Betacritic: Valve Adds Community-Powered Steam Reviews

By Nathan Grayson on November 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Everyone’s a critic. No seriously, pretty much everyone is inherently critical of at least a few things. Now, very, very, very few people are actually good critics, but that’s an entirely different discussion for another time. Point is, user review systems are now built into everything from Amazon to the walls of most public bathrooms (kinda), so Steam is following suit. Soon, you’ll be able to write your own game reviews, vote on other users’ all-caps bellowed missives, and follow along with folks whose tastes sync up with yours. The system is now in beta. More below, though after having written this post for only a couple minutes, I’m already prepared to declare it the worst of all time NEGATIVE THIRTY SEVEN BANANA APPLESAUCE OUT OF TEN.

On the upside, Steam’s user reviews don’t come with arbitrary scores, opting instead for a simple thumbs up/down approach. Also, users can’t review games they haven’t at least in some way used in conjunction with Steam. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have purchased a game through Steam, but if it’s never been on your list – whether via an activation, Steam key, free weekend, or family share – then no dice.

Beyond that, it’s a fairly standard setup. You can vote your favorite reviews to the top of their respective games’ pages, track authors, and report reviews that you deem to be spammy or abusive. If developers choose to dive into the crowded critical morass and respond, their comments will be highlighted accordingly. Metacritic scores, meanwhile, aren’t being replaced. Rather, user review data will be displayed alongside them.

Now, I do see some potential problems issues here. People are quite fond of using report systems to shut down opinions that aren’t necessarily spammy or mean-spirited, but instead are simply opposed to their own. Valve’s gonna have to do a lot of up-close-and-personal monitoring and communication to keep this system in check, and that’s, er, never really been their thing, to put it lightly. Good user reviews are a handy additional resource, but poorly moderated communities just treat them as a new source of fuel for their flame wars. It’s tricky to maintain a balance between those two ends of the spectrum.

Best of luck to Valve on that, but even though the system’s only in beta right now, I’m already prepared to give it SEVENTEEN SEVERED APE THUMBS DOWN OUT OF THAT ONE SUPER UNDERRATED SCENE FROM THE NEW THOR MOVIE (YOU KNOW THE ONE). 

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90 Comments »

  1. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Unfortunately there’s an arbitrary limit on how long each review can be.

    • misterT0AST says:

      I hate character limits. I had this very long and deep analysis of what Kingdom of Amalur was and was not, that I posted as a response to a guy asking “should I buy it?” in the comment section of this site, well it never showed up. So I took a deep breath and wrote it again from scratch. Again, nothing showed up. I did this three times. You can imagine my frustration. Later I found out that any comment with too many new lines are automatically classified as spam and never shown, without any warning of it happening. It’s a weird measure, because when my mother-in-law working from home decides to post how much she earns from home she doesn’t seem to have any trouble.

      • Premium User Badge Ninja Dodo says:

        Use Notepad and copy paste. Never write long text directly in a web browser.

        • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

          I actually use the “Lazarus” add-on for firefox, which autosaves the text you input in (almost) every web site every so often, and lets you recover it at any time. Really useful for avoiding frustrations like that

          • kevinspell says:

            Sir, I bow to and bestow upon you only the greatest honors.

          • AngoraFish says:

            I love you so much right now…

          • Reapy says:

            While the addon is probably best, in a pinch just get in the habit of crtl a, l c before you submit anything of length that you care about. If it all goes to hell you can still get a text editor open and save what’s in the buffer.

          • Reapy says:

            Ipad editing blows. Key combo is ctrl A, ctrl C

          • mouton says:

            @Reapy

            I do the same – If I am in the midst of writing an ESPECIALLY brilliant long post, I have a habit of copypasting it to notepad just in case. Never know when a site decides to eat it.

          • Flea says:

            Yeh, I used to rely on ctrl+A and ctrl+C until one day I wrote a long comment somewhere, marked the whole text with ctrl+A and then somehow let go of the ctrl key and hit C. My long comment was now a single letter.

          • Josh W says:

            Me too, but if you’re using firefox, you can right click that comment field and choose undo.

          • jrodman says:

            That sounds nice, but I prefer the It’s All Text addon, which lets me edit all my comments in vim.

            That way I always have a backup, and I can use a proper editor as well.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            Flea said: “Yeh, I used to rely on ctrl+A and ctrl+C until one day I wrote a long comment somewhere, marked the whole text with ctrl+A and then somehow let go of the ctrl key and hit C. My long comment was now a single letter.”

            Not a problem! Ctrl-Z to undo and you’ve got your comment back.

          • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

            @jrodman, hey, I thought I was the only one who wrote posts in Vim! Now I feel less lonely. Although, I don’t feel I need a plugin for that.

          • Flea says:

            @Phasma Felis and Josh W:
            Uh, I wish I knew that back then. :) I guess it didn’t even cross my mind that browsers would be able to undo such things. Thanks for the tip!

  2. noodlecake says:

    I always, ALWAYS disregard user reviews. Why? Because most people are idiots. Some of the user scores on Metacritic are ridiculous. I think Dragon Age 2 has about an 8.5 from critics and then for the user score it just has a picture of an old lady with visible piles, crying.

    • noodlecake says:

      Note: I think the 8.5ish reviews are quite reasonable, I know lots of you are in the weeping lady camp. This is proof that user reviews are a bad idea. Your opinions suck.

      • bstard says:

        Only idiots use edit post.

      • misterT0AST says:

        You know, you can also read something without swallowing it entirely as truth. You shouldn’t read reviews to find out what is “GOOD” or “BAD”. You should read them to find out, before spending money on it, that Brutal Legend is actually strategy game, or that Final Fantasy XIII has a new and entirely different combat system.

        • Phasma Felis says:

          Before buying something on Amazon or Newegg, I always look at the 1-star reviews to get an idea of the thing’s weaknesses. If it has a tendency to spontaneously combust, that’s a problem. If it doesn’t work as advertised for a specific use case that is not mine, I’m okay with that.

      • The Laughing Owl says:

        Modern Warfare 3 has 88/100 on Metacritic, reviewers are usually the more ignorant ones also they often recieve bribes to score games higher than they should.

        • Soulstrider says:

          Honestly I agree in that I still find critics reviews more believable than User ones. Simply not only the majority of players are simply ignorant enough to make a proper review, the can’t distinguish a game from a genre they don’t like from a bad game and they are way to prone to let their personal hates influence their reviews.

        • Arona Daal says:

          I usually look the middle Scores and see if the have any reasonable Complaints.
          Because every Crap finds a few Fanboys . Especially if they start to talk about “Potential”.
          http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/fort-zombie

      • Durrok says:

        So basically all opinions that don’t agree with yours are stupid? How enlightened. Nothing wrong with liking DA2 but there are many valid criticisms against it, not to mention people’s personal tastes.

    • Grawl says:

      Isn’t what you just said kind of a review, thus making you an idiot too?

    • Terragot says:

      “Discover helpful authors
      You may find a particular user that is great at writing reviews or shares your taste in gaming. Easily browse for all reviews by that user and see what other titles they enjoyed and recommend.”

    • ViktorBerg says:

      Paying attention to one review at a time is stupid, anyway. Any sane person will look at the global average user score, and judge from that. And if the review aggregate site is smart enough, they will implement median score averaging, not mean. This will weed out the outliers (such as 10/10 or 0/10).

      As much as I hate metacritic (and the periodic score raids on some particular games), the median user score on most of them pretty accurately reflects on the average user thoughts about that game. I mean, take a look at the score disparity in Dragon Age 2 (which is a trite topic nowadays, but still properly illustrating the issue of only relying on “professional” reviews).

      • Sard says:

        Well, yes. Until you start to think what “average user thoughts” actually means.

    • GenBanks says:

      The key is interpretation, someone can write an overly judgemental review and it can still be useful to help you decide if you’ll like the game.

      Do you ignore your friends’ opinions about games too?

    • Themadcow says:

      An “old lady with visible piles, crying” is pretty much the best review of Dragon Age 2 that could have been written. I give that review 10/10.

    • Grygus says:

      People write the professional reviews, too.

      • The Random One says:

        Exactly. At last with end users I know they’re unbiased idiots… or at least unpaid ones.

        • jrodman says:

          Not necessarily. PR campaigns have used false constructions of end-user comments many times.

    • Distec says:

      While it’s far from a perfect system, I do see value in that disparity.

      For how long had gamers been bitching about inflated scores, paid reviews, and pussyfoot critiques? How many games were getting 7+ or equivalent reviews from supposedly discerning “professionals”? Maybe it’s different now, but I recall a period where everybody was sick of it. We were tired of buying titles on the strengths of the reviews only to find out that they fell short of their promise, broke down later in the game, or were just thoroughly average. I see the DA2 debacle as a response that was long in the making. It served as a very effective counterpoint to the soft reviews that glossed over or refused to acknowledge that game’s shortcomings. It’s like people were done swallowinging all the bullshit about how THIS GAME IS SO AWESOME RITE that permeated every developer’s and outlet’s commentary. Now, are those rock-bottom user reviews accurate? No. DA2 is not a terrible game, just somewhat disappointing IMO. But it certainly got the point across.

