Sorry, Video Game Critics: Nobody’s Listening

By  |  Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 10:06 am

Sony Little Big PlanetBad news for those of us who like unique video games: In its fourth week on the U.S. market, the Playstation 3 exclusive LittleBigPlanet has fallen out of the top 20 in weekly sales. This is despite a Metacritic score of 95 percent and quite a few perfect ratings from noteworthy review outlets.

Obviously, there’s going to be some trepidation over new game franchises, and it doesn’t help that the Playstation 3 has a relatively small install base compared to the Wii and Xbox 360. But a recent survey by Ad-Ology Media Influence on Consumer Choice suggests a  more surprising reason for LittleBigPlanet’s commercial failure: Compared to television advertisements and online videos, gamers just don’t listen to us critics that much.

The survey found that 70 percent of game and console purchasers based their decisions at least partly on TV ads, and 54 percent were influenced by online videos. Only 38 percent of those surveyed were significantly influenced by online reviews. In the golden 18-24 demographic, a staggering 84.9 percent said commercials and other information from TV affected their purchases. Our egos aside, seeing a fine game like LittleBigPlanet slip through the cracks is discouraging.

So how did LittleBigPlanet advertise itself? In Europe, TV spots focused on the game’s hallmark level creation tools. As cool as they are, I’ve got to wonder how many non-hardcore consumers will be sold on the idea in 30 seconds. On our side of the pond, we heard about how you could dress the characters up as heroes from another Playstation brand, and we got a spiel about the nature of fun while some gameplay in the background goes unexplained. It’s hardly the stuff that sends you running out to GameSpot.

Compare LittleBigPlanet’s ads to the delicate mix of guns, explosions and gallows humor in the Call of Duty: World at War commercials and you can see why the latter game is effortlessly stomping the charts this week, despite being a simple rehash of last year’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

An optimist might say original games aren’t necessarily doomed, they just needs better marketing. But I believe the advertising problem is inherent to these kinds of games. LittleBigPlanet, while simple in its evolved approach to the classic platforming genre, is tough to explain in a short TV spot. I actually had no idea what the game was about until I started reading reviews. The problem is, most people don’t do that.



8 Comments For This Post

  1. monkeystick Says:

    There are just too many games coming out in this 4th quarter for a niche game like LBP to gain any ground. Bad timing for a release like this IMO.

  2. Arrow Says:

    I was initially turned off of the idea of puchasing LBP because first judged it by its cover and dismissed it as a child’s game. But after catching some most favourable word of mouth I decided to jump in and now I am very impressed with it. This is a new kind of game and we shouldn’t expect it to be a hit over night. I believe with time, more and more people will discover this title on their own and LPB will take its place in gaming history.

  3. invariant Says:

    It’s true that critics can’t save a good game. Take a look at Ico, Beyond Good and Evil, Okami, Grim Fandango, and countless other truly fantastic titles with great reviews that just didn’t sell.

    However Little Big Planet had an enormous challenge in front of it. The demographic that already owns a PS3 probably wouldn’t like the game – they’re hard core gamers who bought the system for titles like Metal Gear Solid and Grand Turismo. That means it needs to appeal to a whole new demographic AND be a system seller for a $400 system. That’s a tall order for any game. Beyond that, a large part of the appeal in this game is in its future potential, i.e. user generated content. I can’t think of a non-free game that’s ever sold based on that concept.

    So I think LBP is a bad example of an interesting trend. And I don’t think the trend is toward advertising influencing purchases, but rather social circles influencing purchases. With technology our friends are now based more on interest than location, and so they have much more influence over our entertainment purchases (cause we know they generally like what we like). I’d be willing to bet this isn’t being taken into account in these surveys.

  4. David Says:

    What the heck is this nonsense? LittleBigPlanet has sold 750,000 units worldwide in 3 weeks at the busiest time of year for releases. How the hell can anyone say its failing?

    I think LittleBigPlanet will be around for a long, long time to come.

  5. Jared Newman Says:

    Invariant – The other titles you cited lie outside the “hardcore” realm as well, and that’s the point. Blowing things up and racing fast cars are easier sells than a “boy meets girl” adventure, a combat system based on brush strokes or a tale of black comedy from the afterlife. I don’t think LBP faces a challenge that’s much different than Ico, Okami and Grim Fandango in that regard.

    You’re right that the PS3’s current role in the console wars makes things tougher, but don’t forget that Gran Turismo 3 and Metal Gear Solid 2 were the second and fourth best selling games for the PS2. The rest of the top five was occupied by the Grand Theft Auto series. This is a pattern that hasn’t changed over the years.

  6. Matt Sharpe Says:

    I’m tired of the same old styles of games: FPS, racing, etc.

    I jump at the chance to play alternative styles, and Little Big Planet looks extremely interesting.

    Unfortunately I don’t have a PS3, just PC and Xbox 360, so I can’t play it.

  7. Malak Says:

    I think invariant’s point about the type of install base is probably the moist important factor. I can imagine LittleBigPlanet completely storming the charts if it was a Wii title, simply becasue the install base bought the box for exactly that kind of title in the first place.

  8. lb Says:

    They didn’t really handle people uploading copyright infringing levels on the servers to well. All people got for days was “file not found” error messages. They still haven’t told people what the reasons for deletion are. Its ending up creating a lot of negative press kind of tainting some of the appeal of creating content.