With review bombing becoming one of the most popular forms of protest - even in unusual circumstances - developers and marketplaces are looking for solutions to keep user-generated reviews helpful.
With Metro Exodus making an about-face on Steam over the last week, users responded by tanking the publicly viewable rating for Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033. It's one of the most accessible tools for gamers who have bought a product to make their voice heard. So as the Epic Games Store gains more traction and exclusives, it's worth remembering that some games on the Epic Games Store won't have any user reviews at all.
With thousands of negative reviews being posted overnight to the older Metro games - which remain on Steam, untouched by Exodus's exclusivity - it further highlights Epic's decision not to have user reviews enabled by default into the spotlight. The decision was announced by Epic founder Tim Sweeney on Twitter just after Christmas, but hasn't been highlighted again in an official post or release.
We’re working on a review system for the Epic Games store based on the existing one in the Unreal Engine marketplace. It will be opt-in by developers. We think this is best because review bombing and other gaming-the-system is a real problem.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) December 26, 2018
Mirroring the system already used on the Unreal Marketplace, which predominately markets assets and tools for use within the Unreal Engine, also tacitly highlights another pillar of Epic's strategy: their store is designed to offer a better deal to developers first and foremost, with consumers benefiting through what Epic claims will be lower prices as a byproduct of the fairer revenue split.
I’ve been following this very closely and understand that people who prefer to buy games on Steam prefer not to deal with a second store. But developers will never escape Steam’s 300% to 500% markup on operating costs if all games are on Steam at equal prices.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) January 30, 2019
The lack of user reviews is also coupled with the fact that the Epic Games Store won't have forum support like Steam does, meaning that users will have to go through other channels, like official Discord channels, Twitter, company Facebook pages and so on. The impact on developers will vary - the latest iteration of a major franchise is more likely to have existing external forums for support than, say, indies like Hades or Ashen.
That hasn't stopped users from decrying the move as anti-consumer by default. But that perspective also ignores the fact that the more channels developers have to curate, the less capacity they have to spend putting effort into each of those channels.
Derek Smart, the outspoken indie developer known more recently for his criticism of Star Citizen, pitched it like this:
So if you think about it, assuming you get the nod from Epic, this is what you end up with:
1) More money (higher royalties)
2) Better discovery of your game
3) No toxic community bs to deal with
That's of little comfort to gamers who cherish the ability to have their voice heard on a major platform, which user reviews offer. Epic's approach is that user reviews aren't necessarily a net benefit, particularly when the system is often gamed by a group or movement for reasons that have nothing to do with the particular game in question. That's compounded by years of complaints from developers that Valve has often done little to nothing to help, as Metro author and series creator Dmitry Glukhovsky explained over Instagram.
"I think Epic will [do] everything to help, and I did not have an impression that Steam gives shit," he said to a user.
The fallout from the latest drama involving Felix "Pewdiepie" Kjellberg and Campo Santo continues, with a fairly logical target finding itself in the firing line: Firewatch.
But all of this is simply a smaller battle in a broader argument that has been running through the gaming community for years, if not decades. User reviews are simply one form of consumer advice that a community can provide. Is it the best outlet for a community as a whole? And does the ability to make your voice heard to other users outweigh the benefits of exclusives and potentially lower prices?
Epic, evidently, are betting on the latter.