Steam needs more than graphs to fix its review bombing problem

Have you ever looked at the user reviews on Metacritic? It is quite the thing. According to them, a game is either a 10/10 or a 0/10. Every game is Marmite. This is the dichotomy that dominates the internet. We know this. Something can only be terrible or the best of its kind. We are talking about /user/ reviews specifically here, of course - professional review scores tend to fill out the middle ground between those extremes. 

Related: the best PC games.

In the world of PC games we haven’t had to worry about the fact that the internet, and with it, the gaming audience at large, tend to deal in absolutes. That changed recently. Pop over to Steam and it won’t take you long to find a negative review from someone with approximately five million hours in a game. OK, maybe only a few thousand, but you get the idea. Their review will kick off with a big red thumbs down and then probably say something like, ‘This game was really good, but then it gets boring after a trillion hours’. If that review had been written on Metacritic it would probably be slapped with a 0/10, despite the person who wrote it probably spending more time in the game than the developers who made it - surely, it can’t be that bad? 

These thoughtless, knee-jerk reactions can have negative consequences on game developers. That is a problem, and one that’s getting increasingly urgent. People tend to look at the aggregates and not read the context when browsing reviews of a new game they are looking to play. Nowhere is this more of an issue than in review bombing, which is a fairly new trend that sees people mob together and work to bring down the total rating of a game with a surgical strike of negative reviews. They do not come out of nowhere. Usually, it is in response to a specific change made to a game, perhaps the addition of microtransactions or any other controversial feature highlighted by the latest gaming drama - it is no wonder EA do not have a similar rating system on Origin. In a bid to affect the creator’s revenue, review bombers see the act as a form of protest, a way to put off anyone else who might buy the game. 

One of the first cases of videogame review bombs I remember involved Skyrim. Valve and Bethesda introduced paid mods to the RPG, people got angry, review bombing happened, and then the paid mods were removed while people were refunded. Bizarrely, people got angry again shortly after - this time because the paid mods had disappeared (don’t try to understand that logic). Around the same time, indie boss-rush game Titan Souls came under attack because one of its developers printed out a Totalbiscuit tweet and put it on their fridge. No, really. Imagine saying that sentence out loud to a normal human being. Totalbiscuit said he didn’t like the concept of the game, one of the game’s developers said they didn’t care and printed out the tweet, then Totalbiscuit’s followers jumped onto Steam to tank the game’s user-review score. Meanwhile, we are all hurtling through infinite space on a ball of rock and one day the sun will kill us all.

The problem persists to this day. Some players use review bombing to exercise their right to protest content in games they do not agree with, such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ in-game advertisements of VPN services in China. You might agree that is a good enough reason for players to make a fuss - or, at least, to have a protest, if not necessarily review bomb, but needs must. However, review bombing is just as often used in illegitimate ways, to protest against actions taken outside of a game. 

firewatch photo mode

Look at the Firewatch debacle, in which developers Campo Santo hit YouTuber PewDiePie with a DMCA on his series of videos on their game after he used a racist word during a stream. Understandably, they didn’t want their game associated with someone who throws around racist language, but the YouTuber’s hordes of fans took to Steam to pull Firewatch’s user-review rating down as a way to hit back. 

People are even review bombing games because of other, completely separate games. Dota 2 was hit with a wave of negative reviews  because Valve fans were convinced it killed Half-Life 3. I love Half-Life and I’m not a fan of Dota at all, but really? 

It is ironic. A lot of videogame fans talk about protecting a developer’s artistic vision - their freedom of speech - but it appears that some of those same people are the ones stamping their feet when a game does something they don’t like or disagree with, and they will keep stamping until it is changed. Remember all the noise around Mass Effect 3’s ending? Players who didn’t like it complained until the developers added new ones that pleased them. It is almost as if that was the droplet that became the sea we are currently drowning in. 

