Steam, the biggest marketplace for digital PC games, lets users review any game they purchase directly on their platform. For the most part, this feature is incredibly helpful since it puts valuable community feedback and review scores conveniently on each games’ Steam page. However the system isn’t perfect. Steam, as with other platforms and websites that provide user reviews, battle an ongoing issue called “Review Bombing.”
For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t until last year, review bombing “is an internet phenomenon in which large groups of people leave negative user reviews for video games and other products in an attempt to harm their sales and popularity.” There are many reasons why a particular game on Steam might become victim to this kind of behavior; some have to do with the mechanics and the quality of the game itself, while other more extreme cases have to do with reasons completely unrelated to the game. Like the personal issues between the developers of the well-received Titan Souls and popular YouTuber Total Biscuit, or the situation with Bethesda and paid mods.
The latest game on Steam to get hit with a brigade of negative reviews is Firewatch, a game which released back in February of 2016. Spoiler alert: this is not about a bug or technical problem that just popped out of nowhere. This, of course, has everything to do with the developer’s (Campo Santo) recent response to Pewdiepie’s PUBG livestream controversy. Those in disagreement with Campo Santo’s remarks took their anger out on the user-review section of Firewatch in hopes to hurt future sales of their first-person mystery adventure game.
On Tuesday’s blog post UI designer, Alden Kroll, wrote all about the history of “review bombing,” providing his own definition of the phenomenon, how they tend to come about and how they hurt Steam, “…review bombs make it harder for the Review Score to achieve its goal of accurately representing the likelihood that you’d be happy with your purchase if you bought a game.” Furthermore, Alden discussed all the reasoning behind Steam’s latest change to the user-review section. He mentioned there was even a discussion to get rid of review scores all together, but instead decided to give users a way to see a “histogram,” of user-reviews, or simply, an entire timeline of review scores. For instance with the case of Firewatch, it’s now easy for someone to see unusual review activity in one particular instance.
As a potential purchaser, it’s easy to spot temporary distortions in the reviews, to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it’s something you care about. This approach has the advantage of never preventing anyone from submitting a review, but does require slightly more effort on the part of potential purchasers.
It’s important to note that Kroll never mentions the Firewatch instance in this blog post, nor does he mention the name of the game at all. So it’s possible Valve had planned this update to their user-reviews beforehand and maybe pushed it along quicker after this particular issue. But the timing of everything certainly makes us wonder. It was September 10th when Pewdiepie said the racial slur, followed by Sean Vanaman’s Tweet, then followed by a wave of negative reviews and now this update to Steam.
So what do you think? Has Valve made the right decision to add a “histogram” feature to their platform, or should they have done something else? Also, if you have an interesting cases of review bombs, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.