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The current top games on the Android Market happen to be those with the highest consumer ratings. As mobile and social games grow in quality and popularity, who will determine what’s “good,” and what influence will they hold?
The Android market's top games, determined by popularity
Gamers tend to be more aware of critical reception. Game reviews, previews, and the controversial Metacritic have a larger influence on gamers than on consumers who don’t religiously follow the industry. The gaming media doesn’t have a large footprint over casual consumers who may play more mobile games than console games.
I recently overheard a co-worker deciding whether or not to purchase a game on his phone. Now he isn’t a gamer by any means. He owns an Xbox 360, but it’s essentially just a Netflix device for him. He just wanted something to kill time with on his lunch break. My co-worker ultimately decided not to buy it because of its 2-star average review rating.
I’ve never seen a situation like that play out at GameStop or Best Buy. My old roommate hated going to either of of these stores with me since I can be a bit of a snob while he just buys whichever game has the coolest box art or title. I’d frequently advise him not to buy a game that received largely negative reviews, and he’d reply with “That’s just one guy’s opinion,” or “It’s just a game.”
He had a point, but he would also return whatever he bought a few days later. The game could’ve been the best or worst in the world, but he didn’t think twice about dropping $60 on it regardless of the critical reception. A game is just a game, right?
I’ve seen this happen with several friends, but here was my co-worker thinking twice about a game that couldn’t have cost more than $5. Perhaps he’s just a smart shopper, but it may also have been because the average rating was displayed only a few pixels away from its price.
On second thought…
The consumer review is both a curse and a blessing that, when combined with word of mouth, can give developers a broader audience. They can make a game, release it to the masses, and let the people decide the quality for themselves. On the other hand, a less popular game can get a few bad reviews out the gate and never get a chance to reach that broad audience. This competitive industry moves so fast the game might as well be forgotten about.
What do we do when the industry grows to the point of releasing $20-$30 mobile games? Will Metacritic or GameRankings start tracking consumer reviews? Or will they use the gaming media’s judgment? Will the media even matter? Reviews are all just opinions, but how is the industry going to decide which to go with: a handful of professional opinions or those of thousands of consumers?