Review bombing isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Give customers the power to collectively target a product and sure enough, they’ll do it if they aren’t happy. But review bombing games has started to become a much more common occurrence. It really traces its roots back to Mass Effect 3, a game which was review bombed due to players being unhappy about its ending. I still rate BioWare’s reaction to this as one of the worst moves in terms of the health of gaming, particularly in the long term. Changing the ending because of the reaction was the unofficial handing over of the baton and marked a big change in consumer entitlement.
I’m a big believer that creators should be free to create. Freedom to create whatever they want and then to be judged at the end of it. In that moment when BioWare agreed to change the ending, it was a step away from creative freedom and toward audience pandering. BioWare couldn’t possibly have been aware of the significance at the time but in changing their own game it comes dangerously close to fan fiction bullshit rather than the original vision.
But a lot’s changed then, and since then we’ve had notable review bombs for the likes of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Crusader Kings II, Firewatch, Total War: Rome II, Football Manager 2018, the Metro series, and plenty more. The reasons are many and varied, from Crusader Kings II’s price being increased to match exchange rates; Football Manager 2018 not having Chinese language options, or PewDiePie fans angry his video of Firewatch was DMCA’d after the dev team said they didn’t want to support a creator who used racial slurs.
Review bombs are a method for consumers to exert their power in one of the few ways they are not powerless. A customer’s greatest power is their monetary value. Buying a game and giving it a positive review are two of the best things the average gamer can do to help a game, and the opposite applies if they want to damage a game.
In the case of review bombs, most fans have long since bought the game and it supported it with cash. Aside from messaging the devs or posting on the forums, the only real way they can get their voices heard is by posting a negative review.
But, I guess the real question is what constitutes a valid review bomb, or even a negative review. If someone plays a game, loves it, gives it a good review, and then gets frustrated by something a developer has done with a later game, does it really justify going back and giving a game they originally thought was great, a negative review? I think not.
However, if the review is genuinely for an issue with the actual game that’s being reviewed, it’s definitely a method that can potentially enact change. It’s an aggressive method of getting your point across and often extremely unhelpful for the developer’s long-term success, but if you’re being ignored and it truly matters to you, then it seems a valid response.
But in the instance of the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light review bombs last week, this is a textbook example of the community cutting its nose off to spite its face. It’s petulant behaviour. Anyone with a modicum of sense can realise it probably won’t help the next Metro’s chances of coming to Steam. As if thousands of angry ‘fans’ destroying 4A’s reputation on the Steam store is a great advert for 4A Games, and Deep Silver, to head back to Valve’s storefront and welcome its utterly delightful, angry fanbase back with open arms. Reviews surely have to be of the game itself. Posting fake reviews is vindictive and unethical.
For their part, Valve has taken steps to try and mitigate the effect of review bombing. They now weight reviews and track spikes, allowing users to filter out what the system deems as erroneous results. It’s not perfect, and by default, the overall score includes review bombs, but it’s a decent compromise.
So like a lot of you probably are, I’m quite torn on this one. Review bombs have been used in a ton of negative ways but they’re also a working method of highlighting developer mistakes and even helping them fix their problems.
Enough of my thoughts then, let’s hear yours. Do you support review bombing? Have you ever participated in a review bombing? When do you think it’s a valid thing to do? Get voting and let us know your thoughts below!