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Steam has a new roadblock to combat so-called ‘review bombs’

Surely this will solve the problem. Surely.

Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Steam, the leading online marketplace for PC games, has a problem with so-called “review bombs,” where groups of users band together to diminish the ratings of certain games. To help combat the practice, owner Valve is implementing a new system to track helpful and unhelpful reviews — and the users who choose them.

When Steam users dive into the reviews section of a given game, there’s an option to select if a given review was helpful or not.

It seems that not only are users writing bad review en masse, they’re then going back and marking other bad reviews as helpful in the hope of artificially promoting them to the front page.

How big of a problem is this practice?

“Of the 11 million people that have used the helpful buttons,” Valve said, “most follow a reasonable pattern of usage: Typical players rate a few reviews as helpful or unhelpful while deciding whether to make a purchase. However, we found a small set of users on the far extreme that are clearly trying to accomplish something quite different from normal players, and are rating more than 10,000 reviews as helpful or unhelpful on a single game.

“This behavior is not only humanly impossible, but definitely not a thoughtful indication of how 'helpful' each of those reviews were.”

You don’t say...

Valve has made a brilliant (read: cold and mathematical) decision to deprecate the opinions of those who are gaming the system.

“Our system will use a new method of calculating the helpfulness of each review,” it said, “taking into account the users that are trying to manipulate the system. ... Ratings from users that follow normal patterns of rating will continue to be counted the same way that they have, whereas accounts that rate an excessive number of reviews on an individual game will see the weight of each individual rating count for less and less.”

That means that Valve is using a statistical algorithm to hunt for trolls. It’s making a list, if you will, and it’s checking it twice. And that’s not all. Store pages will now show a proportionate number of good and bad reviews based on the overall review score on each game. If it’s 80 percent positive, Valve says, eight out of the top 10 reviews will be positive as well.

“This should keep the reviews shown on a game's page from being so easily manipulated by a few determined players and should more accurately represent the overall sentiment of the people playing the game.”

The new system is live on beta servers right now.

Happy holidays, trolls.

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