Over the past few years, review bombs—people organizing en masse to post negative reviews to a game’s store page to tank its review score—have become one of Steam’s most visible issues. Last year alone, review bombing happened in Steam reviews over everything from women generals to sales that happened too early. Developers have cited this sort of toxicity as a reason they’re excited about the Epic Games Store, which plans to address the issue with an opt-in review system. Today, Valve announced it will take steps to defuse Steam’s review bomb problem.
In a news post, Valve described a series of planned changes to Steam’s review system aimed at minimizing the impact of review bombs. “That change can be described easily,” the statement reads.. “We’re going to identify off-topic review bombs, and remove them from the Review Score.”
Valve says it will do this by using its chart-based review bomb detection system—which previously only served to make review bombs more visible—to identify “anomalous review activity.” At that point, Valve says a team of people will investigate those anomalies, and, if they determine that something fishy is afoot, they’ll “mark the time period it encompasses and notify the developer.” If Valve finds that coordinated review bombing has indeed occurred, any reviews posted during that time period won’t count toward the game’s review score. This will unfortunately include reviews posted from non-nefarious individuals during that time period, though, because it “isn’t feasible for us to read every single review.” According to Valve, however, data has shown that review bombs are “temporary distortions,” so the overall review score will remain accurate even if some well-meaning reviews get caught up in Valve’s net.
It’s unclear whether Valve will be selectively removing reviews left during a review bombing time period, hiding them, or doing nothing at all to them. On one hand, the company says that “the reviews themselves are left untouched—if you want to dig into them to see if they’re relevant to you, you’ll still be able to do so.” But then, one sentence later, the company says, “To help you do that, we’ve made it clear when you’re looking at a store page where we’ve removed some reviews by default, and we’ve further improved the UI around anomalous review periods.” Kotaku has reached out to Valve for clarification on this point, but has not yet heard back.
In the statement, Valve offered examples of subjects that will be deemed “off topic” in the form of DRM and EULA changes. “We had long debates about these two, and others like them,” Valve said. “They’re technically not a part of the game, but they are an issue for some players. In the end, we’ve decided to define them as off-topic review bombs. Our reasoning is that the ‘general’ Steam player doesn’t care as much about them, so the Review Score is more accurate if it doesn’t contain them.” Valve also noted that players will still be able to dig into “removed” reviews if they’re interested in those issues.
On top of that, Steam users will be able to opt out of this new system entirely by using an option that’ll keep review bombs in games’ review scores. And, again, people will apparently still be able to look at reviews that have been removed. Review bombers won’t have as much power to affect games’ standing with the Steam algorithm, but this could also just encourage review bombers to find other ways to evolve their tactics and get through what sounds like some still worryingly large loopholes. Time will tell.