      Basically, I generally don’t trust most “pro” reviewers, and I have little faith in the critical abilities of most user reviews. But when I see scores like that, it alerts to potential problems with the game (or in some cases informs me of some kind of wicked DRM system that I’d been unaware of). It tells me that a game might require further investigation before I throw fifty-sixty dollars down on it.

  3. Bolegium says:

    The strawman-ish paranoia of ‘report system as censorship’ doesn’t even register with me when compared with the actual abusiveness of existing ‘reviews’. See: http://steamcommunity.com//id/Mousti/recommended/232430/, and http://steamcommunity.com//id/dorroile/recommended/219680/ for the vitriol directed towards Gone Home and Proteus respectively.

    The success of community powered Steam reviews will depend on how well moderated they are. Sadly, as things stand now this feature seems only to more easily facilitate deliberate antagonism and trolling. If Valve have any interest in fostering a genuinely useful community publishing and sharing tool for game critique, they have got to actually give a damn about what gets published. A lot of their recent developments seem like they create tools without figuring out a clear design, then letting the community deal with all the problems that arise i.e. Greenlight. And that’s ignoring the obvious money grabbing stuff like trading cards and the steam marketplace.

    Hopefully Steam reviews doesn’t become a cesspool of trolling like many other places. Meanwhile i’ll stick with sites and people whose opinions I respect and am interested in for my reading material.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yeah, in any system like this you’re going to get this sort of thing. I don’t mind just ignoring the blind rage in favour of reading more reasonable opinions and making my own mind up as to whether it sounds like my cup of tea.

      I wouldn’t mind Valve moderating things so these hatespouts get removed but in reality they tend to just get downvoted out of existence anyway. Mainly I just rely on my reading comprehension

    • ViktorBerg says:

      Those reviews are way too long and detailed to be just “trolling”. I think it’s just very cynical people being disillusioned in their purchases. And I mean, come on, look at their avatars, what did you expect?

      Also, it would be impossible to moderate the reviews, the Steam userbase is way too big. But having a policy of letting the users speak is better than not having it, even unmoderated. I am surprised they even manage to keep the Steam Workshop entries from being contaminated by porn, gore and various shock material.

      • Premium User Badge DrScuttles says:

        They may be verbose for trolling, but with points such as “drivel hipster shit” and “intellectually stunted shitdildos”, they don’t exactly demonstrate the slightest critical spark worth recognising. But then again the user posting that Proteus review self-identifies as a shithead so maybe they’re just deeply lost in some horrific roleplay.

        • SanguineAngel says:

          I did laugh at intellectually stunted shitdildos though. I won’t tell THEM that, of course.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I haven’t played Gone Home, but the Proteus review describes the game fairly accurately. It’s very negative yes, but if you’re not into art games than it might be useful for you.

      • mouton says:

        It could convey the same thoughts and experiences with much less poo throwing, though. Hence, unhelpful.

        • The Random One says:

          I think the poo throwing helps convey what kind of person is writing and therefore what kind of people the review is aimed at.

          • mouton says:

            Yeah, but I really don’t need help in ascertaining the nature of most people in the internet.

    • Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

      The perhaps unintended benefit of al this is, because steam makes a surprisingly large amount of your gaming information available to casual browsing, you can go and find out what games the writer of the review really loves. And not even what they say they love, but the times dates and completion level of every game they own on steam. Interesting reading a lot of it.

      For example, the chap from the Proteus review has recently become obsessed with a game called Bad Rats.

      Actually it occurs to me that this kind of data would be interesting to include for all critics.

      • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

        Bad Rats is the game TotalBiscuit made a video of saying just how obscenely bad it was. It’s got everything: bad gameplay, bad graphics, bad design, bad bugs and even is distasteful in many ways.

        That’s either a troll account or a contrarian who loves hating on good games while playing the shit ones “just for lols”.

    • mouton says:

      Hate against Proteus? Why would someone rage against drugs?

    • Stickman says:

      You’ll notice that those reviews have an 11% and 15% “helpfulness” rating, respectively. It sounds like they’re a perfect example of the system working as intended. Anyone can post their opinions, and then extreme or unhelpful opinions get rated down, while still being available for people who might actually find them useful. No need to moderate anything (except perhaps language – “shitdildos”? Really?) How would Valve even go about moderating opinions? Removing “excessively” negative or positive reviews?

