How To Get The Most From Social Game Reviews

In the second part of the series on Leveraging Social Media To Maximise Your Game Sales, I’ll expand on the previous article and cover the topic of useful easily getting Real Feedback, which already exists and you don’t need to do anything to make it happen!

This article started out with the intent of covering quite a lot of aspects but one particular point expanded out and warranted it’s own article in the series…scraping Amazon. The rest will have to wait for another article, read on…

Pro Reviews - a tiny voice

In recent years, review scores on metacritic have really driven game development as we chase a high score through compelling game design, amazing visuals and killer content. It’s quite common to find incentives for the team or business attached to reaching a certain metacritic score

Here’s an example from a game I worked on, notice the 107 reviews taken into account.

Does paying someone affect their opinion?

It’s worth remembering that these reviews are largely written by paid professional journalists who get the games for free and have people begging them for good scores. Launch parties, previews, gifts and other tricks can all influence the game. In the early days, I can remember having a reviewer come around within 1 week of us starting a game when there was no game to play. Our artist mocked up some screenshots of the game on the spot and the ‘reviewer’ disappeared with his floppy disk.

In the next months magazine we got a rave 3-page review for our game and a 90% rating (for 3 screenshots)! The review was entirely fictional and it’s coloured my opinion on reviews ever since.

Why did this happen? Well, review scores used to be influenced by how much advertising the publisher paid for in that particular magazine. The more ads, the better the reviews, the more the sales, the more ads……and around it went.

Hopefully this no longer happens but the most valuable feedback you can gain as a developer isn’t from reviewers, it’s from the people who want your game.

But, there’s a bigger, more important voice to listen to who may tell a different storey, noticed the 1,112 votes taken into account, over 10 times the amount of pro views:

Scraping Amazon - the BIG VOICE

Amazon is your friend if you want to discover what the world thinks about any product, people hopefully buy your game there and it’s not short of people wanting to share their views on how good and bad your game is. These are usually people who have paid money for your game and have a vested interested in it’s success, they want your game to be good because they handed over hard earned cash for you to entertain them and you’d better do it! This is a key difference between looking on Amazon and reading comments elsewhere, there aren’t many other places where people who bought it, review it.

#### Bonus: Cultural Game Expectations

It’s really hard to get a true feeling from pro reviews as they’re all so hard to find and come in different formats and they don’t allow you to discover regional variations either, e.g., what did the Spanish people think, what did the Polish people think, did the Germans love it?

Thankfully, Amazon is pretty much the same the world over and it’s common 5-star rating system is easy to discover and understand even if you can’t read the language.

Below are some examples for Heavy Rain (PS3), which I worked on recently and I chose it as an example as it is an easier title to understand because it’s single platform and came with some anticipated cultural issues depending on where it was released.

As you can see, we favoured very well and got excellent review scores and you can see subtle variations in the general acceptance by territory. I probably picked a subtle example but the principal is there. :)

France

Germany

United States

Japan

United Kingdom

You also get indirect feedback from people who don’t write comments as they will often click a button just to say if they like a review or not, where in most cases that review reflects their own opinion. Again, this is something unique to Amazon as the other review sites don’t allow you to promote someone else’s opinion if you don’t have the time to write your own.

These ‘promoted reviews’ are the ones to listen to and you should consider these as amplifiers of opinion. You may even want to contact with these rare reviewers for some inside information and work with the closely, at least you’ll have the opportunity to amplify your gain their connection with the audience as a trusted reviewer.

iTunes Feedback

I wanted this article to stay focused on Amazon / Metacritic for now but I thought it worth dropping a note in about iTunes as I think we all recognise that the built in 5 star ratings system is welcome and enables people to at least give some feedback.

However, the vast majority of iPad / iPhone users interact on the phone itself and here’s where it’s painfully limited, I can only give it 1 to 5 stars overall. No support for arbitrary text feedback, no support for giving some detail “Game play was great, graphics were bad”, “Graphics were great, gameplay was bad”, “Level 15 is lovely, Level 20 is just killer”.

On the iPad / iPhone it also has an inherent flaw in when people are encouraged to give feedback. An example:

  1. I buy the game on my iPhone (no ratings system)
  2. I play the game on my iPhone
  3. I’ve finished with it / bored of it / need the space, so I remove it.
  4. I’m prompted to rate the app/game out of 5

There’s the rub, I’m at the point where my relationship with the game has ended and I’m moving on and that’s the only time I get to give feedback. I can only guess that this affects some of the ratings.

I guess the flip-side is that if you’re still willing to give the game 5* at this point, then it must be good!

Summary

Right, back to the point. In the last few years game developers have been given direct access to our audience, to listen to them, react to them and share our feelings about the creative work we put into our games.

The bright, exciting people will take this up this and make a difference with this new opportunity to make more rewarding experiences and better games for everyone.

I’m always looking to learn new ways and opinions so fire away! Don’t be shy to drop in a comment. :)

Further Reading

Minimum Viable Product - an approach to the development loop of publish, listen, act - repeat

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