Histograms added to Steam's user review system to combat review bombing

Review bombing of Steam games, where massive amounts of users suddenly barrage a game with negative reviews due to them being angry towards the game's makers, has now garnered a response from Valve.

Recent high-profile incidents of review bombing include Grand Theft Auto V, where players were unhappy regarding the closure of modding tool OpenIV, and Firewatch, due to the game's studio co-founder threatening to issue a DMCA takedown on a playthrough by PewDiePie following his use of a racial slur during a PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds stream.

In a new blog post, Valve stated that the review score of a review-bombed game usually recovers if it was due to an out-of-game issue, such as a developer's comments over a controversial subject, making the review bomb a "temporary distortion of the Review Score."

However, in circumstances where the review bomb occurred due to players being affected by an actual in-game issue, the game's review score had not recovered. Valve believes that this is a result of the review bomb's root cause affecting "the happiness of future purchasers of the game," with it ending up "being accurately reflected in the regular ongoing reviews submitted by new purchasers."

While temporary, potential customers can still be driven away from the review bombed game when they see the review score being lowered as the attack is ongoing. To remedy this, Valve had considered a number of solutions, such as removing the review score altogether, changing how the review score is calculated, and even temporarily locking user reviews when the company detects "massive distortions in submissions."

Firewatch's current review histogram

Ultimately, the company has settled on giving users access to more review data to easily "spot temporary distortions in the reviews to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it's something you care about." To achieve this, every game on Steam is now equipped with a histogram of "the positive to negative ratio of reviews over the entire lifetime of the game."

In an unrelated but interesting note, Valve also noticed that most games tend to drift slowly towards negative review scores as time goes on, even without any changes being done to the game.

According to the company, this phenomenon makes sense, as "the ones who are more confident that they'll like the game will buy it first, so as time goes on the potential purchasers left are less and less certain that they'll like the game," adding that "if you see a game's reviews trending up over time, it may be an even more powerful statement about the quality of work its developers are doing."

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