What if: Steam reviews actually worked?

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Steam User Reviews debuted in 2013 and has since become an important part of Valve’s PC gaming platform. But reviews have become a big deal too – perhaps not so much for Valve as it is for developers trying to get their games noticed in a catalog that now includes over 30,000 titles. Angry users can bombard a game with negative reviews for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the game itself, reducing its discoverability and potentially dooming it financially. So what if they actually work?

The first big problem with Steam reviews is the one they share with professional reviews: aggregation. Of course, there is some appeal to the idea of ​​watching a single issue that perfectly sums up a vast body of opinions about a new game, but crucial information and context is lost when even a review is reduced to that, not to mention a lot of them. A reviewer didn’t spend 30 or more hours playing and thinking about a game just to generate a number between one and ten in their head. There are reasons for every score, and each outlet awards them in its own way. It is simply not possible to capture these nuances in a number, let alone a metacritical aggregation of dozens of these scores, which may reflect entirely different standards and methods of review from site to site.

Likewise, while many Steam reviews also devote a lot of time, thought, and effort to the reviews they post, the only meaningful metric is that generated by aggregating all reviews posted on a game. be “mostly positive,” “extremely negative,” or whatever descriptor Valve assigned to the particular ratio of positive and negative reviews the game received.

In addition to the loss of nuance that inevitably accompanies aggregation, Steam reviews are very often not used as reviews at all. The recent launch of New World is a perfect example of the system used as a bug reporting tool. As of this writing, New World has “mixed” reviews on Steam, with 54% of its staggering 50,233 reviews marked as positive. Among the negative reviews, most cite long queues – a phenomenon that has hampered the launch of even the best MMOs since time immemorial. It is a sentiment that is echoed in our own critique of the New World. Those wait times will likely be resolved in a matter of weeks, as has been the case with other MMO launches, but that “mixed” review score will take months or years to change, if at all.

Often times Steam reviewers will say that they will change their rating to ‘thumbs up’ once the issue they are reporting is resolved, but the developers I spoke with have found that this usually doesn’t happen. There are countless examples of negative reviews written by players who say they love the game, with the exception of one very specific technical issue that they want the developers to address.

Can it really be said that No Man’s Sky took five years to get good?

In some cases, these reviews may also be left for misinformed or extremely inaccurate reasons. While there are certainly legitimate concerns about Denuvo anti-piracy DRM, some corners of Reddit tend to blame it for any issues, real or imagined, that a game might have. So any developer who uses it should be punished, according to logic, even when Denuvo is not causing any noticeable performance issues.

For developers, a game that scores less than a “very positive” rating on Steam can be disastrous, and it is extremely unfair that their financial fortunes are tied to a system of reviews so frequently and easily misused, that either as a coercive bug reporting tool or as a means of punishing perceived offenses.

A Steam review of New World

For readers in the English-speaking territories who might cringe at the slightest suggestion that Steam reviews are “unfair,” as opposed to a vital means of expressing their consumer rights, it may perhaps be easier to see the problem. when the example used is a flood of negative reviews from Chinese gamers about what they perceive to be objectionable content: their fury at an image discovered in Red Candle Games’ Devotion led to the game being taken off the Steam list and its publisher to lose its commercial license.

reviews may be left for misinformed or inaccurate reasons

I want to be extremely clear that I am not pressuring Valve to get rid of Steam reviews. It would be futile anyway, but more importantly, the developers I spoke with said that while the shortcomings of Steam’s user review system can be frustrating, it can also be an extremely useful tool. Developers keep a close eye on their Steam discussion boards and reviews, and often use them to identify the issues that are causing players the most friction in their game.

No Man’s Sky provides an instructive example, both on what’s good and what isn’t with Steam reviews. After an infamous launch, Hello Games set out to improve the ambitious space game, and a year later it was widely hailed for achieving an astonishing turnaround. However, its Steam reviews only entered “mostly positive” territory in September of this year, five years after launch and with many more updates. Can he really to be argued that No Man’s Sky took so long to get good? Does anybody really Do you think Konami’s eFootball 2022 is the worst game ever to appear on Steam?

Swimming in No Man's Sky

One potential improvement could be to encourage users who continue to play a game after leaving a negative review to come back and possibly update it after a certain number of hours of play. This could help take the burden off the developers. negative ramifications following a first wave of negative reviews, provided some of the launch day issues and lingering bugs are fixed. This would leave users feeling empowered to leave other meaningful comments.

It would also benefit Steam customers, who would see an aggregated review description that more accurately reflects the state of the game as they consider a purchase, rather than the state it was in shortly after launch.

This idea appears to align with Valve’s stated priorities for curation on Steam: it would be both automated and low-impact, requiring no prescriptive intervention from company employees after being developed and deployed. It’s just a simple nudge – perhaps similar to the one that encourages players to leave a review in the first place.

Character models in eFootbal 2022

Obviously, this wouldn’t help curb the bombing campaigns, which are deliberately designed to sink a game’s financial future, but it would be a step in the right direction. Other ideas could also be considered: Developers have a way to appeal reviews that make patently bogus claims, but it’s not clear how quickly Valve needs to respond. The system could be strengthened with additional tools and increased attention to moderation.

Again, none of this is to say that Steam reviews should be abolished – they’re an important part of what makes Steam such a valuable resource. The developers generally recognize that while the rating system is sometimes vulnerable to exploitation, it is also a major channel for collecting player feedback, which they can then use to improve. their games. Much like these games, however, Steam critics could still use a few more post-launch updates.

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