Valve has updated some features in Steam‘s Customer Reviews section, and here’s why that’s great news for everyone.
As someone who has reviewed a lot of games over the years, I have a visceral reaction to the idea that a review score should change as a game gets updates and patches. I’ve played enough Steam Early Access games to have developed a real callous over my heart toward crappy games that are charging you money on the promise that the developer will ‘totally/probably/maybe’ make it better. My feeling in this matter is that the minute you start charging money for your game no matter what state it’s in, it is fair game to be evaluated.
Now, as time has gone on, I’ve softened my stance a little bit. I remain firm that a score given for an official review should stand. However, I also recognize that we live in a world now in which a game can be patched and updated countless times, and that it may very well be a completely different product over a period of time. Hell, look at Team Fortress 2. It is virtually unrecognizable now from when it originally came out in 2007.
Steam itself is a service that Valve is constantly updating, and one of the more interesting additions they’ve made in the past few years is giving users the ability to leave Customer Reviews on a store page of a game. One of the big problems with allowing user reviews, particularly with video games, is that it inevitably falls victim to the all-too-common tactic of ‘All or Nothing’ Internet discourse. What this means is that most of what you see is proclamations of something as the ‘greatest thing ever’ or ‘the worst thing ever’, with little room for nuance or actual critical analysis. Not being the kind of company to rest on its laurels, Valve has recently tweaked some of its features to make it a more useful resource for everyone.
There are a number of features that have been added. These include the ability to look at reviews in all languages, as well as the ability to click on a box that denotes whether you paid for your game or received it for free. That’s all good and fine, but the really interesting part of all of this is the implementation of the feature in which recent reviews are separated out from the pack to give an impression of what customers are saying about it now. There are two components to this feature; the first is showing the newest posts on the right side of the page. This gives new reviews, some of which could be extremely insightful, some face time and the opportunity to get upvoted. The second component is the Recent Review Score. What it does is take into account reviews that have happened over the past 30 days, and displays the consensus as separate from the overall result. Here’s an example; the store page for last year’s Batman: Arkham Knight:
I think it’s safe to say we all remember the debacle that was the launch of this game last Summer. It was so bad that Rocksteady had to actually remove it from Steam while they sorted through its many issues. One could reasonably argue that the sheer volume of negative reviews detailing the problems with Arkham Knight were a factor in forcing the developer’s (and to a lesser extent, Steam’s) hand in offering refunds as well as committing to fixing the game.
As we sit here in 2016 however, Batman: Arkham Knight has been returned to Steam and by most accounts seems to be working as advertised. This is not to excuse Rocksteady’s poor decision to release the game as it was, but to their credit they did the work and fixed it, and there should be some consideration given to reflect that. This is where Recent Reviews comes in handy; it allows a game to get out from under a bad first impression and provide some appeal to newcomers, while not losing sight of its previous issues.
Another way this update to Customer Reviews can be useful is that it can at least partially weed out targeted campaigns by angry mobs with an axe to grind. to flood a game’s page with bad reviews. Let’s have a look at Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition.
To be fair, there have been a number of bugs reported for this game in the past month. However, a quick scan of recent user reviews shows that the real motivation behind the negative response amounts to a mob of users whining about the developers introducing an NPC who identifies as trans into their newest expansion. While it’s not feasible for users to be able to dismiss those types of comments outright from the full group, the new system does at least provide a delineation between when the consensus was overall positive and when that shifted. Again, it’s not a silver bullet that stops targeted campaigns against certain games, but it at least provides some context for discerning users.
One last feature about this update is that it gives a bit of insight into the level of activity a game has had over the past month. While we have Steam’s Game & Player Statistics which show how many people are playing certain games at a given time, seeing high activity in user reviews can reveal an active and passionate user base. Look at a game like Rocket League, for example:
Of their 63,000 user reviews, over 20% of them have come in just the past month. In addition to the sheer number of people who are involved, the fact that the consensus is holding steady at ‘Very Positive’ shows that not only is the community still very much enjoying Rocket League, but that the developers are continuing to support that game in a way that is resonant to its fans.
At the end of the day, is this going to make Steam’s review system perfect? Of course not. In fact, one could argue that the User Review system is by its very nature a losing battle. With that in mind, Valve’s efforts to plug some of the holes in their own system are commendable. Here’s hoping they continue to fine-tune it and prevent store pages from being monopolized by groups with an axe to grind. What do you think about these updates? Has it changed the way you interact with Steam or its reviews? Let us know in the comments…better yet, let them know too!