If you want to add nails to the coffin of the concept that “reviews matter,” look at the sales figure on the big blockbusters that have been critically panned since 2014. Destiny was an okay game, earning at 76 on Metacritic with a 6.2 user score. Assassin’s Creed: Unity earned a 70 on Metacritic with a 4.6 user score. And now, The Order: 1886 earned a 66 on Metacritic with a 6.8 user score. What do all these games have in common other than Metacritic scores? They pulled through their lukewarm reception and were commercial successes.
Destiny raised $500 million in one day, Assassin’s Creed: Unity sold 10 million copies, and now The Order: 1886 is the best selling title in the UK for its launch week. We will see exactly how well it does soon (I am definitely keeping an eye on VGChartz), and developers are notoriously pretty cagey about sales numbers unless a game has broken a record. The fact that a game that’s earned a 66 is at the top of the charts anywhere is pretty surprising, however, and the fact that it’s ranked that high most likely makes The Order 1886 a commercial success.
One question to ask, though, is how many of those sales were pre-orders? Destiny, for example, almost certainly raised all that money based on its hype and its pre-orders. Destiny also didn’t allow any reviews until launch day (though that could be argued it’s in large part due to the online component). Even after that, though, Destiny continued and continues to sell. Assassin’s Creed: Unity also had a harsh embargo on its reviews, disallowing anyone to post a review until noon on launch day. The Order: 1886, however, did not have that harsh of an embargo. Reviews were allowed to publish on February 18: two days before the release of the game. So what gives?
While Paul Tamburro at Crave Online seems to believe the success of The Order: 1886 means we care too much about graphics, I beg to differ. This all, in my opinion, has to do with hype and pre-orders. Through the hype machine of trailers and previews, developers are now pushing harder than ever to convince consumers to pre-order titles. Beyond the obvious reasons (it’s a good way to get early money and interest in a game), there’s another reason they want us to pre-order: despite the quality of the game or the bad reviews, we are much less likely to pull a pre-order out of stores. With a pre-order comes a sense of pot-commitment. We don’t want to pull our order because that’s extra work. That also means reviews no longer matter. A bad review, or even a series of bad reviews won’t be enough to convince us to not get a game, so what does it matter?
That’s not to say reviews serve no purpose, mind you (Emily has a review for a Vita game that should be published within a day or two,) but do reviews actually impact consumer purchasing habits anymore? I’m not entirely certain, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. What does sell games is a strong brand and pre-launch hype. Reviews just seem to be a way to reflect what gamers already know after playing a game, or are soon to know. Reviews can also help a small title that doesn’t otherwise get much media attention get some sales, but in the end that tends to be a drop in the bucket compared to Let’s Plays from big names anyway. Where does that leave the review industry then? I don’t know.
Have you read a review of a AAA game recently that directly impacted your purchasing decision? Have you either bought a game after a positive review, or withdrawn a pre-order after a negative review? How about for indie titles? Let us know in the comments! I’m genuinely curious.