Do Console Wars Affect Review Scores? Yes and No
The console wars are a very real phenomenon, and one that doesn’t exactly paint gamers in the greatest light.
However, the impact of such petty bickering may have far-reaching and lasting impacts on the industry. The guys here at VGRHQ (learn a bit more at our About Us page) have a long history reviewing games; some of us have been acting as critics since the SNES vs. Genesis days. So, what effect – if any – do the console wars have on review scores?
It’s actually difficult to say. Here are the most important points raised during our conversation:
We’re only human, after all
When going into a review, the goal is always the same- approach the analysis with a blank slate. Personal preference is always a factor (and honestly, an important one because it gives the critic a distinctive personality) but those opinions must take a back seat. Even if the genre in question isn’t our bag, that must be ignored for the sake of the task at hand.
We don’t care what platform it’s on. We don’t care about the accumulated hype for the game. We don’t care who developed it, and we don’t care who published it. We don’t care if it’s an entry in an established franchise or a new IP. We don’t care if it has a gazillion-dollar budget or it’s an indie title made by one dude.
At least, that’s the goal. That’s what we tell ourselves.
In reality, as we have to cover the game industry day in and day out, we can’t help but notice things like console wars and all headlines related to it. We can’t help but notice the hype for a game like the upcoming Watch Dogs or Halo 5, for example. We can’t help but notice that the PlayStation 4 appears to be leading the popularity charge at this point in time. We’re only human, after all. We’re not robots.
Therefore, is it fair to say that our knowledge of these things tainted our review scores? Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say our analyses may have been, at times, subconsciously altered due to the stream of information floating around in our heads. That being said, there’s one point on which we can all agree:
When looking back, there are very few games that we believe received an unfair review score due to our skewed perception at the time. This means that thankfully, we do our jobs correctly more often than not. We’re merely acknowledging reality.
Which console is selling more? Which is more popular? …okay, THAT, we don’t care about
While we all admit to various influences that we simply cannot avoid, we’re not about to say that the current console sales count – or our own personal console preferences – ever have any impact on a review score. So what if a new exclusive game is exactly what a certain system needs? If it sinks, the console suffers; if the game soars, it could generate a hardware sales spike.
Yeah, we don’t care.
Thing is, there’s no reason for us to care. We don’t get paid extra if any given manufacturer sells more systems, nor do we get paid more if a game sells better than anticipated. For the most part, we barely get paid at all. Therefore, sales numbers pertaining to console wars, whether we’re talking about hardware stats or the sales of exclusive software, mean little to us. They won’t alter our breakdown of a game. Not one jot.
One thing we do have to work to avoid…
What we do care about is traffic. That’s how websites survive. Not counting the standard Internet fees, these websites are free to readers and as such, the creators of such sites must rely entirely on ads. Ads rely entirely on traffic. Hence, it’s absolutely true that every critic, if he or she is being honest, cares about generating traffic.
And most critics who have been around long enough know that writing a controversial review is the easiest way to produce a traffic surge. If a game is garnering 9s and 10s everywhere, give it a 6. Watch it shoot to the top of N4G amid a bevy of freaked-out gamers who will accuse that critic of being a blind Satan-worshipper. They’ll deem it crap and the work of a “fanboy” and yet, the hits will be there.
Yeah, we all admit to being tempted. When one of our sites wasn’t doing so hot and a high-profile review opportunity arrived, it was always a temptation to toss up a bogus review for the express purpose of getting attention. However, despite this very candid admission, we’re all happy to report that we’ve almost never succumbed to such temptation. In fact, most of us have never done it.
In short, online squabbling doesn’t seem to have much effect on seasoned critics
Perhaps the key word there is “seasoned,” but the point is that the ongoing console wars don’t really have a significant impact on review scores. Therefore, if the Xbox One is still lagging behind when Halo 5 comes out, and the game scores off the charts, it’s really not because critics want to give the Xbox One a boost.
It really, really isn’t. We promise.