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Valve intervened in 44 ‘review bomb’ incidents on Steam last year

The hands-on approach segregates malicious reviews, helping to normalize ratings on Steam

Image: Steam
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.

The practice of “review bombing,” waging malicious campaigns with the intent to lower the rating of a game, has been a longstanding problem online. Early last year, Valve announced new measures to combat review bombs on the Steam marketplace. In a blog post on Wednesday, the PC games giant says its new process has been effective, so much so that it’s been used more than 40 times in less than a year.

To get a feeling for the impact that review bombing can have on a game’s digital footprint, one need not look any further than the current controversy surrounding Warcraft 3: Reforged. More than 26,830 fans upset by the condition of the remake have gone to Metacritic to lower its user score to 0.5 out of 100. That makes it the platform’s lowest-ranked game of all time. On Steam, user reviews impact discoverability, changing what games are offered to consumers on a very crowded marketplace. As a result, review bombs can have a big impact on sales.

While customers are clearly reacting to the quality of Blizzard’s latest real-time strategy remake, in many instances review bombing campaigns have more to do with political or cultural issues. Valve’s new process distinguishes between what could otherwise be considered valid reviews and these kinds of “off-topic” reviews.

“We define an off-topic review bomb as one where the focus of those reviews is on a topic that we consider unrelated to the likelihood that future purchasers will be happy if they buy the game,” Valve said in March 2019, “and hence not something that should be added to the Review Score.”

Once the start date and end date of an off-topic review bombing campaign have been determined, Steam isolates all of the reviews entered by users during that period and segregates them from the game’s overall score. Valve says it’s done that exactly 44 times in the last 10 months, and will continue to do so in 2020.

“Users Reviews are consistently one of the most used features on the Store,” Valve said in this week’s blog post. “It’s important that they are accurate and trustworthy.”

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