It's easy to sit back and scoff at "review bombing", as we saw last week when Blizzard released a broken Diablo III. Flooding Amazon to give zero stars to something others have called 10/10, sure, that's not a legitimate review. And people staging a sit-in aren't there to legitimately patronize a public accommodation, either. But a sit-in is a legitimate form of protest. And I think a review bomb is, too.
I say that even knowing that the hive-mind mentality of the internet, where every disappointment is a scandal and an outrage, there's a potential for an author, a publisher, a maker of creative work who commits an imagined slight, to get roasted by a self-righteous, torch-bearing mob. But that is not what happened in the case of Diablo III, even if the language and temperament of the review bombs carried the same indignant tone.
Diablo III is a good game, but on launch day in the US, it deserved what it got: A flogging not in its forums or over Facebook or on Twitter, 96 per cent of which is already crap complaining about something. The game got ripped in a setting where its potential customers were informing a purchase decision — Amazon particularly, Metacritic a little more indirectly.
Whatever you feel about the controversy of digital rights management, excoriating Blizzard for its insistence on an always-on Internet connection just to play the game — even in singleplayer mode — is absolutely justifiable if the publisher can't supply a working product once it's bought. In that situation, it has sold a broken game, and that deserves a terrible customer review.
Even if the problem has been solved since release, the review bomb is valid as a protest because it — like civil disobedience — calls attention the increasing powerlessness of the video gamer in his or her relationship with the industry and its agents — press included.
That frustration is magnified because we are in a very critical, very disruptive hour, where unknowns in new technology and distribution are opportunities for these publicly traded businesses to exploit before consumers can set — and enforce with their purchasing power — their expectations of fair conduct.
You can stand on principle, but it's like refusing to go to your team's favourite game because the stadium won't let you bring in food. All your other buddies are going, and now you won't? It's like refusing to go shoot hoops with your friends because the rec centre forces you to rent a ball instead of bring your own. You still love the game of basketball and want to play it; you don't want to be a jerk, especially as this stance reflects on your friends. But god damn, what is this bulls**t?
The constant internet connection that is required by Diablo III and other games is unfair in its structure and its implementation. And so, when it interferes with the private enjoyment of a product someone has purchased, publishers should expect to be treated just as unfairly — if not more — by their customers, too.
That is why the review bomb is valid.
Neither side should consider this matter to have blown over just because these servers are working. Blizzard, and its apologists, plainly think that being unable to use something for which you've paid full price, on the day you bring it home, just goes with the territory when it's a popular video game — one aggressively marketed for nearly two years.
That side is wrong and that attitude is unacceptable. And I don't care how good a game Diablo III is — and I enjoy playing my copy, for which I paid my own money, thank you very much. It deserves to have indignant graffiti scrawled all over its glowing reviews if it fails its end of a unilaterally imposed deal.
Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam on Saturdays. Let yours out in the comments.