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Review bombing is becoming more and more common, so Valve are looking into ways to sort out the mess that Steam user reviews are becoming. They've announced: histograms.

Steam user reviews have become a weapon. Review bombing is when users flock to a Steam page and make negative reviews, in hundreds and possibly thousands. It often happens when a big name Youtuber says bad words about it, so people in their droves go to the Steam page and make the review score dive.

The problem here with Valve's addition, is that people need to know what review bombing is. Let's face it, the vast majority of PC gamers likely have no idea what it is. I would go further, and say that the majority also see "Mostly Negative" and probably won't look at a game again.

Here's an example of ARK: Survival Evolved:

They show it by default, if there's been an issue. Otherwise, it requires a button click to open.

Another interesting point from the Valve post, is this:

Hopefully this post has been useful. It's quite possible that we'll need to revisit this when we move to personalized review scores, where our prediction of your happiness with a purchase is based upon the games you've enjoyed in the past. In the meantime, we'll keep a close eye on the community conversation around reviews.

It will be very interesting to see what Valve mean by a personalized score. They're much smarter people than me, but I don't really see how you can personalize a review score. One possible they may do, is give it their own overall score based on the type of game it is, the types of games you've review positively and things like that.

Naturally, a fair few developers aren't too happy about Valve's changes. I've seen a number of developers on Twitter make jokes about it, like this one:

Devs: help we're getting review bombed!
Valve: good news guys, we're gonna fix it!
Devs: yes finally!
Valve: we'll add a graph!
Devs: NO

— 'Shark Hugs' Eniko (@Enichan) September 19, 2017

I'll be honest, that made me chuckle a bit.

You can find the lengthy news post about it here. It's nice to know Valve are thinking about it at least, there's not a massive amount you can really do to combat such a thing. The thing is though, throwing more and more data at users isn't going to help, it's going to end up overwhelming people.

Valve did think about locking down reviews temporarily, like the stock market would do if something's up. The problem is, it would likely just carry on once they unlock it. So Valve, for now, has decided to do nothing about them.

The crazy thing is, I'm not personally sure if developers should be shielded from this tactic. I mean, if a game is being reviewed bombed, you can be 99% sure it's for a properly valid reason. If a developer is pulling some shady crap, I want to know about it and reviews are a damn good way to see that.

Take ARK: Survival Evolved again as a prime example. The game released, with many issues. The game has features on Linux that are completely broken and have been for some time. That's on top of the vast amount of issues on the Windows version. If Valve did make steps to stop people making reviews dive and it stayed at Very Positive, would you be happy after spending £49.99 to end up finding out negative reviews pointing out all the flaws had been stopped? I don't think so.

However, there's obviously times when a game is review bombed for idiotic reasons too. It's not a one size fits all approach and I'm not saying it is.

What are your thoughts?

15 Likes, Who?
Comments
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FifteenthPen 20 September 2017 at 3:51 pm UTC
There are IMO legit reasons to review-bomb, Ark actually being a good example. It keeps getting review-bombed because they keep releasing paid DLC for an unfinished, poor-performing, buggy game, and they keep promising to optimize it and not doing so. I used to love Ark even though it ran poorly when I got it, but they've managed to make it perform so much *worse* it's now unplayable on my system.

I think dev behavior is a very legit reason to give bad reviews, too. If, for example, a dev came out and said something hateful and bigoted, I'd not want to give them my money no matter how good the game itself was.

I also think review-bombing does need to be pointed out to potential customers, ideally with an explanation of what caused the review-bomb, because it can be used for the wrong reasons too.

I'm almost certain the reason Valve made the histogram charts is in response to PewDiePie's fans review-bombing Firewatch because the publisher filed a DMCA request against PewDiePie because they (understandably) didn't want their game associated with him.
namiko 20 September 2017 at 5:12 pm UTC
I can make a good guess why this happened. PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) recently got into trouble with a game developer, Campo Santo, who didn't like that he said n*gger on a livestream out of temporary gaming rage. The guy wasn't even *playing* a Campo Santo game at the time! PewDiePie also apologized on stream quickly, even so far as to make an entire EXTRA video on his YouTube channel to apologize, *and* voluntarily removed any Campo Santo gaming videos from his YouTube channel.

The *real* issue, though, is that the co-founder of Campo Santo threatened DMCA takedowns (meant for taking down videos that are infringing on copyright) for PewDiePie's videos that contained Campo Santo gaming footage. The Campo Santo co-founder, Sean Vanaman, said on Twitter that he'd issue DMCA takedowns to those videos in bad faith, out of hating what PewDiePie's said on that livestream, not out of any real copyright infringement of Campo Santo's games. Sean was going to explicitly misuse U.S. law for his own uses, even though Campo Santo's own Firewatch page says that they WILL NOT penalize ANYONE for streaming their games for money.

This is directly from Firewatch's Official Site:
QuoteCan I stream this game? Can I make money off of those streams?

Yes. We love that people stream and share their experiences in the game. You are free to monetize your videos as well.

Whether or not you agree with saying taboo, offensive words at other players when playing PVP games as part of demoralizing them or to yourself when you're angry, whether or not you like YouTube streamers, this was a case of a developer going out of their way to unjustly punish a gaming streamer, which makes no sense at all. The devs, too, have benefitted from PewDiePie playing Firewatch, even if he'd said every oft-censored word in the book while doing so, it would have given a developer's game attention and therefore more sales.

Urgh, that's the gist of it. I don't think the Firewatch review bomb was wrong, people did it because of the developers willingness to blatantly misuse DMCA takedown laws to censor someone they didn't like anymore. That's petty and threatening to someone's source of income. If it had been a lesser YouTuber who had been in this situation, at the worst their entire channel could have been removed.

