Valve looks to curb review bombing on Steam

'Off-topic review bombing' has become a real problem over the past couple of years. Valve is finally looking to address it.

Steam creator Valve will begin implementing a system to address “review bombing” on the platform, Valve announced in a blog post last week. A review bomb is when a large number of players post negative reviews in a short span of time—typically, it’s not necessarily players who’ve played the game. Instead, it’s players upset with the developer or game for any number of reasons.

Valve said it’s been developing tools that can “identify off-topic review bombs” and then remove those reviews from an overall review score. An off-topic review bomb is defined by Valve as as a negative review that’s not directly related to anything that’ll help another player determine if they’ll like the game—and thus, be happy with their purchase. It’s tricky, Valve said, “because there’s a wide range of things that players care about.”

The developer said it’s built a tool that monitors activity in “as close to real-time as possible.” When it notices anomalous activity on a game’s review score, it sends out a notification to a team at Valve who’ll then go check out the situation. From there, the reviews might be removed from the review score during the timeframe deemed the review bomb period—but they’ll remain on the Steam page for anyone to see if they go looking. The problem here is that all reviews during this period will be marked as an off-topic review bomb, even if they’re a legitimate review. Valve said that review bombs are often “temporary distortions,” though, so the review score will still be accurate even if some legitimate reviews are removed from the score.

Valve is also allowing players to opt out of the system by choosing to still see review scores that have been review bombed and removed from the score for other users.

“While we’re working on some other features around user reviews, we thought this one was worth shipping by itself,” Valve wrote. Valve did not explain the further changes.

Reasons for review bombs often vary, but generally, it’s a practice used as a way to protest a decision made by the game’s developers. Taiwanese horror game Devotion was review bombed by Chinese players in late February after a political meme was discussed in the game’s assets. In January, it was THQ Nordic that was the target of fan ire, with Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Lightreview bombed on Steam after the developer announced Metro Exodus would be a timed exclusive on the Epic Store. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, too, was review bombed in October 2018 after the game was discounted by 34 percent—fans who bought the game at full price were upset at the price cut shortly after launch.

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Nicole Carpenter is a writer and reporter from Massachusetts.

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