In the wake of new PewDiePie controversy, Valve has announced that it’s making some changes to Steam User Reviews to mitigate some problems related to “review bombing.” After PewDiePie’s latest outburst, the developer of Firewatch called out the outspoken streamer and said it would issue DMCA takedown notices against his Firewatch videos. Not everyone took this news well, and a group of people “review bombed” Firewatch on Steam; that is, players posted a lot of negative reviews on Steam to lower its overall review score.
Review bombing is a problem, Valve said, because people are criticizing the game for reasons outside of 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,” Valve said. “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.”
Valve notes that an overall review score for a game that has been review-bombed generally returns to where it was before. In the case of Firewatch, the game overall rating is Very Positive, though its recent review score is labeled as Mixed, reflecting the review bombing.
“This implies that, while the review bombers were unhappy with a decision the developer made, the purchasers of the product afterwards were often as happy with the game as the players before them,” Valve said. “In the cases where the Review Score didn’t return fully to its prior level, we believe the issue behind the review bomb genuinely did affect the happiness of future purchasers of the game, and ended up being accurately reflected in the regular ongoing reviews submitted by new purchasers. In some review bomb cases, the developers made changes in response to the community dissatisfaction, and in others they didn’t–but there didn’t seem to be much correlation between whether they did and what happened to their Review Score afterwards.”
Review bombing is problematic, Valve continued, because it makes it more difficult for the overall review score to accurately reflect whether or not you’d be interested in a game. Valve wants to “fix that” and in such a way that it won’t stop players from voicing their genuine opinions.
In terms of solutions, Valve said one option would be to remove the Review Score altogether, so that players would need to read the actual user reviews. They could then make the call for themselves about whether or not issues outside the game are relevant. However, Valve is not going to pursue this avenue. “Scores were added in response to player demand in the past, and that demand for a summary of some kind is likely to still be there, even if players know it isn’t always accurate,” Valve said.
Valve also considered temporarily locking reviews, not unlike the way in which real-world stock markets can block some stocks from being traded when issues are detected. But Valve isn’t pursuing this either because, “We’re confident it would still result in the Review Score moving down after the lock period ended.” Valve also considered changes to the way it calculates review scores, with a focus on more recent information.
But Valve is not going forward with any of these ideas. Instead, Valve is now going to focus more on how users can peruse review data to make an informed decision.
“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,” Valve said. “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.”
Valve ended its post by saying nothing is set in stone. It could be that Valve revisits its approach to deliver a better solution. You can read the full blog post here.