Cartoon owl holding up a pixelated head. Pixelated red background. Text: Why did you buy that game?

GameFAQs’ Poll of the Day recently asked, “What influences you most in your game buying?”

The results. (source link)

This is a great question, and the answers are definitely worth analyzing!

What affects my decision?

Multiple options in that poll affect if I buy a game or not.

You can see in that screenshot that “Previews” is clearly the most popular answer, but I think there’s at least one thing that holds much more power over us. And it’s not even included in the poll!

Brand/Series Recognition

Since “Previews” is the most popular choice in the poll, I think we can safely say we’ve established that “players want to see the game!” before they buy it, right?

This box doesn’t tell me much. And it
doesn’t have to. This game sold more than
any other Ultima before it.
(image source)

Well, let me show you some box art.

When the seventh installment of the (then) famous Ultima series came out… it was just a black box.

Now, to be fair, that’s not completely true – there are stickers about the required specs, and a couple of screenshots on the backside. (The makers of the game probably had to fight the marketing team to have their vision of a fully black box realized, and it eventually led to this compromise.)

However, back in its heyday, the Ultima series had wide recognition. If you were a fan of the series, you picked up that box and went home with it.

If you know a game series is great, then you don’t need screenshots or videos. The only information you really need is “does my machine run this game?” or “is this available for my console?” With that said, brand recognition can often go beyond seeing the game for yourself.

In fact, you may not even want to see screenshots. You want the game to surprise you, and you trust that it can do that, based on its brand!

If you belong to a certain spectrum of more serious gamers, then you’ve probably been wondering for years why people keep buying crappy sequels to series like Call of Duty or the Sims. Brand recognition is a big factor there. The other thing is that people actually played those games and had fun (instead of reading articles about how they’re bad games).


Back of the box is similar to the front, but
there’s a few screenshots and some text to
highlight the game’s features.
(image source)

“Previews: I need screenshots and videos” is the winner of the poll, and I’m not surprised. You need some semblence of understanding about what you’re about to buy.

If you know the brand or the series then you already feel like you have that understanding. But if you don’t, then seeing videos or screenshots is inarguably the most convenient way to do that.

(And that’s likely also the reason why the marketing department was so adamant about adding screenshots and text to the back of Ultima VII’s box. Even if there’s a big fanbase, you always want new buyers, and you won’t get them if they don’t know what they’re getting into.)

Of course, you can’t always trust what you’re seeing. Marketing materials for many games prefer to show cutscenes instead of actual gameplay. If you’ve watched The Game Awards then you’ve seen a whole bunch of games get shown to us, often with very minimal amount of actual gameplay.

And don’t think that the old days were necessarily much better. When games didn’t look good, it was the box art’s mission to jog your imagination.

Rampage on Commodore 64. Spoilers: the game looks nothing like the box art.
(image source)

Word of Mouth

Somebody gushing about how this or that game is the bestest ever can sometimes be pretty off-putting.

But aside from that, hearing about a game from someone can be a very powerful motivator to make you decide to give it a try.

I don’t really remember too many times that I would have been disappointed in a game that was recommended to me by a friend. Or by anybody, really.

(Then again, there’s a whole bunch of recommendations I’ve yet to try, so my conclusions may be off.)

It feels like there are some games that specifically spread through word of mouth. Mass Effect seemed to be one such series (at least before Mass Effect 3 came out). Everyone who I know that has played it (including myself) did so because a friend suggested it to them.


My general problem with streams is that when I see a game getting played, I more or less consider that game as “done.” As in, I don’t really need to play it for myself anymore.

I’ve seen many game companies be afraid of this. It’s a big reason why there was a time when companies tried to keep YouTubers from making Let’s Plays. And YouTubers responded: “If your game is worth buying then people will buy it after they see us play it. This is practically free advertisement!”

And I mostly agree with YouTubers there, but it’s true that the game needs to have very compelling idea or gameplay for me to want to buy it at that point.

