"In the end, we decided not to change the ways that players can review games, and instead focused on how potential purchasers can explore the review data."
- Valve's Alden Kroll, excerpted from a blog post explaining how the company thought about changing Steam's User Reviews system to stymie "review bombs", but decided against it.
In an effort to address the problem of Steam users "review bombing" games using the platform's User Reviews system, Valve is adding a graph (see examples below) to the store page of every game on Steam which aims to display the ratio of positive to negative user reviews that game has received over time, as well as warnings when high volumes of reviews are detected in a comparatively brief period.
The practice of review bombing (whereby people coordinate to leave negative user reviews and review scores en masse, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with the game's quality) is not new or unique to Steam, but it can be especially painful for devs who see their work tarred on one of the largest and most crowded game storefronts.
It's especially frustrating when you consider that Steam has systems in place to let people search for games based on their user reviews, which gives review bombs the power to cost devs visibility and sales.
Valve staffer Alden Kroll addresses some of these concerns in a lengthy post published to the blog today, noting that the company considered taking a more active role in preventing malicious review bombings but ultimately decided to add graphs instead.
"In the end, we decided not to change the ways that players can review games, and instead focused on how potential purchasers can explore the review data," Kroll stated, after explaining that Valve considered removing review scores, changing the way they're calculated, or taking a more hands-on approach by establishing a practice of temporarily locking a game's user reviews when someone detects a potential review bomb in progress.
Instead, writes Kroll, "each game page now contains a histogram of the positive to negative ratio of reviews over the entire lifetime of the game, and by clicking on any part of the histogram you're able to read a sample of the reviews from that time period. As a potential purchaser, it's easy to spot temporary distortions in the reviews, to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it's something you care about. This approach has the advantage of never preventing anyone from submitting a review, but does require slightly more effort on the part of potential purchasers."
This is the latest in Valve's ongoing efforts to improve Steam's user reviews system, and Kroll closes his post by acknowledging that this change may be revisited when Valve eventually implements what he calls "personalized review scores, where our prediction of your happiness with a purchase is based upon the games you've enjoyed in the past."
Update: When asked by Gamasutra about whether Valve has any plans to further combat the practice of review-bombing, and to what extent such practices affect a game's visibility on Steam, a Valve representative pased along the following comment from Kroll:
"At the moment, user reviews and scores are just one small part of data used in the Store and display algorithms. We don’t have plans to change that. We do plan to continue iterating on the overall functionality of the user review system to work best for developers and customers."