In the wake of Campo Santo issuing a DMCA takedown against Pewdiepie after he used a racial slur during a game stream, many of the YouTube personality's fans took to Steam to "Review Bomb" the developer's most recent game, Firewatch. Steam creator Valve recently issued a statement on how it wants to fix review bombing and how reviews will now be displayed.
Review Bombing is when a large number of users issue negative reviews in a short period of time in order to tank a game's user review score on Steam. Between September 11th and September 16th, 2,342 reviews were left for the Campo Santo's game Firewatch, bringing the game's fan consensus down to "mixed," based on Steam's scoring system. The game's overall review consensus ranks in at "very positive," based on 27,391 total reviews.
The goal of allowing users to leave reviews, Valve says in a blog post, is fairly obvious: it allows players to leave their thoughts on a game for other consumers to read. This bypasses the need for press opinions, allowing consumers to get thoughts from other consumers. Adding a review score, the developer says, is a way to "provide a potential purchaser with an estimate of how likely it is that they'll be happy with that purchase."
Review Bombing poses a threat to this system because, by its very nature, it's disingenuous. Recent reviews for Firewatch aren't based on the merits of the game, but rather the politics of its studio.
But does this influx of negativity completely damn a game? Not really, according to Valve.
"When we look at what happens with the Review Score after a review bomb, we see that it generally recovers, in some cases fully back to where it was beforehand," the company said. "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."
Abusing DMCA is wrong, but so is review bombing. I'm not condoning the Firewatch reviews. pic.twitter.com/ILAlmpWNzK— pewdiepie (@pewdiepie) September 20, 2017
According to Valve, people that buy a game after a Review Bomb tend to be as happy with the game as the Review Bombers were before finding fault with something. If that's the case, the score usually corrects itself over time and reverts back to what it was before the Bombing.
"In the cases where the Review Score didn't return fully to its prior level, we believe the issue behind the review bomb genuinely did affect the happiness of future purchasers of the game, and ended up being accurately reflected in the regular ongoing reviews submitted by new purchasers," Valve said. "In some review bomb cases, the developers made changes in response to the community dissatisfaction, and in others they didn't – but there didn't seem to be much correlation between whether they did and what happened to their Review Score afterwards.
"In short, review bombs make it harder for the Review Score to achieve its goal of accurately representing the likelihood that you'd be happy with your purchase if you bought a game. We thought it would be good to fix that, if we could do it in a way that didn't stop players from being able to voice their opinions."
To fix this, Valve decided not to change its review system, but instead add a new statistical tool to it.
Games on Steam now have a histogram showing review data for a game since its release. If a game falls victim to a Review Bomb, users will now be able to get an accurate look at how the game's been reviewed over time and when a bombing might have occurred. Check out the picture below to see Firewatch's histogram.
This system allows users an accurate look at review data. But, as other outlet have pointed out, it doesn't address the actual issue of Review Bombs. Review Bombs are an inherent abuse of the company's review system, and offering a histogram doesn't change the review score. In fact, as Waypoint's Patrick Klepek notes, it highlights them. Games are still as vulnerable to disingenuous bombings as they were before. This still enables users upset with some facet of a developer to cheat Valve's system, leaving often nasty or completely irrelevant reviews for a game – which, as of writing, are still rolling in for Firewatch.
"Nigynoggles," one reviewer wrote (that was the entirety of their review).
"Lol," a different reviewer wrote (again, the entirety of the review).
"Copyright strike my review, I dare you," another said.
"Who's the real villain here? I would not recommend this game because of the game AS WELL as the developer has some kind of self righteous god complex," another reads. "I think [Sean Vanaman, founder of Campo Santo] needs to take a long hard look at himself. I don't think that anyone should say that word but you should take it from within the context and there was no racial hate motivation intended from the word he said, like pewds said he literally wanted to say the worst word, which he did."
It's worth noting, a good amount of the negative reviewers had played Firewatch for several hours – which, since it's a short game, means they may have even finished the product only to leave a review about the politics of its developer. So, either people are buying the game, playing it, keeping it or maybe getting a refund, then leaving a bad review, or they're going back to give a negative review on a game from 2016 because the developer used his legal right as the creator to stop a content producer from monetizing his company's game.