And for me, there were actually a few games that were good enough to do that:

  • Hearthstone: I was introduced to this game by TotalBiscuit’s (rest in peace) Lord of the Arena series. And I kept playing the game actively for almost ten years since.
  • Death Road to Canada: I first saw PeanutButterGamer and SpaceHamster play this on their PB&Jeff series. It was only somewhat recently that I decided to buy it (because I found out there was a physical Switch version available!), but now I’ve put a good hundred hours into the game and want to play more!
  • Graveyard Keeper: Featured by ProJared. Unlike with the other games on this list, I didn’t actually watch too many episodes of him playing the game: the first few episodes were enough to sell me on this “Grim Harvest Moon”, so I didn’t want to watch any further as to not spoil myself.
  • Age of Empires II (HD and Definitive Edition): I played the original Age of Empires II when I was young, but it was T90Official’s expertful and enthusiastic commentary that got me to purchase both of the modernized versions of the game (first the HD Edition and later Definitive Edition).
  • Undertale: Despite watching an entire playthrough from farfromsubtle (because Fraser’s voice acting is such a treat), this still felt like a game worth buying.

I’m not surprised that many companies don’t like their entire games being revealed in Let’s Plays and streaming. While it’s absolutely fantastic for games that have a hard focus on infinite gameplay (Fortnite, Among Us, Fall Guys…), it’s pretty bad for more story-focused games that you can really only experience once.

While streaming isn’t even near the top of the list that usually gets me to buy games, I’m personally grateful that since streaming has become so popular, it has also forced many game companies to focus on high quality gameplay, instead of story or graphics.

Reader Reviews

Reader reviews (or “player reviews” in our case) is one of the most crucial sources of information. These are the people who, like me and you, actually spend their own money to buy these games.

But there have also been multiple times when I’ve bought a game, despite players giving it a bad score. The importance of those reviews is that they often mention why they gave it a bad score (despite sometimes playing the game for hundreds of hours). This allows you to make an informed decision about whether you care about the said problems or not.

Some games also get a ton of bad reviews as they come out, but as the developers fix problems, you can start to see reviews that mention the old problems getting fixed.


This is a tough subject, because it can be somewhat hard to know what’s advertisement and what isn’t.

(It’s also the least voted choice in the poll. But is that because it’s true or because it’s hard to know or admit how much advertisement affects us?)

I wanted to say that I’ve touched 0% of games that I have seen sponsored in a YouTube video. But that’s not exactly true… I did play Shadowverse for a while (even if it was years before I saw it being advertised). And there were a couple of Hearthstone-focused channels that started advertising Marvel Snap, which I also got into for a while.

I have bought a whole bunch of games after seeing them featured in some gaming presentation (Nintendo Direct, E3, The Game Awards etc.). However, many of these games are big publications that I most likely would have bought even just seeing them on a shop shelf.

I think the primary purpose of advertisement is to get the world to know that your product exists. (Just being a good product doesn’t work, if nobody knows that product exists.) But naturally, it would be a waste not to also use that situation to show something that makes potential buyers interested.

Professional Reviews

What is even considered a professional review these days? To me, this always makes me think of articles specifically written by gaming magazines or big sites (like Gamespot or IGN).

I honestly don’t remember the last time I would have read a “professional review” of that sort. It’s so easy to find high quality reviews straight from the players nowadays. Steam and GOG both show you player reviews sorted by “Most helpful.” And you can even see if the player owns the game and how many hours they’ve put into it!

Player reviews have completely overshadowed “professional reviews” for me.

But what about YouTubers or bloggers like myself? If you read a review in this blog, is it a professional review or a player review, or something in-between? (Note that we’re making zero money out of this at the moment and don’t receive any free products.)

I like to think that the difference between a “professional” and “player” review is between “buying/receiving the game just so that you can do a review on it” and “buying the game so that you can play it – but then also doing a review.”


Demos and trials should be the ultimate throw-in method, right? After all, you get to try out the game. You’re not at the mercy of curated screenshots or other advertisement materials.

Despite that, I’m personally very far removed from demos and trials these days.

Back when I was a kid, I’d sometimes receive demos as part of some other gaming package, and it was natural to try them out here and there.

(And it did lead to a few sales. I remember getting Seven Kingdoms 2 and Monkey Island 3, because I enjoyed them as demos first.)

