Is Steam Review Bombing a Real Problem?


Steam review bombing is the latest fad sweeping the popular digital games shop. This is when a company, developer, or the game itself did something someone didn’t like, be it taking a political stance, adding microtransactions, or anything else, and so the offended party goes onto the Steam page and posts a negative review. However, I can’t seem to find a way to write a review for a game I don’t own on Steam. So these people own the game. There’s no weird tomfoolery here. They bought it. Maybe they just ask for a refund afterward, but that’s beside the point.

Much of the gaming press is upset by this recent trend for many reasons. The reviews are illegitimate, for starters, but there seems to be a strong emphasis on Steam doing something about it, more on that in a second. There have been two big cases of this happening recently; Firewatch became a target last week after Campo Santo’s response to Pewdiepie, and NBA 2k18 is currently being raked over the coals because of its microtransactions.

What is strange to me is that the same people stressing that gamers shouldn’t rush to the bottom of reviews to see the score and should read and think for themselves are also the same people convinced that users are too dumb to look at a Steam game’s reviews and not notice that something’s up.

Hell, the ‘all reviews’ and the ‘recent reviews’ sections for games have been there for quite some time and are very self-explanatory.

Firewatch’s ‘most helpful reviews in the past 30 days’ are, admittedly, negative. However, 5 of the 10 reviews shown came from before Campo Santo’s statement, while also being negative. The remaining 5 are negative too, but correlation does not equal causation.

In addition to the fancy new graph that was added because of all the recent Stream review bombing issues, there’s a banner that states ‘high volume of negative reviews detected: Sept 11 – Sept 16.

With all of this information, any consumer should be able to make an educated decision. There’s almost too much information now.

But wait, if we look at the graph again, we’ll see that a shocking amount of positive reviews were submitted in this same time frame. Roughly 1300 bad reviews and 950 good reviews were written between the 11th and the 22nd.

These positive reviews were hastily made to combat the negative influx from gamers upset over something utterly unrelated to the game. But then aren’t these positive reviews just as suspect? If you were concerned about potential buyers going to the page and seeing unrelated negative reviews, then shouldn’t you be upset that overly positive reviews are also being posted, effectively doing the same thing as the negative ones?

Granted, many are praising the game, but many are also citing support for Campo Santo and that that’s the reason for their review. I don’t really think that’s okay either. Although, it certainly doesn’t feel as icky as the other side.

Let’s take a look at two reviews, one from each side:



The negative review praised the game but voted negative solely to spite the developer. But how much time did the positive reviewer spend with the game? .1 hours. Meaning they started the game once in order to be able to write the review. Compare that to the 2 hours the negative review had. Now, which review is really more valid? They are both pretty dumb in my opinion.

The issue with NBA 2k18 on Steam is a bit different. The reviews are even more negative and almost exclusively deride the microtransactions. But what’s so wrong with that? In the wake of Destiny 2, I’ve heard a lot of players complain about shaders, which are now consumable and purchasable in-game with real money. People really don’t like this decision. They like the game, though, and are continuing to play it, choosing to voice their displeasure with the shader issue on Twitter and directly to Bungie.

These NBA 2k18 reviews are doing the same thing. They know they can send a message by leaving negative reviews, even if they like the game sans-microtransactions. And isn’t that a good thing? Hell, most of the reviews come from players with over 20 hours of playtime. The audience likes the game, just fix the microtransactions.

As an aside, if you want to read some strange reviews go look at the ones posted when Ark: Survival Evolved raised the price of the game. People with hundreds, even thousands of hours of playtime started leaving negative reviews. It’s bizarre.

But the validity of these reviews isn’t the real issue. As long as there are user reviews on games, or any products at all, fake or unrelated reviews are going to happen. Go on Fiverr, and you can buy reviews on Yelp, YouTube views, Facebook likes, etc. I understand that’s not the same, but understand this: the issue is with people, not with reviews.

I choose to believe that people can figure out for themselves if something is going on with these reviews. I also believe people flocking to game pages and reviewing to ‘punish’ a developer is incredibly stupid and childish. We shouldn’t stand for it, but we also shouldn’t act like people can’t see through the BS. I think perhaps the best thing Steam and others can do in instances like this is when a spike is detected, freeze all reviews for a week. It’s not an ideal solution though. And as I pointed out, almost every game that is large enough to be targeted by an influx of negative reviews is also likely to see an influx of positive reviews.

There are also people saying that Steam should be doing more or should admit that some of this is their fault. How much fault is Steam really responsible for? People are saying they should know better, be doing better. Why? They are providing a storefront for your game. They didn’t tell Pewdiepie to say random racist garbage. They didn’t tell Campo Santo to file a DMCA takedown on him. They didn’t force microtransactions into NBA 2k18. They just have the storefront. What responsibility does that give them?

In response to this, they made a graph. People made fun of the graph, but I like that decision. With all the charts, reviews, and now graphs on a Steam game’s page, if you can’t figure out something’s going on, that’s on you.

Let’s try and be better as a gaming community. Be nice, respectful human beings. Lashing out like a spoiled child at a game that has nothing to do with why you’re mad or spending the next day on Twitter whining about what the meanies did to a game you like through its reviews shows we all have room to grow. And we should. Be smarter, be better. Make the gaming community better.

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