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.