Steam platform-holder Valve reveals its plans to tackle ‘review bombing’ on the PC gaming platform. The company hopes to address the issue, which has been used as a form of harassment and abuse against game developers, by giving users access to more data.
But while some have praised the company for finally highlighting the problem, others are furious and say that Valve has not gone far enough.
Steam Review Bombing: What is It and Why is Valve Being Criticised?
We're filing a DMCA takedown of PewDiePie's Firewatch content and any future Campo Santo games.
— Sean Vanaman (@vanaman) September 10, 2017
Review bombing is the act of flooding a game’s Steam Store page with negative reviews. While it has been used in some cases to highlight features that negatively impact player’s enjoyment of a game (e.g a lack of proper language support or a bad business practice), it is more commonly used to protest a developer’s political stance or comments that have been made outside the game with no impact on the game itself.
This has been an issue for quite some time, but things recently came to a head after Firewatch developer Campo Santo filed a copyright takedown against YouTuber PewDiePie over his use of the n-word. The developer rightfully did not want itself or its game to be associated with someone who used racist language, but some weren’t happy with the company’s actions and filed negative reviews on the Firewatch Steam page to have their voices heard.
The issue has also affected Valve-developed games like Dota 2, while Read Only Memories was also hit with negative reviews after developer Midboss took a stand President Donald Trump and his heinous policies.
Cut to yesterday. In a post addressing the review bombing problem, engineer Alden Kroll explained that Valve had considered introducing a temporary lock on reviews or removing the Review Score (which looks at reviews overall and provides an overall ‘Negative/Positive’ rating). But ultimately, the company settled on introducing a histogram that would allow potential buyers to look at a section of reviews and asses how the game was received before or after the review bomb hit.
By and large, this is a poor solution. Not only do some fear that it will encourage or even aid review bombers, by giving them more data to help gamify their actions, these histograms are not turned on by default. As such, it’s up to the consumer to go looking for them and when they do see them, the data and the graphs difficult to understand.
While you would hope that everyone is making informed purchase decision, for a lot of people that isn’t the case and deciding between of ‘buy’ or ‘avoid’ is often based on a snap judgement, influenced by reviews. The fact that negative reviews can be up-voted by review bombing mobs and therefore become the first review a prospective buyer sees is also another part of the problem.
To +1 this, steam needs to step up and have an actual abuse/safety department or representative instead of choosing to ignore abuse. https://t.co/juAsAUpuAa
— a haute mess🌹🏴 (@UnburntWitch) September 14, 2017
The other side to this is that it conveniently ignores what developers and players have been asking for: a human-staffed moderation and review team. As the Firewatch review bomb campaign ramped up, indie game developer Zoe Quinn tweeted that “steam needs to step up and have an actual abuse/safety department or representative instead of choosing to ignore abuse.”
In the thread above, Quinn also detailed her own experience with Steam saying that when she reached out to Valve for help on a harassment-related issue, the company essentially told her that she was on her own.
And despite the name, review bombing is not generally restricted to the reviews section. As Campo Santo has discovered, disgruntled often take to a game’s Steam forums to voice their anger too. Firewatch lead artist Jane Ng saw “violent language on steam forum, which I’ve never actually seen before” while dealing with the hateful threads and messages left in the game’s forums.
*puts on Hamilton soundtrack*
Time to ban some gators shitting up the Firewatch steam forums again, just like old times
— Jane Ng (@thatJaneNg) September 11, 2017
Earlier this year I wrote an in-depth report for New Normative about Steam and how the platform can be a nightmare for marginalised game developers and inclusive games. I spoke to several indie developers, who cited hateful messages like this as a major headache for them, and many suggested that Valve could offer more support for affected creators and improve moderation support.
Replying to Ng, Firewatch designer Nels Anderson said that “it is pretty spectacular how bad Steam’s moderation tools are for stuff like this,” with Ng highlighting the lack of an option for mass deletion of forum threads as one area of frustration. A lack of tools like this, including things like the lack of reporting option for comments (you can currently only report the accounts that left the comment) only make the situation that much harder to deal with.
Of course there is no guarantee that with a team of human moderators, Steam’s will suddenly be fixed. But it would give developers the time to focus on their games instead of handling the hateful mobs, who are angry just because a developer made a game about refugees or included a transgender NPC.
There are several pillars to this problem, with Valve also needing to combat hateful Steam groups, but a group of moderation focused humans would be a much-needed start. Right now the situation is untenable and so the sooner Valve puts some human-power behind it, the better.
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