Marketing influences game revenue three times more than high scores

High review scores improving sales is a "myth" says EEDAR research – it's all in the marketing budget

Research by EEDAR has shown that a high marketing spend increases gross revenue three times more than high review scores.

The perception that high scores are crucial to sales is a myth, said EEDAR's Jesse Divnich speaking at the Montreal International Games Summit today, and developers should realise the cold fact that a poor quality game shipped with a big marketing spend will sell much better than a great game with little financial support behind it.

"You can make the greatest game and it won't even matter. I know that's discouraging to developers at first but it's very true," Divnich told the audience.

"Marketing influences game revenue three times more than quality scores. There's a giant myth out there that reviews scores are the most crucial to a videogame. The reason why that is is the information is readily available – we can go to Metacritic – and we see games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty succeed and we see they have a high quality score and we make that correlation. But the truth is, marketing actually has much more of an influence to game sales than high scores."

Looking at all games released between 2007 and the end of 2008, and comparing as many different configurations as possible – single format exclusives, handheld releases, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii only – the research came to the same conclusion; marketing is more important than game quality.

Nintendo DS titles came out the worst, "this basically means that review scores for the Nintendo DS don't matter. If you're making a DS game don't even bother on quality, just ask for a bunch of marketing dollars," he said. "This actually suggests to developers that if you can, sacrifice quality to get a higher marketing budget."

For its first three months on sale, BioShock, which had $5.5 million in US marketing behind it, sold twice as many copies of EA's Dead Space, which had a budget of $2 million. The same results were found for EA Sports Active, which sold around 720,000 copies with a marketing budget of $5.6 million, compared to My Fitness Coach, which shifted an estimated 250,000 units backed with a $50,000 budget.

Divnich said that the research took in all variable costs and looked at whether the games drove more profits simply because they had more marketing spent on them.

"Looking at the gross margin, BioShock made $15 million more in the first three months than Dead Space, even when you take into consideration that Take-Two spent more money on marketing," he detailed. "EA Sports Active made $22 million more."

However, Divnich admitted that publishers can't just rely on marketing to sell their game – it has to be targeted correctly to sell the product.

"There are times when marketing fails, you can spend so much money but it doesn't matter. Sony spent $150 million globally on the launch of the PlayStation 3," said Divnich before showing the PlayStation 3 baby commercial first shown in 2006.

"They honestly thought they could release any type of commercial and it would sell. It truly is a WTF moment in marketing history. It creeped people out. Sony got complacent, they were on top of the world and they thought they could say 'here's the PS3 go out and buy it'."

"A lot of people want to blame the high price points for the PS3's failure, but I don't think so, I blame the marketing, it impacted the success of the PS3 much more than the price."

Divnich compared more recent PS3 commercials that accompanied this year's price cut, and suggested these were more of a driver to sales for the console than a cheaper retail price.

"Sales went through the roof and a lot of people attributed that to the price drop. I disagree, I actually think it's the marketing. It's how you distribute that message to your consumers. I truly believe Sony's success in late 2009 had less to do with the price drop and more to do with how they delivered their message," he offered.

"Unfortunately now you have the burden of knowledge," he told the audience. "You can work as hard as you want on your game to make it as high quality as possible, but if the marketing is not there it will fail.

"You know your target market better than anyone. Most agencies that make videogame commercials come from outside the industry. I honestly believe that more level designers and even low level programmers can make a better marketing plan than most marketing managers," he concluded.

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Latest comments (13)

Mat Bettinson Business Development Manager, Tantalus Media12 years ago
Seems a fairly simplistic analysis that wont be news to many although it strangely seems to drill into examples in the core gaming AAA blockbuster area by citing Bioshock and Dead Space. Games in this section of the market get the most reviews and benefit from reviews the most.

Tantalus specialised in handheld games and a fair bit of our output has been in the younger space. Reviews, that is to say specialist press reviews, are almost completely worthless. The recent IGN 'review' of Cars Race-o-Rama is a classic example. It's a genuinely good game (no really) that works well for the target audience but of course those writing reviews just want the next Halo because they're a young male writing for a web site for a living. The IGN review is actually a farce, I genuinely don't know why they bothered.

It's for that reason that publishers really don't send out review copies for anything outside of core gaming. There's a vast amount of titles release which never even appear on Metacritic, at least not with a score. It depends what we're calling a review though, you punt along to Amazon and check out a whole bunch of reader reviews for a game bought for children. I think those are influential to some degree.

The main assertion is that anyone making games that wont get reviewed ought to make poor games. We don't accept that, our publisher clients don't accept that because their brand is on the line. They ship garbage and it might not end up all over the web but that's one customer who isn't coming back. Not to the sequel, not even to the publisher maybe. Quality DOES matter even if there's no review scores. That seems to be the major point Divnich is missing.