And even though the process of trying demos is nowadays more streamlined… it still feels somehow inconvenient. You first have to download the demo, then play it, then buy the entire game, and sometimes restart your progress from the start.

Saying it all like that may not sound that tedious (compared to what it was like in the past). But it still remains something of a hassle. Especially since the demo may be many gigabytes large (so not only are you waiting for quite a while to download it, but you may need to remove something to make space for it). Or maybe there isn’t even a demo available!

And it’s that hassle that I think is keeping this method down. This wasn’t a very popular answer in the poll, and it’s quite likely because screenshots and gameplay videos (and maybe a quick glimpse at reviews), while not perfect, are usually good enough that you’re ready for your decision.

The other thing affecting this category is that many games are so cheap and often on sale that it’s just easier to buy the game. (And big publications don’t often even get demos.)

As an extra note, I did actually try out one game trial during the last year (the first time in I don’t remember how long). It was for Katamari Damacy. I really like that game’s concept and it looks really fun. But actually trying it out, I found that the controls feel absolutely terrible and take any joy out from playing the game.

So in this case I’m glad I got to try the game out without paying for it, and see that I wouldn’t really enjoy the full experience.


I don’t use money for all that many things. Effectively most of my disposable income goes to something game-related. And so, the price is practically never an issue for me.

But even back when I was a child, when money was always an issue, I don’t remember it ever really swaying my choices.

My father was what I call a “waster personality.” He grew up on the streets and was an expert at bleeding out any money he came by.

Despite that, he did his best to try and teach me to be better than him with finances.

A big thing with that teaching was that we rarely bought games new from big shops. Instead, we would usually visit a local second-hand bookshop that also dealt with used games. If I wanted a “new game” (which was often an old game, just new to me), I would have to trade in two of my old ones, and then pay a little extra.

I was effectively getting swindled (which is to be expected any time you’re dealing with any merchant). But if I wanted a specific game, that’s what I went through. Price be damned.

Nowadays, for me, the price is like icing on a cake: I don’t buy games because they’re cheap, but if a game I’ve been eyeing for a while is on sale, it’s hard to resist not grabbing it now.

I do know a couple of people who only buy game consoles when they’ve become “last gen”. At that point, the machine itself is cheap and it has all the games it’ll ever get. I don’t think I could follow such a rule for myself, but I can definitely see their point.

What influences you?

I’ve rambled enough about myself. What about you, our glorious reader?

What influences you most in your game buying?


How much are you aware of the things that influence your decision?

Gheralf H. Swiftwar

Gheralf H. Swiftwar

Crazy owlmister. Eternally attemps to find ways to prove that his thousands of hours put into video and computer games has not been just an utter waste of time.

4 thoughts on “What Influences You to Buy Games?

  1. Interesting, that’s a lot to think about. I guess I’ll respond to each category in order.

    Previews definitely have a lot of influence over my buying decisions. Not just the screenshots, but written blurbs and such. Advertisements and packaging can be good or bad, but I like to have a very clear-cut idea of what I’m getting, at least as far as the genera and style go.

    Word of Mouth is also a somewhat major factor. Not as much as for some people, since I’m not really close with many people who game much, but certainly I see the appeal of having an opinion in context rather than free-floating in the void. I actually never heard about Mass Effect through word-of-mouth specifically, although in my case that’s probably largely because I got into gaming a little after ME was new.

    Streams are probably the least influencing for me. The form just doesn’t really appeal to me. I don’t even watch videos much, if I’m going to sit down and focus on something I usually prefer to watch an entire movie or at least a ~45 min episode of something. That’s probably at least partially because I process things very visually. I don’t do well with having only audio, and if I try to follow something like an audiobook I’m going to forget to listen and end up with no slightest clue what’s happening. Written word, please 🙂

    I totally agree with what you’re saying about negative reviews. Just in general, not for games specifically, an incoherent, unreasonable, or both negative review can often make me more likely to purchase the product. Especially for things like restaurant reviews.