Hatred controversial games

Valve recently released a ‘fix’ for review bombing in the form of historical graphs that display a game’s user reviews over time. The idea is to let players see how the popular opinion of a game changes over time, and to also spot when a bombing run occurs, so they know to ignore it. But how many people are really going to start looking at graphs to inform their purchase? 

It’s not just videogames where this is a problem, either. Fox News star Megyn Kelly’s memoir Settle For More released to a spate of negative reviews, seemingly from Trump supporters with a grudge. The book was bombed by one-star reviews within 24 hours and barely a fraction of them were from verified purchases. 

It is reminiscent of how criticism levelled at Valve for not doing enough to combat review bombing has been labelled as “attacks by the SJW media.”  But games such as Hatred get a free pass. That game was criticised for its politics at launch, yet its store page is completely unblemished. In fact, it has a ‘mostly positive’ rating on Steam, despite being a pretty terrible videogame even disregarding its questionable outlook. On the flip side, head to Gone Home’s Steam page, click the negative reviews dropdown, and it is filled with people calling it a game with an “SJW agenda,” or even saying it is not a game at all. 

mass effect Andromeda nvidia

It is this mindset that saw Mass Effect: Andromeda release amid a wave of negativity. The game’s animations might have been pulled to the forefront of the discussion, but something else was there, bubbling beneath the surface. It was seen as a politically correct game, and this bizarrely led some fans to accuse BioWare of purposely making its women characters ‘ugly’ to appease the ‘SJW media’. Many also criticised it for its inclusion of non-hetorosexual relationships. BioWare are lucky the game wasn’t on Steam. 

Until there are better tools to separate the legitimate complaints from the whingers, it is unlikely that this problem will go away anytime soon - particularly not with Valve’s preference for trying to solve problems with automated features. The company only really took action after Dota 2 was review bombed for supposedly killing off Half-Life 3 - do we have to wait for another Valve game to fall victim to this practice before a better solution is created? For now, developers will just have to hope customers are savvy enough to pull up a graph before buying. 

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Hax1s avatarhfm avatare9000es avatarTheTrainStation avatarGlen_Runciter avatarluckz avatar+7
hfm Avatar
273
3 Weeks ago

"- it is no wonder EA do not have a similar rating system on Origin."

From what I can tell having a rating system on Origin would be foolish of EA for the simple fact that nearly all the games are EA games. There's so few non-EA games on Origin. Why would they allow people to rate their own games? Nothing but downsides.

Steam on the other hand has games from hundreds, probably thousands, of developers and publishers. Makes more sense there.

I like this article. You can take this same mob/team mentality and apply it to so many other situations and it's just a head-shaking facepalm thing to watch. US republicans voting against their own best interests just because republican... etc...

3
TsunamiWombat Avatar
664
3 Weeks ago

This is just the nature of the beast, always has been. When you go to the mob, you get gut reaction. It's something that's been a thing throughout human history. Yeah, it sucks, and yeah it'd be great if they could find a way to be more accurate. But frankly, aggregate reviews like Metacritic are already flawed models in so many ways, it's crazy they've become ubiquitous.

2
e9000es Avatar
2
3 Weeks ago

Of those games bombed, Firewatch, Dota 2, Skyrim SE, Titan Souls all have a rating of Very Positive and the other two, PUBG and GTA 5 currently sit at first and second on the global top sellers list, explain to me why this is such a pressing issue?

1
Glen_Runciter Avatar
291
3 Weeks ago

These people are also a good example why the universal voting right is a suicidal idea.

1
Wi1em Avatar
7
3 Weeks ago

> professional review scores tend to fill out the middle ground between those extremes

Negative. So-called professional reviews are almost always biased because that's how they make a living, by definition. To trust a reviewer, it has to be an independent agent, like Jim Sterling who's, to my understanding, is funded by the end users, not the people selling the product.

So no, there's no point is reading "critic" reviews at all, just dive straight into user reviews. They could be suprisingly balanced, but it's better when they're polarized, because it allows for you to read both sides and decide on your own whether you're liking what you're seeing. Also, critics always lose because there are always more "users" than "critics", and a hive mind will dig up more stuff than a handful of people can, even if we imagine they have no conflict of interest.

