It's Way Too Easy For One Person To Review Bomb A Game On Metacritic

Image: TurtleBlaze

Earlier this week, members of the three-person game studio TurtleBlaze discovered their newest game, Kunai, had been inundated with what they claim were bogus negative scores. The game’s user score on Metacritic had sunk from a strong 8.1 to an atrocious 1.7, emblazoned in a bright red box for all to see.

“We got review bombed,” the TurtleBlaze devs wrote in a mid-week post on the development site Gamasutra. It was the latest in a string of similar campaigns against both AAA and indie developers.

While the problem has since been corrected—Kunai is back up to a more reasonable score of 7.7—it pushed their game’s overall user score to abysmal levels and it exposed once again just how easy it is to manipulate user reviews to mess with game creators.

Kunai is a neat little action platformer about a computer tablet with ninja skills that arrived on Switch and PC on February 6. It’s TurtleBlaze’s second game, and as such, they were keeping a close eye on reviews in the weeks following its launch. On the 17th, they saw the user score had sunk.

“Review bombing,” or the act of relentlessly submitting negative review scores to aggregates like Metacritic in order to bring down the overall user score, occurs for various reasons. It can happen naturally, like when Warcraft 3 fans voiced their displeasure with the recent Reforged remaster en masse, or maliciously, such as Borderlands 3 getting decimated by negative scores on Steam because of its timed Epic Games Store exclusivity. In the case of Kunai, such a steep drop in a short amount of time signified to the developers that something abnormal was afoot.

After scouring the internet, the devs stumbled upon a now-deleted Reddit post that suggested that the Kunai review bombing was both fraudulent and carried out by a single person who appeared to have done this to another game as well.

TurtleBlaze say they realised just how easy it is to fake review scores on Metacritic upon personally investigating the issue. Unlike Steam, which requires users to have purchased the game before reviewing it, Metacritic user reviews are open to everyone as soon as they open an account. It’s as simple as signing up with a temporary email address, assigning a negative score, logging out, and repeating the cycle. I was able to create three new Metacritic accounts in rapid succession myself without my IP address setting off any alarms, as one might expect. And while I stopped short of scoring any games, it’s easy to see how this can be abused.

Kotaku asked Metacritic what the site currently does to prevent review bombing and whether they are looking at any additional stopgaps for situations like Kunai’s in the future.

“Metacritic takes issues of potential score manipulation seriously and has a number of policies in place to maintain score integrity,” a Metacritic spokesperson told Kotaku via email. “Moderators regularly review the site and remove any entries that do not fall within our guidelines in addition to a moderation queue where Metacritic users can flag unusual behaviour. Moderators then review and remove any entries that violate our terms of service.”

While it’s true that negative reviews are something all creative people need to grapple with, it shouldn’t be so easy to single-handedly tank a game’s reputation on a whim. Moderation can only do so much in the face of hundreds of bad faith attempts at bringing down a game’s score.


Comments

    Review bombers are the most pathetic man-children. SMFH...

      If it's for a good reason then I don't think it's pathetic necessarily, like when people review bomb company's for adding micro-transactions or loot boxes or most recently the Blitzchung.

      In this context it could be a personal grievance from what I would agree is a man-child, or the cynical side of me the company doing it themselves to generate press and draw attention too their game.

        It’s very rarely for a good reason. Gamers can be incredibly unforgiving and entitled. The smallest thing seems to set people off and we get these waves of vitriol and silly behaviour.

          I think one thing the article didn’t touch on, is gamers subscribing to a ‘console wars’ kind of mentality where they review bomb games which are not on their favourite platform. This happens constantly on metacritic and steam.

          So in your opinion the low user reviews of Battlefront and the recent Warcraft Reforged are symptoms of gamer entitlement?

          I will agree that a system that gives a voice to the loud few is very easy to abuse as stated in the article above. But misconstruing actual valid consumer complaints as "entitlement" doesn't help either.

          I swear gaming is the only commercial product in the world were we as consumers seem to be guilt tripped a lot with "put up or shut up" mentalities. You would never put up with a book with a page missing nor would you pay for a car with only 3 tires. This is not to say that there isn't a lot of entitled people out there. But generalisations are...well.. in general really bad. You loose a lot of the context of the situation by blanket general dismissal.

            No not at all. If there is valid reason for it it’s fine. But we live in an age of hyperbole and it’s not helpful to anyone.
            Someone might have a minor grievance with a game and score it 0/10 when that’s not really plausible or reasonable.