It would be like if Psyonix (devs of Rocket League) threatened a DMCA takedown on GamingOnLinux's Rocket League YouTube videos because someone in the stream said a "bad word"... in a TOTALLY DIFFERENT GAMING VIDEO. Yeah, I'd review bomb Rocket League on Steam if they said something stupid like that, too.

Regardless of how good their games are, a developer abusing the law is always wrong. We shouldn't give money to developers like Campo Santo or trust them to give us good games.

I'm not sure of the policy on links to other news sites, but I also have a TechDirt article that's done a brief, good write-up on this issue with more evidence of this drama than I can link to easily in a comment. Would that be ok?

EDIT: typo


Last edited by namiko at 20 September 2017 at 5:14 pm UTC
finaldest 20 September 2017 at 5:36 pm UTC
To be fair, Review bombing is justified and I have taken part in it on 1 occasion in relation to GTA5 modding. Crappy behaviour should not be tolerated and review bombing is effective in this regard.

Valve should just keep the current review system as it stands.

I don't really pay a great deal of attention to steam reviews as I generally check out the games forums and watch game play reviews on YouTube. I do find it useful for screening out bad games though.
Purple Library Guy 20 September 2017 at 5:54 pm UTC
I'd like to point out that there is a way already now of getting some nuance from the reviews beyond "mostly positive" or whatever from the aggregation of up/downs. You can, like, read some of the reviews themselves, which are right there on the page. Usually, the negative reviews say something about what they don't like. I know, radical approach, but I've found it useful in the past.
Purple Library Guy 20 September 2017 at 6:03 pm UTC
BeamboomI long for the day when the world no longer put way, way waaaaay too much value into "user reviews". Most regular users are unable to consider anything obectively, nor do they have proper ability to put things into context and weight the various elements of the game.
Thats why they have only implemented a "thumb up / down", cause in case of most users asking for anything more nuanced than that is too far fetched.
You talk as if professional reviews are much better. There are some good professional reviewers, but lots of them are no better than the average "user review"--a bit longer, is all. And of course quite a few professional reviewers, while perhaps skilled, have significant conflict of interest, being part of a machine whose objective is to sell stuff. This is a problem "user reviews" do not have. And while user reviews vary wildly in quality, looking through it's generally pretty easy to spot the ones worth paying attention to.

The thing about "more nuanced" rating systems, like 1-5 stars or whatever, is that people use them tactically so they end up being exactly the same as up/down systems. That is, if you look at a thing on one of these platforms, it will almost always have an aggregate "score" that is either higher and lower than you think it deserves. So if you rate it, you will rate it one star if you want to bring down the average and five stars if you want to bring up the average. That's what most people do, they don't rate based on how good they think something actually is, they try to push the rating to where they think it belongs. The "nuance" ends up pointless, containing almost exactly the same meaning as "mostly positive".
Doc Angelo 20 September 2017 at 6:05 pm UTC
finaldestreview bombing is effective in this regard. [...] I don't really pay a great deal of attention to steam reviews

In a way, for people like you, review bombing is not effective.
Smoke39 20 September 2017 at 7:23 pm UTC
I'm not sure I agree with even using the phrase "review bombing" in the context of Steam. To me, review bombing is when a bunch of people with no first-hand experience with a product leave negative reviews to jump on some kind of bandwagon, but on Steam you need to own a game to leave a review. I think if you bought a game, you have every right to voice your opinion on it for whatever reasons you see fit.

Besides, what's important, and what's good or bad is totally subjective, so I don't really see that there's any fair way to distinguish between "malice" and "genuine discontent." As others have already pointed out, if you want to know why a game has the overall review score that it does, and judge those reasons for yourself, that's what review bodies are for.
Beamboom 20 September 2017 at 10:12 pm UTC
Purple Library GuyYou talk as if professional reviews are much better. There are some good professional reviewers, but lots of them are no better than the average "user review"--a bit longer, is all.

No. It's a massive difference. Period. If you read serious (commercial) gaming sites witha real editor and run like a serious traditional media house, their reviews holds a standard far, faaaaaar above 98% of absolutely everything you read from amateurs on Steam, Amazon, Metacritic and a gazillion webshops with a "community".

Writing, and reviewing is a craft, just like any other craft. It requires something. Practise. Understanding. Insight. An editor. Directions. Professionalism. A structure, and above all an ability to view something as objectively as can be, and as nuanced as required.

Sure, there's bad apples everywhere, and mistakes are done by everyone. But we gotta get AWAY with the attitude that "anyone can do anything". We live in an age where there seem to be an opinion that anyone can be a news reporter, scientist, journalist, reviewer, we don't need any particular insights at all. No, quite the contrary, even! So they seem to think.

/rant off for now. I'm sure this topic will return again. And again. And...
Purple Library Guy 21 September 2017 at 2:04 am UTC
Beamboom
Purple Library GuyYou talk as if professional reviews are much better. There are some good professional reviewers, but lots of them are no better than the average "user review"--a bit longer, is all.

Writing, and reviewing is a craft, just like any other craft. It requires something. Practise. Understanding. Insight. An editor. Directions. Professionalism. A structure, and above all an ability to view something as objectively as can be, and as nuanced as required.
Leaving alone for a moment the oddity of claiming that writing a few cogent paragraphs on any given topic requires "A structure", are you seriously trying to claim that the average professional game reviewer has all that stuff?
GustyGhost 21 September 2017 at 2:18 am UTC
We need a more ethical way to digitally bitch slap abusive developers.
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