Valve has announced new measures to tackle review bombing on Steam, and will soon begin ensuring that "off-topic" review activity isn't reflected within a game's overall store rating.
Review bombing, in Steam's case, refers to instances when large numbers of users descend on a game's store page over a short period of time and leave negative reviews in order to create an artificially low rating for that title, usually as a means of 'punishing' developers and publishers. Crucially, review bombing frequently has little to do with the actual quality of game.
Users recently took to Metro 2033 Redux's Steam page in droves, for instance, leaving negative reviews in protest of publisher Deep Silver's dalliances with Epic Games to make Metro Exodus a timed-exclusive on the latter's store. Critically acclaimed Taiwanese horror title Devotion, meanwhile, felt the full force of review bombing when Chinese gamers took offence at the inclusion of a meme referencing president Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh.
In a new blog post, Valve says that it's been continuously monitoring feedback regarding Steam's review system, and that "it's clear to us that players value reviews highly, and want us to ensure they're accurate and trustworthy. Developers understand that they're valuable to players, but want to feel like they're being treated fairly."
As a result, Valve will soon begin using its analysis tools to identify "off-topic" review bombs and exclude them from a game's Steam review score. In this case, Valve defines "off-topic" as when 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".
Off-topic discussion, Valve says, will also include issues around DRM and EULA. Its reasoning being that the "general" Steam player doesn't care as much about them, so the Review Score is more accurate if it doesn't contain them".
Valve's tools will monitor reviews across the whole of Steam, and, once "anomalous" activity is identified, a team within the company will be alerted. If unusual activity is determined to be off-topic review bombing, developers will be contacted and all reviews within a set time period will be subtracted from the review score. Unfortunately, one side effect is that legitimate reviews also won't be reflected during that time period.
Importantly, an affected store page will clearly state that off-topic reviews have been excluded, and all reviews will remain visible, ensuring players can still browse them to determine whether discussion points are relevant to their purchase. Finally, Valve notes, Steam users can opt out of this new system altogether, so that all reviews are still reflected within a review score.