Valve has a found a way to deal with review bombing on Steam. For those unaware of the said practice, it's when hordes of people start assigning negative reviews and ratings for reasons related to the game itself or otherwise.
One instance of this collective smear activity happened fairly recently. On Sept. 10, cofounder of Campo Santo and developer of Firewatch Sean Vanaman tweeted that he would issue a copyright takedown claim for PewDiePie's Let's Play video for Firewatch, following an incident where the YouTuber used a racial slur during a livestream.
A couple of days afterward, Firewatch received 510 negative scores that altered the game's user score on Steam, according to Steam Spy. After regaining positive reviews, scores dropped again on Sept. 15, when PewDiePie posted a video about Vanaman's takedown request, saying he would lose his entire YouTube channel if he received two more strikes.
It seems juvenile to rate a game based on the developer's beliefs or actions, but it's obvious this is one form of smear tactic fueled by rabid fandom for PewDiePie, known to have some of the most loyal fans on the internet.
How A Histogram Can Help With Review Bombing On Steam
While not addressing the Firewatch incident outright, Steam user interface designer Alden Kroll does mention in a blog post that review bombings can occur after certain incidents online happen. To remedy this, Steam will begin implementing a histogram instead of deleting negative reviews or temporarily locking user scores of a game altogether.
Providing a graphical history, a game's review scores may better illustrate its upticks and slips overtime, giving a more accurate representation of people's opinion, Kroll argues.
This approach hits two birds with one stone: it lets users see a visual history of user reviews, helping them make more informed decisions, but it doesn't prevent any user from submitting a review.
"It also has the benefit of allowing you to see how a game's reviews have evolved over time, which is great for games that are operating as services," he said.
The Problem With Criticism
Beyond Steam's new histogram, the Firewatch incident, and PewDiePie's controversial usage of a racial slur, this whole ecosystem of fans going after someone or something they don't agree with or find unpleasant is one of the biggest problems of modern criticism. In this field, the struggle to separate art from the artist has always been a controversial topic.
Suppose a person with a product — Sean Vanaman and Firewatch — did something to another person that fans disagree with. They can go after the product to hurt the person, utterly disregarding whether the product deserves merit or not. When this happens, criticism is cheapened, becoming a mere tool for exacting revenge.
"Many of these out-of-game issues aren't very relevant when it comes to the value of the game itself," said Kroll.
But Kroll is hoping that Steam users will be able to tell if a review bombing occurred, thanks to the new histogram.
At the time of writing, the histogram has been added to all games on Steam. Thoughts? Sound off in the comments section below!