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April 22, 2021
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Steam Reviews – a harsh place to be if you EVER make a mistake

by Paul Johnson on 08/04/15 05:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It took a very long while to get our Combat Monsters game approved through greenlight and out onto the Steam store. So much so that in truth we'd kinda written this off and forgotten about it, assuming it would never happen. If asked when caught at a more enthusiastic moment, I'd reply that I hoped it would happen "one day", but my heart wasn't in it.

Then that day suddenly happened, we just got a random email from Valve that our game had shot from about "88% off the top 100" to "Approved" in one fell swoop. We were elated at this news and dropped everything to get the Steam version up to speed and published - adding the achievements, doing the payment processing, making the store page, stuff like that.

In our mad rush though, we'd forgotten to step back and actually make a good job of finishing off the PC version for the public. All our games are developed cross platform, so we do day to day development on PC as a matter of course, it's just easier that way. That does mean though that we'd simply got used to there being a PC version already, and nobody realised it wasn't "final". Basic stuff was missing such as keyboard shortcuts, better screen layouts, etc.

We'd also left in some rather aggressive upselling of the items you can purchase in game. On mobile this is kinda needed to some extent, as players typically don't spend too much time looking at a new game and you have to show them everything asap, including the money options if you want to get paid. On PC though this comes across as pushy and greedy, and boy did the public let us know!

As a small indie, we've never had much luck getting major press and media attention, but the stuff we did get was often less than complementary - and fully deserved. More damaging still were the negative "not recommended" player reviews left right there on the store page, leading us to the dreaded "mixed" summary that's killed many a game.

In short we blew it. Big time.

The negative comments about being greedy etc., hit me particularly hard as it couldn't be further from the truth. (If anyone wants to go and make a side by side monetisation comparison with Combat Monsters versus some of the bigger brand games in this genre, please do so and get back to me. Whenever I do that, it makes my head spin. There is definite greed in this marketplace but it ain't from us!)

Come on buddy, tell me what you really think

Not quite sure what mission this guy above was on, but when you upset someone on the internet, you usually pay full price. He's even making stuff up to keep the fire burning.

Anyway, that's enough snivelling, now to the point of it: We fixed all this about six months ago. Not just that, but since then we've also shipped a number of massive game expansions, drastically increasing the amount of play options to way, way beyond our competitors.

And it's done us no good at all. Since that first fix, we've had almost exclusively good player reviews, often waxing at length about how generous the game is, the wealth of options, how easy it is to play for free, the works. All stuff we want (and are glad) to hear because it's what we intended, and more in keeping with our outlook generally. We're no longer seen as these greedy and pushy chancers we never were.

Feels more like it

However, because the headline summary still says "mixed", a lot of potential players still skip right on by. I can't blame anyone for that as I do it myself. Whether it's fair or not, "mixed" is synonymous with "crap" to many people, especially when there's so much other choice available.

Apple have a system on their App Store where they show all reviews, but they prioritise ones based on newer versions of the App. More importantly, the average player rating is calculated from ONLY the latest build. If there aren't enough new reviews in yet, it simply says so and doesn't show a score at all.

If our Steam presence worked the same way, I'm pretty sure that by now we'd be well into "mostly positive" territory, maybe in the hallowed "overwhelmingly positive". And biased as I am, I think that would be totally fair tbh. We listened to our complaints, fixed all the issues and represented our game to the world anew. Since then, we've had nothing but positive feedback from the small numbers of players we do pick up. But our "score" is still based heavily on a version so old now that nobody can even remember it, and it's still doing damage.

Please Valve, put some work into this. You're losing out too.

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