He goes further:

"Most agencies that make videogame commercials come from outside the industry. I honestly believe that more level designers and even low level programmers can make a better marketing plan than most marketing managers,"

Now that's a plain bizarre thing to say. We've all seen puzzling stuff coming out of publisher marketing but let's not get carried away, there's plenty of successes too and I have an immediate example. The Pony Friends 2 TV advert that Eidos had commissioned from "outside the industry" is gobsmackingly good, we were blown away by it. (This is a DS cut of it, the full TV one is better still)

Then there's the flash web site Eidos commissioned and oversaw (which is going live any day I expect). Having worked with the guys building that website, again from "outside the industry", I have nothing but praise for their competence and ambition.

On the other hand there's the ad THQ commissioned for another of our recent games MX vs ATV: Reflex -

Playing devil's advocate, if Divnich has a point here, it might be that there's a fair bit of game marketing around which seems afraid to actually talk about the game maybe due to a lack of gaming understanding. I think that's because ad companies don't like working with video footage and graphic design (like the Eidos trailer here) when they'd rather do live action stuff in their comfort zone.

I think publishers ought to tell agencies exactly how to communicate the selling points of their products and not have an agency come back with whacky ideas because they're such creative mavericks. The latter is what results in all those diabolical adverts on TV.
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Heinz Schuller Art Director / Artist 12 years ago
This study just confirms what perceptive developers have known for years. Given a quality game, sufficient spend on smartly targeted marketing is the single biggest factor in sales.

Now the question is, since review metrics are part and parcel of publishing contracts (and in response more games are being designed to satisfy reviewers first), what sort of tangible criteria could be identified to measure the performance of the sales & marketing organization? They need to be held to the same quality standards as the performance of the developer.

We need to move past the Ouija board. Don't let marketers hide behind the mystique of "customer impulses", or defacto scapegoat the developer. It's no easier to create a compelling game than it is to forecast the sales & budget the marketing spend. Share the responsibility and accountability, and stop telling the development teams that they "failed" making games like Deadspace or Red Faction. The truth is obvious.

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up12 years ago
Personally I agree completely with the message conveyed in this article. People buy what is presented to them. If you don't tell them about it then you cant really complain that it didnt sell. Marketing your product shows that you have belief in it, and consequently shows that your product above all others is worth investment. You should never be making something in the first place if you arent willing to go out and tell people about it. Simple as. Make a high quality product to back it up and you have a great combination.
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Show all comments (13)
Metacritic is not the same as a review. As can be seen from blockbuster movies, success of a title is not dependant on high ratings. The publicity value of game reviews, previews and other articles and to what extent broader media picks up on this is more importnant than the Metacritic score or other ratings.

Unfortunately it seems that for some Metacritic is used to measure the publicity value of gaming articles. This is dead wrong. Its more interesting to see how much publicity the titles recieved in addition to the marketing spending. How many articles were published and to what degree did gaming media suceed in interest the broader medias.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd12 years ago
The data might be solid (how about publishing it?) but the analysis is embarrassingly simplistic. It seems to suggest that developers should sacrifice quality (the only thing they have some level of control over) for marketing spend (the one thing they have no control over).

"This actually suggests to developers that if you can, sacrifice quality to get a higher marketing budget."

If Ubisoft are correct in that each 5% doubles sales past 70% (that was it right?), then all this data is telling us is that marketing is an important factor that should be multiplied (up to x3 according to his research) against that. Who could've thunk it?

Can anyone with a more mathematical brain come up with a formula to encapsulate the above two statements?

I'd rather see the data published and have someone i respect doing a decent considered analysis than this guy spouting bullshit to developers.
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Glenn White , Qube Media12 years ago
The more marketing you do the more chance you have of reaching more people and creating more sales. While that makes sense I don’t think sacrificing the quality of the game for the marketing budget is the thing we should take away.

The better quality the game the more people will enjoy it and therefore talk about it. Creating positive word of mouth is much more influential than any marketing. Also you can trick people once by heavily marketing a crappy game but I doubt you can fool them with a sequel.

What this shows is that if a game has quality it needs to be marketed more. As we move away from retail into digital distribution (especially with the 'core gamer) we are less effected by the week one mentality and can market some games over a longer period of time, especially if they are getting a good buzz from the community.

Given recent UK sales and the US's NPDs I would be interesting to see the comparisons of Brutal Legend to Borderlands, I believe the former got a lot more marketing than the latter but this is not reflected in sales.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.12 years ago
This Marketing 101. While a very generalized overview, it's sadly correct more often than not. The problem is simple. A review only preaches to those people already anticipating the games arrival while marketing can reach millions that didn't know the game existed until they saw the ad.

But this does come with qualifiers such as the one Mat noted. Casual games get shafted review wise in this industry. I myself take them seriously as I have 2 kids and they play the review games right along with me but many of my colleagues refuse to review them and if they must they do all they can to tell why HaloGamer542x3 shouldn't play MySims Animals. Yet despite the ugly review casual games receive (if they get a review at all. Another recent report noted a huge percentage of Wii and DS game go unreviewed), many are actually good and do sell quite well. Granted some are bad and sell pretty well but as this article points out...they typically had a decent marketing campaign behind it.

