The internet has always had the potential to turn on a dime into an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob. Sometimes, it’s for the right reasons, other times, not necessarily. In this highly polarized world we’re now living in, developers have to be extra careful not to make any missteps, or they risk the wrath of the web. Furthermore, when it comes to making changes to their games, or even announcements about new games in the works, they also run the risk of angering or alienating a large portion of their fan base.
Having to walk on eggshells can be detrimental to the creative process, but making one wrong move can have catastrophic consequences. If a developer is quoted out of context in an interview, or purposefully says something that people don’t like, or implements a new feature to earn more money from their games, the fury of the internet will often present itself in the form of reviews.
A company can make an announcement totally unrelated to their biggest title, and be instantly slammed with thousands of negative reviews on platforms like Steam. It’s a dangerous game, so to speak, and there hasn’t really been much of a solution to date, besides a little notice where Steam shows you the historical user review scores compared to the most recent ones from the past 30 days.
If there’s a change or an announcement to a game that genuinely modifies the experience of that particular title, it’s fair to leave a review reflecting that. The problem lies in punishing developers with negative reviews for things that aren’t even related to that particular game. Going through their whole catalog and slamming them because you don’t see eye to eye on something, or because they’re adding DLC to an upcoming, highly anticipated title, is an abuse of the review system.
We’ve seen this happen outside of the gaming world, too. Amy Schumer’s most recent Netflix special received many 1 star reviews on Netflix.
Shortly after, and some would claim unrelated to the onslaught of 1 star reviews (although the timing is interesting), Netflix removed their 1-5 star rating system altogether.
People review bombing with positive reviews is something that happens, too, it’s not just negative ones, so this can put consumers in an awkward position along with the marketplaces themselves who are in an awkward position because it puts their entire review systems under scrutiny as to whether we can even trust them, or if they’re going to scrub away anything negative but keep all of the positive.
Valve has been put in this same awkward position many times over the years on their Steam marketplace, especially since gamers are very outspoken when they don’t like something. Obviously, sometimes the negative reviews are warranted and a developer really has stepped over the line, but at the end of the day, the reviews of any particular product should be based on the quality of that game, not used as a weapon to punish a developer for something unrelated to the game.
Before coming up with a solution, Value had considered several options, one of which was to do away with having scores tied to reviews, which would force people to actually read the reviews rather than skimming the numbers. They also thought about blocking people from leaving reviews on games after the game started getting review bombed, for a set amount of time, while things blew over.
Instead, they developed a new graph that shows you the amount of positive reviews versus the amount of negative reviews for a game, over a period of time, so that you can quickly see if the game has always had an even mix of positive and negative reviews, or if most of the negative reviews are from more recently. If you notice a game generally had good reviews, then six months ago they were slammed with negative ones, but the trend has returned to normal, you can figure out in half a second that the rush of negatives was likely due to an external force.
Here’s what Value had to say about the new chart system for reviews:
“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. 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.”
The potential is still there for a game to get slammed with unjust negative reviews, but at least now it’s easier to see what’s going on, and to quickly judge how much you want to let them influence your purchase or not.