praise.

Mobile videogames have a serious "copy-paste" problem in my opinion. Clash of Clans, Clash of Titans, Clash of Warriors, Clash of Guilds, Clan Wars, Clan Clashes, They often use icons/models which don't even have anything to do with the game itself (or they simply steal the art from other titles).

Inapp ads, those who offer a 20sec video for some free cash/gems/gold... Same story: you see tha same video repeated over and over and over. It's like they try to brainwash you. TAP HERE TO TRY OUR NEW GAME!!!! or WARLORDS OF SOMETHING, BUILD YOUR SOMETHING AND CONQUER SOMETHING ELSE!

All of this to ask the devs: is it really worth spending $20K to get a possibly bad review?
All of this to ask the devs: is it really worth spending $20K to get a possibly bad review?

Do they care? Clash of Clans has a rather mediocre Metacritic review score of 74, and an even worse user score of 62. But Clash of Clans also reported daily revenues of $5 million, over a billion dollars earned in 2014. So I think it is safe to say that the devs of Clash of Clans aren't too worried about their review scores.

I think the fundamental problem is: Nobody even LOOKS at review scores for mobile games.
That is a very interesting post; I had not thought of that taxonomy before.

Discovery is a huge problem with over a million games in the app stores, which don't do a great job of discovery.

It sure looks like a mature market. IIRC, I read recently that a mobile developer said they could no longer afford to make top-100 games, they could only afford to make top-10.

I don't even look at reviews for PC games much anymore. There is always now too frequently some hot topic issue that drives the reviews - is it a bad game or the reviewer still bitter over off-line mode. Nor do I feel what the twitch-streamer, COD-playing public values in a game matches my tastes.
No one looks at review scores for social games because social reviews are complete bullshit.

Meanwhile, are we building up a bubble that will pop in the next couple years in the gaming industry? How bad is it going to be?
I think for most indie games any advertisement is better then no advertisement. For larger companies that might be the opposite. That's why we sometimes get companies trying to push release day embargoes and strict NDAs.

Hatred is a perfect example of a game that probably wouldn't have sold many copies if it wasn't for all the free advertisement that it got.

"I think the fundamental problem is: Nobody even LOOKS at review scores for mobile games"

I'll take that a step forward. Nobody even looks at review scores, period.

People like us that read review scores or frequently visit gaming websites or youtube channels are far removed from the average joe/jane who walks into walmart to buy video games. (or downloads them from their phone)

I feel that one of the reasons that youtubers have become so popular is because for the average person it is so much easier to hit up youtube and search "destiny review" and watch someone play/talk about the game in 5 minutes then spend time reading through an article on a website.

It's the same reason that I listen to NPR and podcasts for things like news instead of reading the paper or going to and browsing articles.

Most people don't even do that.
I have to reiterate my desire for a Netflix style "users like you also liked..." ratings site. This eliminates any concern over fake or unreliable reviews, because they will not match my profile. The system cannot be gamed or cheated by developers or unscrupulous reviewers because "average rating" doesn't matter to my recommendations.
re bubbles:

Re reviews: I see people using three different ideas:

best game (judged by a trained critic, probably with a degree, in the same way there are art and literary critics) not something for the crowd

most popular game (#s)

game I would most like - millions of people who play Dota, COD, LoL can move a review # but are that relevant info for me. Some analysis of "if you like x you might like y"


I listen to audio books or podcast to multitask, but I was taken aback at Bigeye's comment. (Not the slightest criticism, we are different people with different tastes and probably different generations.) But I find the time of videos frustrating; it is more efficient for the producer to just turn the camera on and rant vs writing good prose, but I find it almost always more efficient to read.


99% of my iPad gaming is still Empire which I found out here.
It definitely doesn't help that any titles you DO see repeated in a 'Top 10 iOS titles' are going to be Clash of Clans or Angry Birds style crap.
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