Valve will be changing the way user reviews are handled. The company announced that they will be censoring what they consider to be “off-topic” review bombs from games that catch the ire of the community.
In a Steam community post published on March 15th, 2019, Valve explains that they’re getting rid of the enumeration of review bombs toward the overall aggregate, saying…
“[…] we’ve continued to listen to feedback from both players and developers. It’s clear to us that players value reviews highly, and want us to ensure they’re accurate and trustworthy. Developers understand that they’re valuable to players, but want to feel like they’re being treated fairly. We’ve also spent a bunch of time building analysis tools to help us better understand what’s happening in the reviews across all titles on Steam. With that feedback and data in hand, we think we’re ready to make another change.
“That change can be described easily: we’re going to identify off-topic review bombs, and remove them from the Review Score.”
Now before wielding the pitchforks and torches, it’s not all bad. It should be noted that the review bomb tallies aren’t going away entirely. You will be able to use a checkbox in the user settings to enable or disable whether you want to see the aggregate based on the total tally that includes review bombs. However, it is an opt-in setting.
According to Valve, if anomalous activity is accounted for in the system and it looks like a game is being review bombed, all reviews will be chalked out for a duration…
“Once our team has identified that the anomalous activity is an off-topic review bomb, we’ll mark the time period it encompasses and notify the developer. The reviews within that time period will then be removed from the Review Score calculation. As before, the reviews themselves are left untouched – if you want to dig into them to see if they’re relevant to you, you’ll still be able to do so. To help you do that, we’ve made it clear when you’re looking at a store page where we’ve removed some reviews by default, and we’ve further improved the UI around anomalous review periods.”
As mentioned, if you want to see the tally based on the aggregate of all reviews, whether they’re standard or from review bombing, you will have to go into the user settings and choose to activate that option.
According to Valve, these off-topic review bombs will also canvas topics such as DRM, and EULA changes. They state that only a small percentage of people care about DRM, and therefore if a game is review bombed, say because the DRM won’t let you play the game or disrupts the gameplay (i.e., like what happened to RiME from Tequila Works) then those review scores will not be tallied.
This also means that when games like GTA V got review-bombed because Take-Two Interactive basically were muscling in to have all single-player mods disabled, those scores would not be tallied up either.
Essentially, this squelches any kind of mass dissent.
What’s more is that during the period where reviews are whited out from the tally, even reviews that are not part of the review bombing will be swept up under that umbrella, too. They explained…
“Unfortunately, this is correct [your review won’t be included if it’s made during a review bombing period]. We’ve tested our process of identifying off-topic review bombs on the entire history of reviews on Steam, and in doing so, we’ve found that while we can look through reviews and community discussions to determine what’s behind the review bomb, it isn’t feasible for us to read every single review. But as we mentioned back in our first User Review post, our data shows us that review bombs tend to be temporary distortions, so we believe the Review Score will still be accurate, and other players will still be able to find and read your review within the period.”
This did not sit well with the community at all, especially given that when developers engage in anti-consumer antics or involve themselves in some kind of uncouth behavior, gamers typically use the review bombs to get the point across to those from the outside looking in to stay away until the developers get their act together. The comment section was fiery over the decision.
This ebb and flow synergy is usually what keeps the balance intact for most games and game developers on Steam. If a game has a high amount of negative reviews showing in the histogram, it means it was review bombed, and people can then drop down to see why. But now, review bombs will no longer show up by default, and so if a developer is scamming users, utilizing DRM that disrupts performance, or has some kind of anti-consumer scheme at play, you won’t know about it unless you enable the option within your Steam profile. Obviously, this means that only people who view the Steam post or regularly visit gaming news sites would be informed about this issue.
(Thanks for the news tip Bobby Albert)