In an effort to combat review bombing, Valve has updated how user reviews are handled on Steam.
As outlined in a new blog post, Steam will soon be implementing a feature that checks for unusual review activity—such as sudden spikes in negative reviews—across all Steam games. This unusual activity is then flagged and sent to a team at Valve for manual review. This team determines whether the spike is due to legitimate criticism about the game or is instead due to what the company labels “off-topic review bombs”. Valve defines an off-topic review bomb as “one where 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, and hence not something that should be added to the Review Score.”
If the review bomb is determined to be off-topic, Steam will isolate the time frame of the review bomb and remove the reviews within that window from the game’s Steam Review Score. It is worth noting that the reviews themselves will not be removed, but rather made hidden so that those who are still interested in them can still find them. Steam users will be able to set whether or not the store page automatically ignores off-topic review bombs in its Review Score calculation.
Valve also noted that review bombings due to DRM and EULA changes will be considered off-topic and therefore also removed from the review score calculation. As the blog states:
We had long debates about these two, and others like them. They’re technically not a part of the game, but they are an issue for some players. In the end, we’ve decided to define them as off-topic review bombs. Our reasoning is 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. In addition, we believe that players who do care about topics like DRM are often willing to dig a little deeper into games before purchasing – which is why we still keep all the reviews within the review bombs. It only takes a minute to dig into those reviews to see if the issue is something you care about.
This new process is the latest of Valve’s attempts to combat ill-intentioned reviews. Back in 2017, Steam implemented the ability to view a histogram of positive/negative reviews on games’ store pages to better inform users about the game’s review trends. In 2016, the company introduced new ways to filter reviews by verified purchasers. Despite these measures, it was still relatively easy for review bombers to shift the Review Score of a game with a little coordinated effort, as was the case with Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033 after Metro Exodus became an Epic Store exclusive. This new policy is hopefully a step in the right direction for combating the coordinated misuse of reviews.