Hey remember that tell-all community interview with Mr. Anonymous Publisher that Kotaku moderated a few days ago? Well, one of the other tidbits that got quite a rise out of readers was a comment made about whether or not publishers pay off reviewers or take steps to influence final review scores. While the publisher admitted that they don't directly put checks in the pockets of journalists, they do wine and dine them in other ways to influence review scores in order to get a better Metacritic posting.
In the Kotaku post the community was eager to find out if any top reviewers had been blatantly paid off for review scores. Surprisingly enough, the anonymous publisher admits that they don't directly pay for scores but they do it in a number of other ways after being asked about directly influencing review scores, saying...
Reviews only have an impact if they're 90+, and then the impact is huge.
Free $60 game? Check. Fancy party at a ritzy hotel suite? Check. A few hot babes/dudes to set the mood? Check. Free dinner at a lavish restaurant? Check. The excitement of seeing a review with a 90+ after all those perks? Priceless.
This has been reiterated a couple of times throughout pieces from industry vets...about how they're flown out to fancy parties or events to experience the game in a heavily influential setting, just as the anonymous publisher notes, so that media walks away from the event with a very positive outlook on the game well before it releases.
This is further enforced with lavish setups for media exclusive reveals, we see these often with GTTV or IGN.
None of this should come as too much of a big surprise, as publishers bank a lot on influencing the outlook from top gaming media websites to spread the good word and hope that word goes viral. If you can influence enough people to believe a game is worth buying, a high review score, a few ads and some quote-worthy hyperbole is just enough to help push the sales of a game that may have done well otherwise.
The only way to truly tell if a game's influenced review and Metacritic score really do affect sales is to compare marketing budgets/events, Metacritic data and first-month sales.