When we’re in the market for a new product, but we’re still on the fence as to whether or not we should buy it, what’s the natural next step in the purchasing process? You look at reviews, of course.
It’s a curious sort of evolution, if you really stop to think about it. Decades ago, when you weren’t certain whether or not to purchase a product; you might read the odd review, sure. The critics know what they’re talking about, right? Even so, you still put more stock, however, in the opinions of your friends, neighbors, and family, though. At the end of the day, it was their opinions which decided your ultimate purchasing behavior.
In the past decade or so, we’ve all been party to something of a shift. Now, instead of asking their real-world neighbors, people have a tendency to ask their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. They’ll often go online before they speak to anyone in-person. Perhaps as a result of this, people have started to put more and more stock in the words of reviewers – particularly when those reviewers are consumers just like them, browsing a website like Metacritic.
In many ways, these aggregate sites can have an even greater influence on our purchasing and play decisions than our peer groups. That’s significant, if not more than a little obvious. Of course reviews influence our purchasing decisions, right? That’s sort of what they’re there for.
I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that reading through a review –even after you’ve purchased a game – can actually change how you experience it. There’s a reason I avoid reading any other reviews when I’m tasked with writing my own – I don’t want the influence of other critics to bleed over into my own play-through. Now, it’s worth noting that this influence isn’t terribly significant – in all likelihood; it’s subtle enough that most people aren’t too likely to notice it.
A user who pores through primarily positive reviews, for example, will likely have a better time with a title than one who focuses solely on the negative. This is a phenomenon referred to as implicit association. In layman’s terms, this means that if you’re presented with more negative representations of how low a title’s quality is, you’re likelier to rate your experience with that game in the negative – or at least lower than you would otherwise.
I’ll give you another example. Let’s say you just watched the season finale of your favorite TV series. It was downright incredible. You ate up every minute of it, and left with a feeling of immense euphoria that only another fan can understand. Then you talk to one of your friends – one whose opinion you respect– about the episode…and they immediately and brutally pick it apart. Suddenly, you start to question your own perception; you start to see faults where before you saw none.
In short, the negative opinion of your friend potentially destroyed your enjoyment of that episode.
This isn’t really anything to be concerned about, in my mind. It’s somewhat natural for human beings to change their opinions and ideas in small ways to better align with others in their peer group. It’s just that the ‘peer group’ in this case happens to be the entire Internet. Either way, it’s food for thought, no?