Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings

Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings

Dispatcher is not a very good game. And yet, it's a got a "very positive" review average on Steam. What's going on?

Dispatcher is a game I decided to check out on a whim. The horror pseudo-RPG been out for a few days, and I noticed that its 227 user reviews averaged out to "very positive" — one of the highest averages a Steam game can have. Admittedly, some of those came during Early Access, but still, I figured, there must be something to it. I wanted to know what.

The game itself? After playing for an hour-and-a-half... ehhhhhh. It's pretty standard horror fare, albeit with some light RPG elements that let you collect money and upgrade stats. You can't fight back, so your goals are to run, collect stuff, run more, and escape. Levels are kinda procedurally generated — which is neat — but mechanics are poorly explained, levels are pretty but bland, and death is sometimes frustratingly unavoidable. The game does, however, manage to be decently frightening, with all sorts of unseen space ghouls going bump in the night. So it's got that going for it. Observe:

Still, a "very positive" rating? From that? It didn't make any sense to me. Sometimes developers find ways to artificially boost their Steam reviews — for instance, by offering compensation — but I couldn't find any evidence of that here. Then I made a startling discovery: Dispatcher is schlocky as hell.

Dispatcher first showed its true colours with stat-affecting backstories I could pick for my custom-made characters. They're kind of amazing, wonky-as-fuck English and all. Here are just a few:

Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings
Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings
Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings
Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings

You know I picked porn actor. I wanted him to be absolutely dashing, a statue-esque monument to the human form. Here's what I came up with:

Why A 'Bad' Steam Game Has Good User Ratings

How did Fear I.T. Self — aka John Pornman — end up stranded desperate, not naked (for once), and alone on a space station dedicated to the understanding of a mysterious alien world? I dunno. But he was there, and it was time to rock.

I died a bunch. It was even kinda scary a couple times. But then I discovered that I wasn't entirely helpless. While the left mouse button was a limp appendage — a tool long since turned flaccid — my right mouse button actually had a function. It let me give monsters the middle finger. "Maybe this will reduce monsters to a pulverized pile of blood and slush," I thought to myself.

It did not. I could just flip off monsters because... why not? Here is a full run that ends with a) me flipping off a monster and b) me dying horribly. John Pornman's (imagined) final words? "Worth it."

Of course, with schlock sometimes comes skeeve, and Dispatcher definitely tows the line. Playing as a lady? Glance down and you'll see massive, heaving breasts. Also, the only available lady voices are "strict," "naughty," and "bitchy." The particular way they pull off said hyper-sexualized brand of schlock is icky and distasteful, but almost preposterously so. I guess after everything else, I wasn't exactly surprised. It was just like, "Of course this game plays that card. Of course it does."

I'm still not 100 per cent sure why Dispatcher's Steam user review rating is "very positive," but I have a strong hunch. It's one of those games where you can tell silly, one-line stories like, "I played as a porn actor who alternatively fled from monsters and flipped them off." Glancing over the Steam reviews, that definitely didn't hurt it. It's a goofy Steam trend that, I think, actually has a fairly powerful impact on games' overall ratings and, as a result, visibility on Steam (review quantity/quality plays a huge role in Steam's search algorithms).

People like games that give them funny stories. They like to tell their stories, and reviews — which they might not otherwise write if they didn't have a story to tell — let them do that. For further evidence of this, check out the reviews on any open-world or survival game. Is that the system working as intended? I have no idea. But I'd wager that it definitely has an effect on the sorts of games that thrive on the Steam, as well as the ones that sink into obscurity.


    Of course, with schlock sometimes comes skeeve, and Dispatcher definitely tows the line
    That's all well and good, but where are they towing the line?

      Indeed: Toe the line - Following a set of rules of expected behaviour.

      Towing a line would suggest that they are dragging a long rope...

    So you don't like the game, other people do, therefore it gets a Kotaku article?..

    Anyway, games are about entertainment and entertainment means different things to different people. Obviously some people find reality TV entertaining...

    That does look like a really crappy game

    Yeah, looking for meaning in the ramblings that are Steam reviews, is like appealing for reason in any Youtube comments section. You might as well just start hitting yourself in the head with something blunt now...

    As a basis that sounds like a cool game, a procedurally generated running away game? Might actually check it out seeing as your biggest complaints seem to be poorly explained, not pretty and occasionally effectively impossible. Which can happen in a lot of games on accident (and the game I'm building atm has this flaw quite often and I'm still working on fixing it but you can't just set to many hard limits for generation or it becomes predictable, half tempted to just get it to generate levels, and remove any thatre impossible manually until I've a finite amount of levels but enough to last a solid 20 hours without repeating.)

    So every time a game doesn't fit the Kotaku status quo, we have to work out "why" people like it, and justify their taste? Feels like building a culture where people are taught to pander to the status quo and judge everything else.

      Seeing a cultural phenomenon which doesn't immediately seem to make sense to an outsider and trying to understand why it exists. That's journalism.

      Writing an article exploring gaming that isn't linked to a press conference shouldn't be something we complain about here.

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