The 7 reasons a person buys a game, in order of importance

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This is really interesting stuff from Doug Creutz of Cowen Group in Gamsutra. He has done some research and analysis which has resulted in this list of the top 7 reasons people buy a video game, in priority order. But be a bit cynical here, it is very well known that people tend to tell market researchers what they think that the market researchers want to hear. But nevertheless this is important stuff for everyone in the industry to know.

  1. Genre. If someone likes first person shooters they aren’t going to buy a needlepoint game. Makes sense to me and you can see that it applies to the older media too, such as books and films.
  2. If players enjoyed an earlier version of the game. The power of brand. But beware, it is important that you maintain the quality of what you publish under a brand name or you can come unstuck. Just ask Lara Croft. But done well it is a license to print money, just look at Modern Warfare, Grand Theft Auto and Halo for your inspiration.
  3. Price. Ah yes, people have to work to earn the money that they spend. And they have lots of choices about how to spend that money. Console games are probably too expensive this generation for the health of the market and people are taking their spend elsewhere. If  PS3 and Xbox 360 games were cheaper the market would be a lot bigger.
  4. Word of mouth. This is why marketeers need to create a buzz and why community marketing is so important. People trust what they are told by people they know far more than they trust what a company tells them directly.
  5. Marketing visuals. The industry put a lot of effort into this during the cardboard and plastic retail distribution era, even if the imagery sometimes got a bit over derivative. But now we have moved to online a lot of people seem to have forgotten this. How many iPhone games have great marketing imagery, for instance.
  6. Publisher reputation. Always was worth very little. Sometimes hardly worth printing on the pack. All the effort that went into trying to create EA Sports as a brand when they should have been working on word of mouth.
  7. Review scores. Oh how I laughed. All those self obsessed journalists and their precious review scores and it doesn’t matter. Can Edge magazine survive this? And John Riccitiello’s obsession with Metacritic shown to be a false fixation.


  1. Great list. I’m having a little bug as ‘the genre’ as a first place. I don’t doubt it, but it shows how game limitations have touched the audience, which explains the lack of risks taken by the industry.

    I laughed also at the Review Scores being 7th. There is a few sites I trust a lot for their reviews, IGN being one of those. I’m not going to base myself on their ‘it’s awesome’ to buy it, but if Chris Roper didn’t like a game, there is a good chance I won’t like it either.

  2. Proof that reviewers need to focus on the content of a review rather than their grading rubric. Most blogs have gotten the picture, but for whatever reason the old guard still think people care about lists of game names with substance-free number grades next to it.

    What IS the difference between an 8 and an 8.5, anyway?

  3. I definitely agree with review scores being bottom, I like reviews opinion but never take it as gospel.

    The rule I remember from a PC Gamer (UK) magazine. If the box blurb starts list numbers it isn’t a good game.

    i.e. “12 Unique exciting tracks” sounds very tacky and is a marketing technique that should be taboo

  4. I believe reviews still matter a lot to smaller companies as in fact the quality of your game is marketing, in a sense, which is reflected in MC etc. A dedicated little fan-base building your snowball before it starts rolling helps.

    On a side note, there’s some very good insight over at Insomniacs blog, “Fantasy of the Familar” and “Fantasy of the Forbidden” is a very interesting theory document on what makes a games sell, much of which is touched upon on this article.

  5. I think the main reason why reviewer opinion has sank as low as it has in terms of importance here is the way that the standard of writing has declined so much over the past few years and reviews now seem to be more focussed on the reviewer trying to appear clever and / or funny and less on the actual game.

    Reviews on Eurogamer are a case in point here, especially anything written by Ellie Gibson, who seems incapable of staying “on topic” for more than two sentences at a time before she feels the need to insert some “amusing” comment or go off on a tangent about something that is pretty unrelated.

    I’ll buy a game based on what I think of it. I know what I like, and that is what I spend my money on. No amount of people telling me how amazing a game is will make me like it if I think it is rubbish (Bioshock being a prime example – I thought it was incredibly dull, boring and generic whereas the entire rest of the population of the planet Earth appear to regard it as a masterpiece).

  6. Sean is right on the money with journalists overdoing their writing and his Eurogamer comments are right on the money. Well said!

  7. I think it depends on the age of the buyer. Someone over 35 is not going to be looking at price – they’re time-poor, not money-poor. They want an all-round high-quality experience. Genre is important in some respects, but there are subtleties within that. For instance Dragon Age: Origins was interesting enough for me to get it immediately, but I find the genre aspects of the title are very stale – there’s little that’s “fantastic” and “uncanny” in the me-too LoTR-style world. If I had hesitated for a few months (as is advisable with most PC games) I might have made the choice – after reading more reviews – that it’s not for me, because the genre elements are so stale. Basing the game on an earlier version can be a drawback, e.g.: Assassin’s Creed 1 was apparently pretty bad, so trying to sell me 2 on the back of 1 is not going to be as easy as it could have been. I discount pre-release marketing visuals and pre-release screenshots – they’re almost always “lies in pixels”, compared to actual in-play screenshots of the retail game. I don’t care much about publisher reputation. A back-bedroom one-man band can produce a great game (e.g. Lost Crown), as can developers from the wilds tundras of Scandinavia (e.g. TheHunter) or of Eastern Europe (e.g. The Witcher). Review scores are important, but again there are subtleties – I’m suspicious that some staff reviewers are not actually playing more than the opening few hours of a game, simply because they don’t have the time.

  8. @Jurn.
    You make some very good points. I think the article is painting with a very broad brush. As soon as you segment the market up you will find substantial differences in criteria.
    Even knowing the above I would still market each individual game very much on its own merits.

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