Prepare to be shocked: Jesse Divnich of EEDAR says that when it comes to boosting videogame sales, a good marketing campaign goes a lot further than good review scores.
People, generally speaking, like to think of themselves as informed consumers. Nobody wants to admit to being an indiscriminate dullard who buys any kind of shiny crap that advertisers convince him he can't live without. But the said truth is that when it comes to buying videogames, what matters isn't how good a game is, but how good the marketing department can make it look.
"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 said at the Montreal International Games Summit.
"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," he continued. "But the truth is, marketing actually has much more of an influence to game sales than high scores."
EEDAR looked at all videogames released between 2007 and the end of 2008 and compared as many variables as possible. The end result was clear: When it comes to driving sales, marketing consistently trumps game quality. The result was especially apparent on the Nintendo DS, which Divnich said was almost completely unaffected by review scores.
"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."
Budget isn't everything, of course; Divnich noted that Sony blew $150 million on the launch of the PlayStation 3, which netted the company one of the most infamous advertising disasters in years. "They honestly thought they could release any type of commercial and it would sell. It truly is a WTF moment in marketing history," he said. "[The baby commercial] 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'."
Divnich believes that the company's recent turnaround with the PS3 has less to do with the reduced price than it does with the inestimable Kevin Butler. "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 said.
Ironically, while the strength of a marketing campaign is vital to a game's success, Divnich said that strong campaigns are more likely to come from industry insiders that from actual marketing types. "You know your target market better than anyone," he told the audience. "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."