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Summary:

It’s been over a year since Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw was plucked from YouTube obscurity to host Escapist Magazine’s Zero Punctuation video series, and the acid-tongued Brit with the surreal, machine gun patter remains the undisputed star of game reviews, with regular appearances on G4 TV, at […]

escapist-review-of-braidIt’s been over a year since Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw was plucked from YouTube obscurity to host Escapist Magazine’s Zero Punctuation video series, and the acid-tongued Brit with the surreal, machine gun patter remains the undisputed star of game reviews, with regular appearances on G4 TV, at the Game Developers Conference, and more. But does his massive fan base buy the games he loves (which are few), and skip the titles he hates (nearly all of them)?

Depends on who you ask. Here’s a case study on the relation between an online video celebrity and the consumer behavior of his fans:

Croshaw recently gave a rare rave to indie art game darling Braid, available on Xbox Live’s download service. (Conquering its mind-bending challenges, he memorably noted, is “a more satisfying feeling than teabagging a hundred noobs in any deathmatch shooter you care to name.”) But did his fans follow his advice with their dollars?

“I don’t see any real case for Zero Punctuation increasing sales by a lot,” Braid designer Jonathan Blow told me, after checking his game’s Xbox Live purchase stats. Looking at the period when Croshaw’s review went online, he added, “There definitely isn’t a visible sales spike or anything like that.”

painkiller-amazon-salesThat isn’t the full story, however. Last May, Croshaw effusively praised Painkiller, a somewhat obscure, hyperviolent first-person shooter from 2004; a pull-quote from the review (“All you really need to know is there is a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning”) showed up as an ad on Steam, the game download service, generating big gamer acclaim. On Amazon, sales of the old game immediately jumped 7,400 percent.

Yahtzee’s impact in this case was so notable, Escapist publisher Alexander Macris even cites it in the company’s marketing brochure, to demonstrate the site’s reach and influence. “As I’m sure you know,” he told me, “media companies are always fighting to prove audience engagement and relevance.” As to the comparative lack of consumer engagement after his Braid review, Macris speculates that the game “was already a breakthrough hit by the time Yahtzee reviewed it, while Painkiller was a lesser-known title that was given a new look based on his review.”

Maybe. My personal guess is that Croshaw’s audience is overwhelmingly comprised of gamers who enjoy the vulgar smack talk in his reviews, which are almost always of hardcore titles from established genres, but no matter what he says, are less interested in experimental games without the usual rock ‘em sock ‘em conventions. That would be a sad irony, given Yahtzee’s passionate advocacy of games as an art form. But then, that’s generally the challenge of online video stardom — once your fans decide why they like you, it’s difficult to stray outside their expectations.

Image credits: www.escapistmagazine.com. Amazon screengrab courtesy of Escapist.

  1. I’m not a gamer in any real sense, thought I own three consoles, and I love his reviews. Such a strong POV and fast and funny.

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  2. I enjoy Zero Punctuation reviews, but as a long time gamer, I see them as telling me what I already know in a new and interesting way.

    I did buy Braid based on his review however.

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  3. I watched two of Yahtzee’s reviews, and i realized… all his reviews are the same. he NEVER LIKES ANYTHING. well… never’s not quite accurate, i guess the article above mentions 2 games he liked, but really, when all he can say about a game is how much he hates it, it gets old real fast. When he hates it, he doesn’t mention any redeeming features of the game in question, and in fact, turns his reviews into the very same class of “boring same old same old” crap that he accuses the games he reviews of.

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  4. I bought The Witcher thanks to his review. Yes he did bash it for being a mmorphuger but when the guy finds something he likes about a game it is usually amazing.

    I was quite satisfied with the game.

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  5. It actually didn’t seem like he especially liked Braid. I must say I was more interested in checking out Painkiller after he mentioned it, as I never heard of it before. I find your generalization of his viewers to be incorrect as I defiantly see the potential for games as an art form and feel very disappointed when I buy a game who’s story is lacking.

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  6. I like how he shows the negative side of games more than the positive. Some negative things I dont mind but others are deal breakers. It helps me sort through! Most normal reviews gloss over the negative parts, which every game has.

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  7. “I watched two of Yahtzee’s reviews, and i realized… all his reviews are the same. he NEVER LIKES ANYTHING.”

    Maybe that’s because most of the games out there are crap. Video games are a lot like movies. Hundreds are released every year but only one or two are actually any good. And by good I mean from the pure aesthetic, not by popularity or hype. Although most good games tend to be quite popular but not all popular games are in fact good. You know what I mean.

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  8. Most of his criticisms are accurate and delivered with flair.

    He will point out the good parts of a game, if they are there.

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  9. I bought the Witcher and Braid based as a result of his influence. He knows the cool games.

    thanks from tony

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  10. Or braid actually did receive the yahtzee bump. But Jonathan Blow has such a humongous ego that he refuses to admit any of his sales can be attributed to anything other than his astounding genius. (Ironically by the transitive property that would be the case if he acknowledged the yahtzee effect.

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