There have been several instances of ‘Review Bombing’ on Steam in recent memory. The most relevant example for this community will be during Paradox Interactive’s attempt at changing their product prices, where review scores dropped significantly as users expressed their dissatisfaction with Paradox’s new pricing for it’s products. More recent is the review bombing by users of Campo Santo’s game, Firewatch. This being due to a portion of users reacting to Campo Santo’s decision to file DMCA claims against PewDiePie’s content of their games, which was in reaction to a profane slur uttered during a stream.
Several more examples spring to mind, but the point is that a trend of users leveraging the Steam review section as a place for protest is apparent. Valve had, and likely is continuing to have, internal conversations on how to combat this activity. According to Alden Kroll on Steam’s Blog, one of the potential solutions was to shut down reviews altogether, but was a bit of a no-go due to it being a heavily requested feature by the community to begin with. In summary with regards to Kroll’s blog post, Valve doesn’t want this behavior to distort the reviews to dissuade a potential customer from making a purchase. The solution they’re putting forth is giving users access to a graph that charts a volume of positive and negative reviews over time.
Giving more information to customers is never a bad thing I think. I am skeptical that this will do anything to prevent further review bombing from occurring, or significantly influence customers enough to ignore review scores and make their purchase. To combat review bombing would require a more human touch, with reviews needing to be curated. It would require a human hand to do it, and the sheer number of people that would be needed for such a task would likely be it’s own financial burden to bear. Not that Valve isn’t swimming in money due to the success of it’s platform, but it would be hindering financially to hire staff, or even a contractor, to take on such a task.
We’re still left in the same situation of Valve, developers, and publishers looking on in frustration as the review section becomes a place of digital protest against them, assuming they do something that stirs anger within a significant enough number of users. The larger question I think that’s not being asked is whether this activity of review bombing is right.
Video games pale in comparison to larger economic, social, and political issues of today, and to the best of my knowledge, someone like Campo Santo isn’t off dumping toxic waste into a river. However, consumers do have the option to boycott and protest a company if they feel that company is engaging in activities they feel are incorrect. And that’s what this review bombing behavior is ultimately about, boycott behavior. Instead of standing outside the brick and mortar store on the sidewalk with a sign, we’re now seeing boycotts on the digital storefront manifesting in the form of these review bombs.
I think if you’re going to stand against review bombing, you have to also stand against the idea of the boycott. This perhaps might be why we are getting the history graph instead of a removal of reviews, or a curated review section. Valve may not want to wade into this area, and be accused of moving against consumer rights. Of course that isn’t a new accusation against Valve, as some may recall that refunds on Steam weren’t always a thing.
The review history graph will still serve as an analytical tool for those of us that do want to dig deeper. Understand if a title is just unpopular, or if there’s a larger issue at play that has the consumers upset. Overall, it feels like Valve is attempting to win the confidence of developers and publishers. Assuring them that their platform is still #1 for digital distribution (which it is), and that there’s nothing to fear. I believe that to be true, but we’ll see what happens when the next ‘Review Bomb’ comes around, and we go through the whole twitter storm once more.