In a statement on the Steam blog, Valve has finally started talking about their thoughts on review bombing.
Recently, a bunch of games have tanked their review scores due to review bombing. Such games include Grand Theft Auto V for issues with a modding tool, DoTA 2 for a silly reason (no Half-Life 3), and just recently, Firewatch after the developer initiated a DMCA takedown on YouTube celebrity Pewdiepie on his Firewatch videos for saying the N word during one of his streams.
What is Review Bombing?
Review bombing is the act done collectively by a group of people, usually through online communities, to spam a game with negative reviews to try and bring a game’s review rating down. Usually, review bombing is not related to the quality of the game itself. Review bombing is mostly done because of unpopular decisions by video game publishers and/or developers.
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Why Review Bombing is a Problem
In their post, Valve mentions why review bombing is a problem.
The players doing the bombing are fulfilling the goal of User Reviews – they’re voicing their opinion as to why other people shouldn’t buy the game. But one thing we’ve noticed is that the issue players are concerned about can often be outside the game itself. It might be that they’re unhappy with something the developer has said online, or about choices the developer has made in the Steam version of their game relative to other platforms, or simply that they don’t like the developer’s political convictions. Many of these out-of-game issues aren’t very relevant when it comes to the value of the game itself, but some of them are real reasons why a player may be unhappy with their purchase.
When it comes to the Review Score itself, however, it’s even less clear that these out-of-game reasons are relevant. When we look at what happens with the Review Score after a review bomb, we see that it generally recovers, in some cases fully back to where it was beforehand. We took some time to examine the data more closely, measuring the weekly positive-to-negative ratio of new reviews in the time periods around the review bomb, it was even clearer – the review bomb ends up being a temporary distortion of the Review Score.
The post continues to mention that:
In short, 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. We thought it would be good to fix that, if we could do it in a way that didn’t stop players from being able to voice their opinions.
What Has Been Done to Address Review Bombing?
Valve said that they considered a few options to address review bombing which included temporarily locking the review page and changing the way Review Scores are calculated but these methods both had downsides. Eventually, Valve decided to change how users interested in buying the game can look at review data.
Starting today, each game page now contains a histogram of the positive to negative ratio of reviews over the entire lifetime of the game, and by clicking on any part of the histogram you’re able to read a sample of the reviews from that time period. 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.
While this move by Valve does not necessarily prevent review bombers from review bombing, it does give interested buyers more insight on the reviews trend. Seeing a sudden spike in negative reviews could be because of review bombing and interested purchases can also use that as a gauge whether to purchase the game or not. On another note, seeing a sudden spike in positive review could also give insight on some malicious review bumping activity. In the past, some developers have been known to give away free games or free in-game items in exchange for positive reviews.
In the new system, when an unusually high amount of negative reviews has been detected, Steam gives users the ability to exclude or view only the recent reviews. This can be seen now on the Firewatch store page.
So essentially, Valve made a move that will not deter review bombers from airing their sentiments. At the same time, they are allowing those users interested in the game to know if they are going to be happy with their purchase.
Will this approach work? Only time will tell.