Here’s my typical process for picking up a game:
hear about a game on a podcast, through a games website or something direct like E3.
game gets set on a priority scale, which varies from the following:
Super hyped - preorder a special edition if available (such as Breath of the Wild) and within reason for price, or pick up on launch day mostly irrespective of press coverage apart from reports of serious issues (such as Mass Effect Andromeda) with my faith in the developer influencing this preorder (Nintendo producing a good Zelda was a pretty good bet, for example.) Completely avoid coverage of the game, so as to go in as fresh as possible.
Interested - game goes on a list of games to watch for, read coverage beforehand to sway me one way or the other. Prey is a good example - I have no background with system shock, dues ex etc, but people who’s opinions I respect are interested in this game.
Curious - these games look cool, but they’ll need to really wow the people who report on them or do something real interesting to make me want to dive in. Flinthook is a good example.
Watch out for coverage through outlets and podcasts if they fall in the interested or curious buckets. If I hear good buzz, the game gets more attention. If that buzz comes from someone who aligns with my gaming likes and dislikes, it gains more weight. For example, as much as I respect Jeff over at GB, his joy over Mario Maker didn’t sway me because the types of things he said about it didn’t appeal to me, whereas Austin’s now infamous speech on Invisible Inc elevated that game a few notches.
on release, if it’s a game I’m on the edge about, I’ll first check S games scores across outlets. As much as I totally agree that scores are a totally useless thing, they’re my first gut check to whether something is great, alright, average or bad. If it’s low I move on, if it’s mid to high and I’m still on the fence I read through reviews. This results in either a purchase, a “wait for sale” or a dismiss.
much like a few people have mentioned, if a game hits a critical amount of buzz and it’s something that sounds in my wheelhouse, I’ll pick it up. For example, the buzz around Stardew Valley at release had me pick it up, though something like Overwatch I still passed on despite the glowing recommendations because online shooters aren’t my thing. I am sometimes swayed depending on the conversation though - Rocket League sure was something I did not give a shit about even with the hype, but then I tried it and loved it.
All this is alongwinded way of saying 2 things: 1, yes, I am influenced by press as to what I pick up (which I feel creates an informed decision) and 2, I clearly have a problem and think about this exact question and process too much.
@WastelandHound hey dude, while I’m here, I just want to chat about what you said about press and the “don’t preorder” Schtick. I’ve had a lot of complicated thoughts about it as well, sometimes swaying in the frustration column in the same way you feel, but I’ve finally come to a realisation/conclusion on it: the people that say “don’t preorder” are only actually giving the listeners/readers half the thought. What it really means is “don’t preorder based on marketing and then complain about it when it doesn’t live up to that marketing/expectations/hype”, and/or “don’t preorder unless you are OK with getting what you’re given, good or bad.” I do believe preorders are a bad thing in some cases, and are such a good way for publishers/GameStop equivalents to suck you into purchases, but at the same time they are important for limited availability of things (such as special editions). Personally I don’t preorder regular copies of games even if I want them day 1 (quite often they will be cheaper at other stores like Target) but will when they have limited editions (I had to import the Nier Automata Black Box edition through a shipping forwarding service so I had to pay shipping twice, but it was definitely worth it.) I believe the people that are on the “don’t preorder” are on the right track in some sense, but they could be more articulate in the why. They also might feel frustrated in that it is literally their job to inform consumers before they spend hard earned cash on these products, so I could understand the frustration on their part when they see 1000s of people complaining about broken games on release etc.