Valve has responded to growing concerns regarding a trending practice on Steam known as “review bombing.” Alden Kroll, Product Designer at Valve, wrote up a lengthy letter to Steam’s userbase regarding review bombing. Kroll discussed what Valve thought about review bombs as well as the best ways to address them. What Valve ultimately decided was to provide additional information, notifications, and graphs on game profiles to make viewers aware when a review bomb has occurred.
Review bombs are events where large amounts of Steam accounts post negative reviews for a specific game very quickly, aiming to lower Steam’s overall review score. These users then upvote other bomb reviews and downvote earlier reviews, which some have claimed is an abuse of the system. Review bombs typically occur after a controversial event, such as the addition of microtransactions or other significant game changes, but can also happen due to something unrelated to the game itself:
“It might be that [reviewers are] 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.”
Kroll says Valve has mixed feelings regarding review bombs, as the company believes that historically these events reflect genuine criticism regarding why players may be unhappy with their purchase. This thought was followed up with Kroll stating that Valve even typically sees review scores climb back to where they were previously after a review bomb ends:
“We took some time to examine the data more closely, measuring the weekly positive-to-negative ratio of new reviews in the time periods around the review bomb, it was even clearer – the review bomb ends up being a temporary distortion of the Review Score.”
Overall it seems Valve doesn’t consider review bombs to be impactful beyond reason or in need of addressing in a significant way. Virtually all of Kroll’s letter balances the negatives of review bombing with the positives of Valve’s review system even when abused.
From here Kroll discusses several of the ways Valve considered changing how Steam dealt with review bombs. Some of the ideas Valve ultimately set aside included removing the review score altogether, temporarily locking reviews when a review average spikes suddenly, and even altering how review scores are tallied to lessen the impact of a review bomb. Each was dismissed, whether it be due to protecting user review privileges or lack of confidence in meaningful positive change occurring.
What Valve decided was best is to allow review bombs to continue as they are without any changes. How reviews are published or how review averages are totaled will remain as it has always been. Instead, Valve will provide notifications on a game’s profile regarding past review bombs as well as optional graphs showing how a review bomb altered a game’s review score.
Whether Valve’s decision will be well received or not remains to be seen. Considering Valve’s actions, it appears the company doesn’t consider review bombs a negative so much as the information they provide regarding review scores being inadequate. Are review bombs legitimately harmful? Are Valve’s changes unhelpful? It’s clearly a more complicated issue than it seems.