Review Bombing

Three years ago, I wrote a post called The Weaponization of QQ in which I discussed “review bombing,” e.g. the practice of people writing negative user reviews out of spite. At the time, one of the particular objects of ire was Mass Effect 3. The user rating has trended upwards from 3.7 to today’s 5.4, but there remains 2518 positive vs 2372 negative reviews. And the vast, vast majority of the latter straight-up include passages such as the following:

I would have given this [Mass Effect 3] just a five, as it’s just that, an average game. However, since it’s clear that Bioware bribed journalists and reviewers to give their game a good review, I decided to counter the inflated reviewer scores and give this game a zero.

Now in the waning days of 2015, I am here to say that the practice is, unfortunately, alive and well.

One of the more topical targets is Fallout 4, which also sits at 5.4, primarily due to “reviews” like this:

Overrated Bethesda is back at it again, and they created another piece of garbage idiots to j!zz over. For starters this isn’t a 0/10, it’s more of a 4/10 but I’m trying to even the score because the fanboys are giving the game a 10/10 without explaining anything.

The above opening continues with some actual criticism of game mechanics and such, which puts it in a shockingly vanishing minority of these sort of reviews. Many are just like this:

Slacktivism at it's finest.

Slacktivism at it’s finest.

It is not entirely clear how many of these people even played the game.

Fallout 4 is not, of course, the only high-profile victim. Even media darlings like GTA 5 are not immune:

Useful.

Useful.

Back in June, I had to scroll through thirty-eight (38!) negative Steam reviews to find even one that contained useful information about the actual game. The rest were simply outrage over one of the Steam sales in which Rockstar apparently increased the price ahead of the sale, via adding in-game currency as the only available bundle, thereby possibly disabling Steam refunds. Which is certainly an entirely valid concern by itself, but not one that really has anything to do with reviewing the game.

The first time I brought this up, I was concerned about what possible effects these user review bombings might have on the direction of developer game design. Now? I’m much more concerned about how devalued this practice has rendered user reviews and, by extension, all our opinions. Perhaps developers have never been overtly concerned with user reviews, so review bombing doesn’t matter. But they mattered a bit for me, when determining if a game might be worth playing. And now that resource is gone, to be replaced with the outrage of the day.

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Posted on December 15, 2015, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Steam has become hopelessly cryptic to me when it comes to the review section. The other day I ended up on Pewdiepie’s game page (don’t ask) and arched an eyebrow at Steam’s top summary which said “very positive” overall reviews. The actual comment section is all red and took significant scrolling to the first positive review. I also noticed that other users can not only score usefulness of a review now but whether they found a review “funny”…..erm wutt? When did this happen?

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    • Yeah, Steam reviews seem to almost universally be jokes at this point. Stuff like “Played: 750 hours” with a thumbs-down and “Game is okay” text. Adding in the Funny button was probably an attempt at preventing these jokes from floating to the top of the Helpful queue, but I don’t think anyone is paying attention to that button.

      I was mainly looking at the Steam reviews to see if there were still bugs, glitches, and so on, but now I can’t even see that.

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  2. User reviews to me tend to be all strong magnetic poles at the 0 or 10 ends. The only user comments I trust are in decent gaming forums where I know how valuable the opinions of the individual posters are about a new release.

    Jim Sterling also wrote a post a while back about the awful Fallout 4 user reviews:
    http://www.thejimquisition.com/2015/11/metabombed-fallout-4-is-vomit-trash/

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  3. I rarely read game reviews. On the few occasions I do I read them for entertainment not information. I do, however, use the reviews on Booking.com and, less frequently, TripAdvisor rigorously and exhaustively before traveling. I also use Amazon’s reviews heavily before buying almost anything I’m not already familiar with.

    While the travel and shopping sites have had their own problems with reviews, by and large they remain both respected and used. They certainly have value in any purchasing decision. Interestingly, I would say that even game reviews on Amazon are reasonably well-argued, by and large. Some of them are longer than the average blog post at least.

    Why would it be that Steam, which should logically be another fairly authoritative source of recounted experiences, fails to provide similar useful bench-marking? Is it the moderation and/or posting rules they use? Is it lack of response from the game developers (hotel owners are often very willing to respond and counter criticisms on the travel sites, I’ve noticed). Or is it, as I suspect, that gaming as understood by self-identifying has a lot more similarities with sports than with entertainment? Pick a team, stick with it no matter, and do everything you can to knock every team that isn’t yours every opportunity you get?

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  4. I find it both funny and sad that people are still so upset that new Fallout isn’t old Fallout. I loved them when they were CRPGs too, but 3 games and 17 years later it might be time to get over the fact that the series now consists of open world shooters. They should stay out of review spaces and just play Wasteland 2.

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    • I agree. I was as shocked as everyone else when Fallout 3 ended up being 3D. And while there is something to be said about the dialog/plotlines in the older titles, the change to an open-world has become more of the soul of Fallout (or what it should be) than the originals IMO.

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  5. Only a dummy looks at something like a Steam or Metacritic ‘user review score’ total for value, so in that regard review bombing is a non-factor. It does create a lot of clutter, but at least on Steam with the review flagging system, the actually helpful reviews float to the top (though even that system isn’t 100%).

    As for value in individual reviews, its a lot like blog reading; if a little bit of effort you eventually find the worthwhile ones, and read/trust that source, while ignoring the rest.

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  6. “Now? I’m much more concerned about how devalued this practice has rendered user reviews and, by extension, all our opinions.”

    How devalued? Completely. User reviews have absolutely zero value now. Unless a person commenting on a game is someone I know personally or online, their opinion means absolutely nothing to me when it comes to the quality of a game. I think there’s actually a very good chance that they have never even played the game, and are just nursing a grudge against the developer/publisher, or expressing a fanboy excitement about how good they think the game will be.

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  7. You can look at the aggregate score, but you do have to do a sniff test on the negative reviews to make sure they are actually relevant. Amazon has this sometimes, where people will complain about the price or whatnot in their 1 star review while making no mention of product quality.

    I don’t know where the fallout thing comes from though, surely people now are not expecting a 180 swerve back to the good old days.

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    • i wrote a long rant about lack of story cohesion and proper motivation for the story protagonista, not to mention afer we finish the game, there are no consequences to the decisions made until then.

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  8. I think it is actually the scoring system which is to blame. 5-10 grades scoring systems are too complicated for average user/consumer. When I decided to grade movies all movies I watched on IMDB it took me a lot of time(literally years) , contemplation and refinement to settle on a system. I re-rated many of my movies several times. Sometimes it takes some serious thinking to figure out what movie should be graded as (10 – only ten movies ever I can I rate as 10, 9 – masterpiece, 8 – movie of the year caliber , 7- worth time spent watching, 6 – average, time not entirely wasted, 5 – not worth the time, 4 and below – various grades of shit)

    You only need 10 grade system for serious critics, professionals and hobbyists – those who understand their subject in depth and have wide perspective.

    For everybody else you only need “Like/Dislike”. Tinder and Steam have it right

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