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PopCap Games
Researchers at EEDAR and SMU used "Plants vs. Zombies" to find out how much influence video game reviews have on players.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 7/7/2010 2:51:36 PM ET 2010-07-07T18:51:36

Good news for, well, me and my fellow video game reviewers. According to an official study from an official video game research firm and an official university … our opinions really do matter. Officially.

Whew! Job secure … for now.

Ahem, a new behavioral study conducted by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (the aforementioned research firm) and the Southern Methodist University Guildhall (the aforementioned university) has measured how video game reviews affect player perception of the quality of a video game, their willingness to purchase it and their willingness to recommend it to friends.

And it turns out that positive (and negative) reviews significantly swayed the test subjects.

The study was conducted at SMU on 165 participants. All participants played the same game — "Plants vs. Zombies" – on the same type of computer, in the same environment, for the same amount of time (20 minutes).

Why did they use "Plants vs. Zombies"? Because it has broad appeal and because everyone pretty much agrees: it kicks ass.

Here's how the study went down according to the abstract released today:

Three groups were exposed to mock review scores before playing a 20-minute session of the game "Plants vs. Zombies." Group A was exposed to "high" review scores (aggregate mean of 90/100) for "Plants vs. Zombies," while Group B was exposed to "low" (aggregate mean of 61/100).

Both groups had mock qualitative remarks to match their "anchored" score. Additionally, both groups were exposed to mock summary reviews (qualitative and quantitative) from five well-known media outlets and were told the aggregate average was comprised of 51 professional reviews. Group C, the control group, were not exposed to review scores or qualitative remarks

After playing "Plants vs. Zombies" for 20 minutes, participants were asked to review the game, giving it a score from 0 to 100. After reviewing the game, participants were offered $10 in cash for participating in the study or a copy of "Plants vs. Zombies" for the PC/Mac.

Ultimately the data showed that participants exposed to higher review scores were twice as
likely to take a copy of "Plants vs. Zombies" over the $10 cash than those exposed to the low review scores. Meanwhile, they were 85% more likely to take the game than the control group.

The study also found that, when asked to provide their own review score of the game, participants shown high review scores gave "Plants vs. Zombies" a 20 percent higher score than the group exposed to low review scores.

The study also found that 91% of participants exposed to high review scores for the game would recommend it to a friend if they were asked to recommend a “good game to play,” compared to only 65% from Group B (low review scores) and 80% from the control group. 

"This study allows us to conclude that high review scores can cause higher sales; that the relationship between commercial success and review scores is causal rather than a correlation," the researchers wrote.

Apparently, however, game critics are not in absolute control of reader brains and opinions. (Drat!)

According to the study abstract, despite being influenced by critics, consumers still deviate towards the game’s inherent quality. That is, the high-review-score group scored"Plants vs. Zombies" lower than the mock review they were exposed to and the low-review-score group scored the game higher than the mock review they were exposed to — indicating that while review scores influenced their self-evaluation, professional review scores do not hold an absolute power.

Here's a look at some of the study results in handy graphic form.


When she's not busy playing 'Plants vs Zombies,' you can find Winda Benedetti making her opinions matter right here on Twitter.

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