1
danman Avatar
13
3 Weeks ago

I've found this to be true as well. Reading a bunch of user reviews on the opposite ends usually gives me a better overview of both things that may interest me and things that might put me off.

Especially the latter, since I've found that reviews often glance over technical stuff. As if they're just reviewing the idea of a game instead of the product that's being delivered.

2
Glen_Runciter Avatar
291
3 Weeks ago

"like Jim Sterling who's, to my understanding, is funded by the end users, not the people selling the product"

What the actual fuck are you talking about?

Where do you think gamer magazines get their income from?

1
Wi1em Avatar
7
3 Weeks ago

Also sponsored reviews, like streamers get thousands of dollars per a single game review on their stream.

2
Wi1em Avatar
7
3 Weeks ago

Ads. Gaming-related ads, that means the same guys who're making games are buying up ads space. Also, in order to be competitive, they need pre-release access to the games and if they give bad reviews, those companies will simply cease to provide that access.

0
Glen_Runciter Avatar
291
3 Weeks ago

"if they give bad reviews, those companies will simply cease to provide that access."

Which is not an issue with online reviewers, because...

1
g.poubelle Avatar
48
3 Weeks ago

You pointed out a simple way to check a game's long lasting appeal : Watch how many hours it was played, and compare that to how many hours you would have expected them to be playing it.

Like if reviewers say it's "only" ~3 hours of content, and most reviewers have played it around 3 hours, that means it's short but great.

If reviewers are calling it a great sandbox game with unlimited replayability, or the best RPG they ever played, but those reviewers have played it less then an hour before switching to something else : You can give it a skip.

Also I do happen to pull up that steam graph when weighting a purchase, with all the outdated early reviews, I find it very useful to figure out if the patches have fixed and improved it, or broke it.

1
voormithadreth Avatar
1
3 Weeks ago

Because using reviews to punish developers over petty political B.S. should be the purview of professional games journalists, not you plebs.

1
Jenks Avatar
348
3 Weeks ago

User reviews can take into account whatever that user feels is important. I didn't buy firewatch because it was clear that the developer is a total powertripping clown willing to abuse the law for personal reasons. Before you say I'm part of someones army, I've never watched a streamer in my life except for zeroempires who does play by play for age of empires 2 games. However, if they are a fan of that streamer, they should know that too. It's pretty god d*mn simple. User reviews are reviews from users. Do something to piss off the users and they will give a bad review.

And to reiterate, the Firewatch dev is a piece of sh*t, sorry you feel otherwise PCGN.

1
Hax1s Avatar
5
3 Weeks ago

Article is garbage. Basically, the developers need to learn to cater to the players, that's why they leave negative reviews when a change is made, simply because the majority do not like the change. Seems like this is an excuse to bash legitimate negative reviews even thought those reviews are well....legit. There has been a trend going on where major developers stop looking at their main core group of players and try to invite new players to up their sales/profits, which in business is great, but as far as those original players who thought the game was great, will no longer think so if these developers keep giving into greed instead of player experience. So negative reviews on a great game going bad, I see nothing wrong here.

-2
luckz Avatar
5
3 Weeks ago

Let me review-bomb you:

This article is much closer to a 0/10 than a 10/10.

Let's not speak of why it's posted under "Firewatch" when only 7% of it concern that particular game.

-2
TheTrainStation Avatar
48
3 Weeks ago

Holy shit this writer is salty. xD Sounds like one of those antifa people that hate the voice of the people, and would like instate laws that give people with power exclusivity to a platform for expression your opinion with a game.

This guy sucks balls. xD

-3
Glen_Runciter Avatar
291
3 Weeks ago

You are a pathetic little kid. xD

1
TheTrainStation Avatar
48
3 Weeks ago

Go march for white guilt you fucking loser.

-3
Shriven Avatar
3473
3 Weeks ago

You must be a hit with the m'ladies...

1