              Exactly. This is why I'm not a fan of Review bombing in general.

              Last edited 23/02/20 7:06 pm

            I mean, with the issues the games even out to kind of average, right? Like, if everyone was rating Warcraft Reforged a 3/5 because the single player's barely been touched but still plays fine but they broke the multiplayer, it'd still get the point across, but it's the hyperbole that sticks in my craw. A company is not actually capable of slapping you in the face, an ill-judged update or a shoddy product is not actually a betrayal, and a 1/5 with three all cap paragraphs invoking the culture wars is not an actual valid consumer complaint.

              Reforged went beyond just the it "broke multiplayer" though...

              It literally broke WC3 classic. Even if you had not updated you were forced to update to the new launcher which borked not only multiplayer but a huge plethora of legacy custom maps. Of course there's also the new ToS which severely limits some customisation because of the flow on effect of the ownership clause they put on maps.

              Reforged in a vaccuum is definitely 3 out 5 by being at best an average update to a game... the problem is Reforged borked not just itself but a lot of other aspects were also affected and you can't just ignore those when looking at the full product. And whilst yes its not a "betrayal" it's still a shoddy product (imagine if a car manufacturer releases a new model of car which ended up being a lemon and for some reason managed to affect older versions of the same model?) and you are more in you're right as a consumer to call that out... it's the hyperbole form making it too personal as mentioned above that really muddles the valid points. But those valid points still exists

            #NotAllGamers

            If the shoe doesn't fit, don't try putting it on, dipstick.

              Ermmm.. I'm confused mate..

              I practically just said not to generalise and youre telling me off to not generalise? Basically saying not all review bombs are man babies but can actually be a proper complaint ala wc3. Or is that hashtag meant to represent something else... i dont do twitter =P

            I'd say there's a clear difference between a few malicious actors intently weaponizing reviews to cause damage and when a whole gaming community reacts to a bad move because they have genuine grievances. I wouldn't call the latter -bombing at all.

      Ah you support Warcraft 3 refunded then

    Strange that they made an article about this game, But not the review bombing of AI: The Somnium Files. I wonder why hmmmmmm?

      I have legit, no idea what you're on about. Can you explain?

        It was a rather interesting social experiment if you want to believe the poster who did it.

        TLDR - fan of one of the characters in the game knew Metacritic was busted and wanted to prove you how easy it is to review bomb. Review bombs AI Somnium to make this point and documents it to show how easy it is.... sounds altruistic till its mentioned person also did it coz said person didn't like how a character was treated in the game *shrugs*

        Just run a search for "Ai Somnium review bomb" and you will get a few articles

          Thanks!

            I did see that, but was super strapped for time and never got around it to it, and it'd been a week old. At that point I figured either the US would pick it up, or another development would happen, but I just didn't have the time to get to the story.

              I found it quite interesting to read about. Even if it isnt breaking news, it still might make for an interesting followup editorial piece to show essentially how corruptable the system is?

                That's kind of what this story does, so it's hard to justify doing it again (until the issue props up again, at which point it'd make more sense and then you'd include the info about what happened to AI as part of that).

    They'd solve a very large part of this if they went the Steam route of only giving reviewers the option to thumbs up or thumbs down. Recommend or Do Not Recommend.

    There's several benefits to this. First of all, all the positive reviews equal out the negative ones. Instead of having a bunch of good-faith reviews awarding an average score, then a bunch of outraged reviews giving 1 point scores out of ten, which combined results in a below-average score, the relative power of the outraged bad-faith bombers is reduced to the same score impact as someone who recommends it.

    The second part is the importance of 'recommend'. Recommending something is subtly but significantly distinct from evaluating its quality. This allows people to say, "Don't buy this shit, the lootbox garbage is a cancer on the industry," without impugning the quality of the rest of the game. You remove the quibbling about, "How could it get such a low score when it's quality is so high?" and vice-versa, because quality isn't what's being reviewed by the user critics. It's whether they think it should be purchased.

    It's just a shame they can't do the verification of purchase that Steam does, but that's a massive flaw in the system... and a massive flaw in the bullshit Epic Game Store argument against having store-based reviews, directing users instead to individual review sites (often loaded with industry insiders who all too often and clearly have different priorities to consumers, who thanks to their closeness to the devs they regularly interview, hate consumers more than consumers do), or the deeply, deeply-flawed metacritic.

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