Valve has added a new option to Steam to allow users to see how user reviews have changed over a period of time, an effort to help counter the effects of ‘review bombing’. Review bombing is the process where a large number of users post negative reviews on a game within a short span of time, lowering its user rating in an effort to harm sales.  

Review bombing isn’t exactly a new phenomenon but it’s become popularised enough that Valve has been forced to take a stance on Steam. Valve’s new algorithms can detect what they call ‘distortions’ in reviews, allowing users to filter out the reviews identified as review bombing, or, alternatively, choose to read them exclusively in order to help gain an understanding of why the review bombing took place.

This is an issue which seems to have come to a head with Firewatch and the scandal surrounding Pewdiepie’s use of a racial slur during a game of PUBG. Firewatch developer Campo Santo took issue with this, issuing a DMCA takedown request for Felix ‘Pewdiepie’ Kjellberg Let’s Play of Firewatch. This, in turn, angered Pewdiepie fans, resulting in the review bombing of Firewatch’s Steam store page. The irony of users complaining Campo Santo misused DMCA takedowns, by misusing Steam reviews, is strong.

Firewatch still has an overall review score that’s ‘Very Positive’, yet the recent reviews are ‘Mixed’ due to more than 2300 reviews that have been posted during the last week, compared to just 107 for the week before. Of these reviews, more than half are negative.

There have also been a number of other high profile review bombings. Chinese fans absolutely crushed Football Manager 2017 due to the game not having a local language translation; GTA 5 has been reviewed bombed multiple times for cracking down on mod support and push microtransactions, and Crusader Kings II was hit when Paradox Interactive raised the price of the game worldwide. Valve's own DOTA 2 was also hit due to fans angry about the lack of Half-Life 3, probably the biggest driver for Valve to initiative this change, in truth.

It’s a treacherous topic for Valve to broach, beginning with the assumption that reviews written as part of a review bombing are somehow invalid. Or, at the very least, that it could be in the user’s interest to exclude them.

“On the one hand, 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,” explains Valve. “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.”

I think that’s a fair enough point, but then why can’t I exclude all reviews that complain about poor performance because I’ve got a SLI GTX 1080 Ti system, for example? For me in that scenario, it's an extraneous issue when someone can’t run a game properly, and yet it affects the score.

To their credit, Valve hasn’t taken the heavy-handed approach of removing these ‘distortions’ entirely. Hit up the game page of any title that’s been hit with a review bombing and a warning is provided, such as “High Volume of Negative Reviews Detected: Sep 11 - Sep 16”. These reviews can then either be excluded, or you can click the ‘View Only’ button to get a better idea of the issues surrounding the review bombing.

“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” Valve goes on to say. “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.”

Ultimately this provides users with all the data and lets them use it how they see fit. It’s not exactly the most elegant solution, but for those willing to dig a little, a few nuggets of truth can be unearthed.

What are your thoughts on review bombing? An effective form of protest or is it being used in the wrong way? And what do you make of Valve's changes? Let us know below!