Valve’s Steam gaming platform pledges new approach to review bombs

Off-topic review bombs are at the heart of changes which have not met with full applause.

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Valve has pledged to tackle fake and untrustworthy reviews which taint the feedback system of its gaming platform Steam, but the proposed changes have not been met positively by all quarters.

Valve is specifically focusing on what is known as review bombing -- "where players post a large number of reviews in a short period of time, aimed at lowering the Review Score of a game," according to the firm.

So-called off-topic review bombing is when Valve considers the nature of game feedback as "unrelated to the likelihood that future purchasers will be happy if they buy the game," and therefore should not impact Review Scores.

Review bombing has been seen not only across gaming platforms but everything from restaurant Yelp reviews to hotels. The concept has become a way for the general public at large to show their displeasure at something, but it must also be noted that rapid-fire criticism levied in a short amount of time can be perfectly legitimate when a newly-released product fails to meet past promises or expectations.

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In a blog post published last week, Valve said that "we've continued to listen to feedback from both players and developers," and the changes have been made "to ensure that players who've played a game can voice their opinions about why other people should or shouldn't buy the game."

Valve says that from now on, off-topic review bombs will be identified and removed.

To identify them, the company says it has built a tool which will hunt down and identify "anomalous review activity on all games on Steam" for review by a human team of investigators.

"We've already run our tool across the entire history of reviews on Steam, identifying many reasons why games have seen periods of anomalous review activity, and off-topic review bombs appear to only be a small number of them," Valve says.

The time period of the review bomb is then marked and sent to the developer, and all reviews within this period are then deleted from the Review Score.

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While this means the score is changed, Valve says that the reviews themselves will all remain available -- but each one which has been removed from the overall score will be marked. Users can also choose whether or not to show reviews that land in review bomb territory through their Steam Store options.

As a blanket-deletion practice, this will affect legitimate reviews in the timeframe and stop them from changing review scores. Valve says this is the case because it "isn't feasible for us to read every single review" within a review bomb time period.

The company will only apply the new procedures to new review bombs and the firm has no plans to "unilaterally grandfather in what's happened in the past."

When it comes to Digital Rights Management (DRM) and End-User License Agreements (EULA), despite them being of real concern to many players, Valve has decided that both DRM and EULA are now off-topic review bombs as the "general" Steam player isn't too bothered about them.

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"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," Valve says. "It only takes a minute to dig into those reviews to see if the issue is something you care about."

The company's more proactive stance on reviews is aimed at making sure customers can "trust the system" and for feedback mechanisms to maintain their value. However, some Steam users criticized the move on the announcement blog post, with mention of censorship and worries that reviews would become "meaningless" if censored by administrators.

Earlier this month, Valve banned an upcoming game from the platform which glorified rape, violence, and sexual abuse against women. Valve said that publishing the game on the Steam platform "posed unknown costs and risks."

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