Steam Games Are Now Even More Susceptible To Review Bombing

Steam Games Are Now Even More Susceptible To Review Bombing

Valve recently updated Steam’s review system to focus more on the here and now. The review section gives more weight to recently published reviews, and there’s a new “recent” percentage score. On paper, it seems like a good idea, but it also brings with it new problems. Case in point: The Culling. It’s a Hunger-Games-esque multiplayer game that launched in Early Access earlier this year, largely to positive critical reception. Recently, though, issues with combat balance and the game’s technical performance have angered portions of the community. Cue the flood of negative reviews, some of which are literally drawings of a butt shitting on the game’s developer. The game’s “recent” review percentage is not looking too hot, and the review section “summary” tab is a disaster zone.

If I were a prospective buyer, I’d look at all of that and NOPE my way to the next section of Steam’s infinite video game Valhalla. The question here, though, is whether or not temporary troubles in otherwise good/great games should be able to have such a powerful impact on their bottom line and, ultimately, their future. It’s one that even incensed players of The Culling have been debating.

On one hand, it sucks to buy a game, only to find that it barely runs on your machine, or that combat needs another balance pass, or what have you. But it’s not like The Culling has been in this state forever, and given developer Xaviant’s diligence in releasing updates and hotfixes, I doubt it will stay that way for much longer. Plus, it’s an Early Access game. Change is inevitable, and not all of that change will immediately make players happy. If developers are afraid to make changes their games need because they might accidentally stumble over an anthill or 200, that doesn’t bode well. Where once a landslide of negativity over a small (or large) issue might not bury an otherwise well-received game, Steam’s new review system makes that a real possibility.

Now, of course, the counter argument to all of this is that once issues are fixed, people will just start posting positive reviews again. No harm, no foul. But the problem is, again, that a) this gives irate people the ability to push back against changes that, perhaps, a game actually needed, and b) people are more often galvanised to action by rage, rather than good feelings. Ultimately, negative reviews will recede and give way to newer reviews, but the current system gives people a lot of power to cause short term damage.

Perhaps, in the case of The Culling, the system is functioning as intended. People can voice their grievances and warn away other potential players until the game is in a better state. Early Access games might still be in development, but they have a price tag on them. People deserve to know what they’re in for.

I do wonder, though, what will happen when, inevitably, a game makes a change that some players are fine with and others despise, whether it relates to gameplay, thematic content or something else entirely. Something akin to Darkest Dungeon‘s corpses and heart attacks, Overwatch‘s booty pose or Baldur’s Gate‘s trans character. Or heck, there was that whole dust-up between the developer of Titan Souls and Totalbiscuit a while back. Titan Souls got hit by a deluge of negative reviews, many of them only tangentially related to the game’s content. Sometimes, people organise large-scale negative review campaigns against games like these. Recent reviews now have significantly more weight, which means campaigns have significantly more weight to throw around. Will Steam’s new review system give developers — especially smaller, more financially dependent developers — pause, or will it be business as usual?

On the upside, The Culling‘s developer seems to be taking it all in stride.

“We always want to maintain a dialog with everyone in the community and your input is extremely important to not only us as developers, but the good of the game at large,” a Xaviant dev wrote on Reddit. “In order to deliver big changes, we’ll need to take some risks. There will inevitably be some missteps, but we hope that you appreciate that we’re always trying to deliver improvements that benefit the game. Tweaking, adjusting and updating are elements that are perpetually in the cards, so if we don’t get it right today, there’s always a the ability to utilise your feedback to hit the mark.”


  • This makes the act of purchasing video games and then playing them as complicated and enjoyable as reading the product disclosure statement to your super fund or healthcare agreements.

    Publishers/Platform holders used to be both a blessing and curse to the Fish/McMillen/Blow/Notch types back in the day, and they all let us know about it. This looks like them getting their own way, and then some.

    The fact Valve has been able to democratise game dev/releases in this fashion doesn’t really seem all that beneficial to anyone BUT Valve now.

    Scratch that, it’s basically politics – the article gets it – campaigns can easily use Steam as a type of battering ram that I’m paying for, whether I agree with them or not, or whether I actually care about them or not.

    Influence/manoeuvre what or who you need to so you get your own way – any Youtubers vocally supporting political candidates yet? We aren’t far off it!

  • Perhaps they need something like PGP’s “web of trust” to try and cut back on this sort of campaigning. Where the votes of people whose reviews I’ve marked as helpful are counted more strongly than people I haven’t seen reviews of, and those people more strongly than people whose reviews I’ve marked as not helpful. Then repeat this recursively to cover the entire reviewer community.

    If a set of reviewers are only getting helpful votes from other reviewers in that set, then their reviews wouldn’t be shown prominently to people outside of the set.

  • I like the new System, it would have meant when overkill filled their full price game with microtransactions its steam score would have reflected that the games devs no longer cared about its community.

  • I’d say your complaint is anti-consumer, same as complaints about being able to refund your games too easily.

  • Sounds like the system is working as intended, I’m not seeing a problem here.

  • They need to add a REVIEW WEIGHT modifier based on when review was done, for early access and beta stages it should probably have less effect on the score then when the title gets released?

    This way a game could quickly recover its rating after release rather then having to put up with terrible early access reviews? I dunno, just my 2 cents.

  • In the case of The Culling though you point out it’s early access without actually realising the full meaning. Once it eventually gets released it will receive a large amount of promotion and that’s when they’ll get that largest flood of interest.

    It’s that point at release that their “current” reviews will matter. Early access has its ups and downs but it’s the end product that you’re purchasing. It doesn’t matter if it gets a week or two of negativity, providing they fix the problems and get it on the right track for release then the reviews will follow.

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