Dismantling Review Bombs: Constructive Tools or Products of Entitlement?

Review bombs can serve as an impetus for positive change or as a malicious and disruptive force to undermine developers and their work. What can be done to sort the helpful ones from the hateful ones and help gamers and developers alike? 

Posted in Opinion
on Mar 5, 2019

Posted in Opinion by Shrimpy Doodle on  March 5, 2019

UPDATE: As of March 15th 2019, Valve has taken stronger steps to handle the issue of review bombing, in that ”review bombs” will no longer affect game scores on the platform. We’re glad to see Valve addressing this issue directly, as for many independent developers who don’t have the pull and the resources to soldier through such an event, a dozen (unjustified) negative reviews can mean the difference between making a living out of making video games and shutting down. This is a big win both for developers and consumers, and we hope that the changes will lead to a fairer and healthier reviewing ecosystem.

Game developers should not have to fear unwarranted and ludicrous amounts of backlash from the inclusion of even the tiniest bit of cont­roversial material in their games. Yet Valve sits idly by as Steam games are suddenly barraged with multiple negative reviews, or “review bombed” for basically any reason that may prompt a group of upset people to attack a game or its developers.

This inaction regarding review bombs hurts the creative freedom of game developers, muddies the waters for gamers looking for a consensus on a game’s quality, and loses money for not only the developers but Valve itself in turn.  So why is Valve doing so little to defuse these bombs?

Taiwanese Horror Game “Devotion” Pulled from Steam Following Review Bombing Over Winnie the Pooh Meme

Thousands of angry Chinese gamers just review bombed Devotion, an engaging indie horror game about the dangers of blind faith, into oblivion.  A background image in the game contained a seemingly innocuous hidden message comparing Chinese president Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh, an existing meme in China and Taiwan.

Within hours of discovering the offending image, thousands of riled up Jinping supporters grabbed their pitchforks and attacked the game’s Steam page. They pirated copies of Devotion or purchased and then returned them, and without even playing the game they left negative reviews en masse.

The Chinese and Taiwanese have a severely strained relationship, and so the Devotion review page became a political mud-slinging mess instead of a critique of the game’s quality.

The image that triggered thousands of angry steam reviews.

Devotion‘s overall Steam rating tanked from Overwhelmingly Positive to Mixed, and Red Candle Games severed their contract with their publisher and removed the game from both Steam and their YouTube channel completely. It is unclear when the game will return, but in the meantime the angry mob has moved on to review bombing the developer’s previous game Detention, bringing it from an Overwhelmingly Positive to a Mostly Negative rating for its recent reviews.

Who knows how many Steam users will miss out on playing these excellent games after being deterred from examining them further by the bright red “Negative” so prominently displayed on the review page?

Despite the team’s public apologies for this controversial image, the absurd amount of backlash from China over a meme unrelated to the game’s core content has put Red Candle Games in a terrible situation.

Due to technical issues that cause unexpected crashes and among other reasons, we are pulling <Devotion> off from steam store to have another complete QA check. Our team would also review our game material once again making sure no other unintended materials was inserted in. Hopefully this would help all audience to focus on the game itself again upon its return.” – Source: Red Candle Games Facebook Page

The fallout from this review bombing could have a significant impact both financially and creatively on potential future projects for this team. Red Candle Games will likely never dare to put anything remotely critical of China in any games after this fiasco, even though this Chinese overreaction itself deserves criticism.

Review Bombing for GAME Reasons Can Put Developers on the Right Track…

On the other hand, sometimes review bombing can draw attention to issues with a game and prod the developers to fix things quickly to stem the stream of very publicly visible complaints.

For example, the PC release of Monster Hunter World was rife with connectivity issues, and players who were rightfully annoyed they couldn’t enjoy this co-op focused game with their friends voiced their concerns in negative reviews on the game’s Steam page.

This led to Capcom’s reaching out and keeping the community posted on their progress in addressing the multiple launch issues. In this instance, the review bombing provided consumers with valuable information to aid their purchasing decision and incited positive change.

One can also imagine a situation where a game includes racist, sexist or homophobic messages and gets review bombed to draw attention to this content. Review bombing can serve as a way to publicly call out developers who are putting genuinely awful things in their games.

…But Review Bombing for Non-Game Reasons is a Terrible Idea

As was the case with Devotion and Detention, people often simply have an axe to grind and want to hurt a particular developer who has offended them for reasons unrelated to the quality of the game. These people will go so far as to review bomb the developers’ other games, not just the game that triggered their rage in the first place.

The Metro series recently experienced this breed of review bombing as well after Metro Exodus became an Epic Store exclusive. Those frustrated by the exclusivity deal took out their ire in negative Steam reviews for previous entries in the series.

Past games have nothing to do with present mistakes, true. People just like to use his power of speak and vent some frustration.” Source: Reddit

 

Example of Steam review bombing for Metro 2033

The same type of review bombing also happened on Metro: Last Light. 

Over the course of writing this article, I’ve gone from being livid that Red Candle Games was basically left defenseless against a ridiculous onslaught of negative reviews, to realizing that review bombing is a complex phenomenon with no clear-cut solution. In cases like the Red Candle Games situation, Valve can’t take sides either way due to the controversy it would cause. Dealing with review bombing is a delicate balancing act between allowing freedom of speech and preventing its abuse.

Ultimately, aside from the helpful graphs they’ve provided that show a sudden influx of reviews, I think Valve should take a few more steps to protect developers and consumers from the more deliberate and malicious review bomb attacks. Perhaps ways to filter reviews by hours played or region, or a system that gives more weight to reviews from highly rated reviewers over time like Amazon has would be good first steps. 

Many gamers rely heavily on Steam reviews when deciding which games to purchase, and the more tools to help sort genuinely helpful reviews from the static created by review bombs, the better for developers, gamers, and Valve itself in the long run. 

What do YOU think?

SHRIMPY DOODLE

SHRIMPY DOODLE

CONTRIBUTOR

My childhood gaming memories are a disjointed mess spanning several PCs and consoles, but some moments stick out more than others. Current faves to play are the Yakuza series with all its melodrama and absurdity, the Soulsborne series or similarly masochistic games, and short indie games with unique mechanics and hard-hitting stories. I also stream laughably bad gameplay on Twitch.tv and have fun making a fool out of myself for others’s enjoyment.

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Shrimpy Doodle

Contributor

My childhood gaming memories are a disjointed mess spanning several PCs and consoles, but some moments stick out more than others. My most formative gaming moment was rushing to buy a Gamecube on launch day after frantically raking leaves to make the last $20 I needed. I never could have guessed that this family-friendly Nintendo console would create my love for the horror genre in the years to come.

Current faves to play are the Yakuza series with all its melodrama and absurdity, the Soulsborne series and similarly masochistic games, and short indie games with unique mechanics and hard-hitting stories. I also stream laughably bad gameplay on Twitch.tv and have fun making a fool out of myself for others&#39;
enjoyment.

Shrimpy Doodle

Contributor

My childhood gaming memories are a disjointed mess spanning several PCs and consoles, but some moments stick out more than others. My most formative gaming moment was rushing to buy a Gamecube on launch day after frantically raking leaves to make the last $20 I needed. I never could have guessed that this family-friendly Nintendo console would create my love for the horror genre in the years to come.

Current faves to play are the Yakuza series with all its melodrama and absurdity, the Soulsborne series and similarly masochistic games, and short indie games with unique mechanics and hard-hitting stories. I also stream laughably bad gameplay on Twitch.tv and have fun making a fool out of myself for others&#39;
enjoyment.

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