Steam combats review bombing with infographics

Has review bombing been nerfed?

Steam introduced histograms to its review system Tuesday to combat review bombing – a practice where users post a significant number of negative reviews to a games Steam page in a small amount of time to lower the score of the game.

These changes were announced in a blog post titled “User Reviews” by Alden Kroll, UI Developer at Valve. In the blog post, Kroll explains why review bombing has become a problem in Steam as of late.

“On the one hand, the players doing the bombing are fulfilling the goal of User Reviews – they’re voicing their opinion as to why other people shouldn’t buy the game. But one thing we’ve noticed is that the issue players are concerned about can often be outside the game itself. It might be that they’re unhappy with something the developer has said online, or about choices the developer has made in the Steam version of their game relative to other platforms, or simply that they don’t like the developer’s political convictions. Many of these out-of-game issues aren’t very relevant when it comes to the value of the game itself, but some of them are real reasons why a player may be unhappy with their purchase.”

Kroll went on to explain that these out-of-game reasons seem even less relevant upon examining the review score. He mentions that often enough, the review score simply recovers in a short period of time after the review bomb is over, due to new reviewer’s satisfaction with the product. In cases where the review score doesn’t recover, Kroll states that this is due to the problems behind the review bomb, and becomes accurately reflected by current reviews in the Steam store.

Alden Kroll’s example graph, from his ‘User Reviews’ Blog Post

So, what conclusion did Valve reach? Instead of removing review scores, changing how review scores are calculated, or temporarily locking reviews when a review bomb commences – ideas Kroll states they considered while looking for a solution – they’ve added graphs that let users monitor trends in review scores, allowing them to pinpoint the source of other user’s frustration and make informed buying choices.

“In the end, we decided not to change the ways that players can review games, and instead focused on how potential purchasers can explore the review data. Starting today, each game page now contains a histogram of the positive to negative ratio of reviews over the entire lifetime of the game, and by clicking on any part of the histogram you’re able to read a sample of the reviews from that time period.”

Valve seems to have caught onto users abusing the review system. In response, they seem to have created a genuinely good solution that neither discounts review bombers intentions nor misinforms the uninformed user. Instead, the implemented system intends to place the power in the hands of the consumer, as Kroll mentions in the blog post.

“As a potential purchaser, it’s easy to spot temporary distortions in the reviews, to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it’s something you care about. This approach has the advantage of never preventing anyone from submitting a review, but does require slightly more effort on the part of potential purchasers.”

Now, I keep saying seem, because we don’t know how this change will affect user reviews and buying habits in the future. Odds are that your average Steam user won’t utilize these graphs, and will easily glean whether a review bomb is happening from the user reviews themselves. In fact, these graphs won’t even pop up on the games page unless you click on a link to the overall ratings. Many uninformed gamers probably won’t even know that this change has occurred. It could do literally nothing for the average joe. Still, this solution could prove helpful for extensive investigation into a games history by those who are Steam-savvy enough to remember how to use a histogram.

For instance, here’s a graph for one of Steam’s most popular games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. You can see that the game has been getting more reviews since July, but a huge brood of them are increasingly negative leading into August. A quick Google search of the games development will lead you to articles from several outlets talking about the controversial microtransactions and added content for a game that’s still in early access. A scroll through the user reviews reveals a bevy of other problems- poor optimization, bugs, crashes, wonky gunplay, and more. There’s a wealth of information to sort through, in a reasonably straightforward manner, that allows informed decision-making, should the customer choose to do that.

This isn’t a change that has a consensus to be simply good or bad. These histograms are a neat tool for advanced users, but are doubtful to change the buying habits of your average user, much like review bombs themselves. If Valve truly wants to help gamers, then more changes must follow.

User review system updates [Steam]

Drew Stuart