    Advertisement is hard to deliniate. However, I do my best to only be swayed conciously, and to really think about the content of things like commercials. There are some truely astoundingly bad commercials out there, and many that are so bad that they actively drive me away from their products. As far as advertisements go though, they influence me a lot more to try free things than stuff I have to pay for. If I have to pay actual money, I’m going to look for a lot more information first from multiple sources.

    Professional reviews feel like they’re in an odd place. I don’t really encounter very many of them unless I’m specifically looking. For games at least, I think they may be dying out as some of the features you mentioned become increasingly prevalent.

    I agree about demos, not much to add.

    Price is a big one for me. I buy almost all of my games (mostly through Steam nowadays) on sale. Sales also influence me to get games I haven’t been eying. I just bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey because it was very heavily discounted, and previously I did the same with Mass Effect (legendary edition, that has the whole trilogy). Sure, the prices are probably a bit inflated in the first place, but I can get a lot of big-name titles for $15 or often less, down to a few cents sometimes, by letting them stew in my wishlist for a couple years. There are still a few games I get full-price, but sales are pretty influential.

    I guess that the one other factor that seems relevant is the requirements. For a couple of years I only had a ratty brick of a laptop, so I had to pick-and-choose which games I got because a lot of them just wouldn’t run on a clunker like that. I also still don’t have great internet, so games that require lots of real-time multiplayer are pretty much out unless they’re something like chess. And platforms are also a factor. There’s a game I was considering getting recently that had really fantastic reviews overall, but abysmal reviews on the job they did porting it from console to PC. I forget the specifics, but they really didn’t optomize anything, and just remapped controls basically which understandably didn’t work too well. And then there’s Bloodborne of course, which is still have my fingers crossed will eventually get any kind of PC port at all.

    1. Thanks for the long, insightful post 🙂

      “Written word, please”
      I have this exact same problem. As an example, back when I was doing theatre, it didn’t matter how many times the director said to me what my lines were. Until I went and LOOKED at the script, my brain just couldn’t memorize the lines.

      “If I have to pay actual money, I’m going to look for a lot more information first from multiple sources.”
      This is a good point and something I often see with the people I know: advertisement is there to inform that the product exists (and maybe spark that initial interest), but usually you need something more.

      There’s a few exceptions, of course. I remember seeing a short introduction to the game “Carrion”, and the concept (playing as a monster with actual monster-like features) drew me in so quickly that I didn’t want to spoil myself by knowing anything else about the game.

      “I buy almost all of my games (mostly through Steam nowadays) on sale.”
      It does feel like nowadays Steam and GOG offer so many sales that it’s stupid to buy any game at full price. (Unless, of course, you specifically want to support the creator or need the game right now for a project or something.)

      “I guess that the one other factor that seems relevant is the requirements”
      This is always interesting to hear these days. Requirements used to be THE problem with PC gaming back when I was young. You could NEVER trust a game to run on your system.

      This is a problem I really don’t miss from those days. At least nowadays you can usually pull the settings back if you have a weaker computer. It’ll look bad, but run.

      As a teenager, I remember hiring an IT guy to help me install Ultima VIII on my computer. In this case, not because it was too new, but because the game was old! I had no prior experience installing games on DOS on computers that were running Windows 95/98.

      Also DosBox either didn’t exist yet or at least I wasn’t aware of it. Ultima Collection comes with a program called MO-SLO, which seems to have been Origin System’s own attempt at doing what DosBox does, or at least run DOS games on Windows and slow them down enough to be barely playable.

  2. As strange as it’s sounds I come to rely on subscriptions for my game choices. I love game pass and abuse it whole heartedly. Instead of demos or reviews I just download the games and play it. This allowed me to try games I would never have before and discovered many hidden jewels. And if the game rotated out and I loved it I could buy it at a discount. Again strange because I don’t own the games but it’s allowed me to have greater access and enjoyment that I haven’t had and saved more money in the end.

    1. Wow, that’s not a comment I was expecting! “Subscriptions” is another option that wasn’t in the poll, but it sounds like it might deserve its own spot there.

      I don’t know how much it shines from these posts, but I’m a big fan of the physical and owning games (and so are all of my friends), so subscription models feel very alien to me (I only have Nintendo Online because it’s required for network play). Very interesting to hear from someone who primarily uses one.

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