Review bombs have been a problem across online media for some time, as users frequently campaign to drop ratings for games, movies, and other products for reasons unrelated to the quality of the thing itself. It’s been a particular issue on Steam, and Valve has made some small changes to how the user review system works in an effort to combat the practice.
Steam will now remove the effect of “off-topic review bombs” on the user score displayed at the top of a game’s store page, according to the announcement. The reviews will remain attached to the game and viewable, and users can opt-in through their account preferences to see all reviews counted.
The “off-topic” criteria refers to reviews “where the focus of those reviews is on a topic that we consider unrelated to the likelihood that future purchasers will be happy if they buy the game.” Widespread complaints about DRM and EULA changes are considered off-topic under this rule. Valve says “our reasoning is that the ‘general’ Steam player doesn’t care as much about them, so the Review Score is more accurate if it doesn’t contain them.”
Algorithms will flag incidents likely to be review bombs, and then Valve moderators will manually review those notifications to determine which ones count as off-topic.
The limitations of these changes are pretty severe – from every angle. Players who think review bombing is effective can still see those effects. When those campaigns include direct harassment against developers, they’re still subject to the content of the reviews. And plenty of players aren’t going to take kindly to the idea that DRM should be considered off-topic.
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Shadow of the Tomb Raider got review bombed for going on sale too soon. Indie horror game Devotion was review bombed by Chinese players for a reference to the country’s president. Metro games got review bombed after Exodus went Epic exclusive, though an uncharacteristic positive review bomb followed that. Whether Valve’s changes stem any future efforts of a like nature remain to be seen, but they seem to be pretty soft solutions.