This leads me to an issue with most core Wii titles from 3rd parties receiving a marketing campaign 1/10th as big as a typical HD game and then the publisher wonders why their "test" game on Wii didn't sell.

Spend a few million to make a few million. But spend on making it quality and spend on making the game known. If you skimp out on either, you get what you paid for.
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James T. Johnson President/CEO, CowBell Games Bunch, Inc.12 years ago
The claims that PS3's sales had and have more of a correlation to the commercials than the price doesn't seem to be backed up by anything other than "belief". I similarly have no specific source to cite, but I believe those statements are completely false.

Hardware price caps have been acknowledged for a very long time. That cap was originally $99, then it went to $149. I believe that mass market cap is now somewhere between $199 and $299, but it's definitely not nor was it ever $500+.

Before the creepy baby commercial, Sony had a fantastic commercial that talked about PlayStation 9 (" the meantime, there's PS3..."). Despite that commercial being widely played and brilliant in its message and presentation, it didn't convince middle America moms to go out and pay $700 for a "toy" for their children. What they did buy was the Wii and DS - not because Nintendo's commercials were that much more prevelent or better, but because Nintendo's systems were within a price range considered to be acceptable by those moms.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd12 years ago
Here's something i came across which is a far more credible analysis:

[link url=

I just hope no publisher or developer is thick enough to take on board this guy's suprious statemtents at face value:

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Martin Hollis Hardcore Feminist 12 years ago
"Marketing influences game revenue three times more than high scores"

This is a great headline. Unfortunately the statement means nothing in the following sense: it is zero help for game-making decision making. Let's imagine you "know" that "marketing influences game revenue three times more than high scores": should you add £10M to your marketing budget, taking it from your development budget? You can't tell. The statement is useless, except only as a reminder: marketing is vitally important.

In that sense the general thrust of the piece is very helpful.

I believe:

a) Marketing is vitally important. If no-one knows about your game no-one will buy it.

b) Making a good game is equally important. Reviews, word-of-mouth, returns, franchise and brand value, developer and publisher self-esteem are some of the factors that ensure this.
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Odd article as nobody I've known, not even the the most fervent metacritic sniffers, believe the score actually dictates sales. If it does anything at all, Metacritic reports quality - that's it. You'd have to be a fool - and possibly named Jesse Divnich - to believe it does anything else. And yes, if you market something heavily, it will get noticed... Marketing has a tremendous power in the industry etc. etc. But the typical problem with videogame marketeers is that they have a thin knowledge of what a good game is and they rarely take the effort to learn. They can get their heads around genres, and possibly even features, but they have little idea whether the game - the product they are selling - is actually high quality. Terrifyingly, many marketing people could be selling widgets for all they care - most of them don't even play videogames, and certainly not critically. This leads to them frequently backing the wrong horse - the pimped out bling nag that displays the most features common to other sucessesful horses. Sometimes that's the correct call, sometimes it's not but even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day. Cheap imitation doesn't really come into their calculations as they have a weak grounding on which to recognise that quality.

Anyroadup to complete the vacuous circle, Marketing itself affects metacritic as it heavily influences reviews. Games journalism is becoming about as useful an arbiter of quality as Empire magazine is of movies. It's all about celebrating the medium, bigging up the industry and making the consumer feel good about it, cheerleading rather than critiquing. Metacritic itself, held up as a counterweight to marketing, is actually greatly undermined by it.

But as ever, what would we do without the little scamps? :)

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Jurrie Hobers Founder & General Partner, Noein Ludus Ventures12 years ago
I think many times it is not about the lack of (arbitrary) 'quality' but lack of relevance. Relevance to your audience is key in anything. Licenses, launch time, marketing approach etc..etc...

The industry has grown around the core audience which is used to think in reviews and scores, but again, the next growth comes from making relevance key.
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Ian M. Fischer Lead Designer, Robot Entertainment12 years ago
Mr. Meade hits the nail on the head with “the typical problem with videogame marketeers is that they have a thin knowledge of what a good game is and they rarely take the effort to learn”, which can (unfortunately) also be said for numerous links of the chain between the customer and developer.

Marketing is undeniably vital – it can make or break a game. But - ignoring the validity of using Metacritic to measure "quality" (not to mention the difficulty of trying to concoct a normalized "quality per dollar" figure to compare to an equally abstract marketing value per dollar figure) - no marketing spend is going to turn, say, Big Rigs into Modern War 2.

Marketing in general gets an inflated sense of self-worth because few organizations hold them accountable and it’s easy to claim victory – if it sells a zillion it’s because the marketing did such a fantastic job, if it flops it’s because it was a bad game. This is one of the reasons why we often see sequels outperform the original (C&C, Halo, Modern War, Age of Empires) – marketing lowballs when there is uncertainty then piles it on after the game has demonstrated an ability to sell.

Anyway, I’m fairly critical of Divinich’s particular brand of “analysis”, particularly because the figures these guys base their assertions upon are often of their own invention. His claims inspired me to apply his logic to a different problem here:
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