      Honestly, it sounds like a great system. You can read anyone’s opinion if you so desire, see what other thought of that opinion, and potentially find other users with similar tastes (or at least thoughtful reviews). You’ll likely need to intentionally go out of your way to get involved in a review flame war. Seriously, just mark offending reviews as “unhelpful” and move on (or report them if they are actually vile, rather than just a bad review).

      • Bolegium says:

        Marking them and reporting them is exactly what I have done. I’m not sure why people keep bringing up ‘moderating opinions’. The above two reviews are used to illustrate intentional abusiveness and the shortcomings of the moderation system, not as examples of ‘opinions I disagree with’.

        I’m fine with users meta-critiquing reviews as un/helpful, but Valve chose to allow ‘recommendations’ to become public reviews. It is entirely their responsibility to follow through with moderation, not a user’s responsibility to ignore abusive material.

        Steam has a report system for many things, greenlight, the workshop, forums, profiles, and now reviews. If this system is to ‘work as intended’, that means moderation. It may be difficult to enforce, but they have stated a commitment to it in their FAQ. Hopefully they follow through with it.

  4. SanguineAngel says:

    I actually feel this could be a great feature. I have really wanted something along these lines for a while. I often see things on steam and think – “I wish I had some quick indication of what this game is like” – much like amazon reviews I think this will be a handy way of quickly gauging an approximation of the game – not necessarily whether it is good or bad (because god knows I freaking LOVE Rome 2 for example, which appears to be the most hated game ever) but just what it’s like in general. filtering out the personal rage/adoration is something of a reflex

  5. Screamer says:

    Since most user reviews will either be a 1/10 or a 10/10, a thumbs up or down does seem appropriate.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yeah, I think it’s fair method. And with the library requirement for leaving a review I think it’s about as fair as these things can get

    • Themadcow says:

      Apparently it’s how things are rated on certain specialist video sites, apparently.

    • mouton says:

      There could be a “meh” option, though.

  6. The Dark One says:

    I like it. Individual developers have god-mode enabled for their sections of the Steam forums, so people being able to post Amazon-style user reviews is an upgrade. The biggest selling point, for me, is that Steam will only let you review something it knows you’ve played.

    • mouton says:

      Not exactly. I think you can just own it for Steam to allow you to write a review. And with bloated backlogs, you get no assurance that the reviewer played the game.

      And eve if the stats say they didn’t, they could have always played a pirated copy first anyway.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    Oh, neat. They actually seem to have done this properly and migrated existing ‘recommend’ reviews into thumbs-up ones.

    (For some reason, mine seem to be loading in Swedish. Valve work in mysterious ways.)

    • Leb says:

      I’ve actually used “recommend” in the past to write negative reviews, only because despite being called a recommendation by steam I know it shows up on the store page of my friends on steam. Is there a way to amend these old recommendations? I’m not home right now but I know Rome 2 got a nasty “recommendation” from me

      • LionsPhil says:

        There’s certainly an edit link in the sidebar when you go to a review you’ve written. I don’t know if you can toggle the thumb up/down but if all else fails you should be able to delete and recreate it.

  8. Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

    Besides the “Most people are idiots” problem that has already been pointed out twice (thankfully, RPS exists, and there’s very few games that aren’t covered here that interest me), I’m afraid the only reviews that are going to get visibility are the ones supported by some steam friends “kickstarting” them with some upvotes.

    It really depends on the community, after all. Most top-rated reviews on GOG are reasonable and well-written at least. But GOG is a safe and happy haven compared to Steam’s popularity, which is sure to attract hordes of opinionated trolls and 10-year-old flamers who don’t know the difference between your and you’re. Check the steam forums for confirmation.

    (Not to mention, I set my reviews to public yesterday, but then on the store page it still tells me that they’re friends-only)

    • The Dark One says:

      If would be nice if you could filter between the reviews (and thumbs given to those reviews) made by the general steam population and those made by people on your Friends list.

      • LionsPhil says:

        It doesn’t do that already? How bizzare. It seems like the most obvious thing, and it’s how the old recommend-only system used to work.

        I care about the opinion of someone I know way, way more than I care about the opinion of xXdethkilla97Xx.

        Edit: Wait, I totally see reviews from friends in a separate section amongst the teenage masses on a game’s store page. They’re just not up-top next to the “tell the Internet your own opinion” box like they used to be.

    • Shadowcat says:

      GOG’s review mechanism is badly broken, unfortunately.

      They instigated an absurdly small character limit (used to be bigger than it is now), but they don’t tell you what that is. They tell you if the review you’re trying to submit is too long, but they don’t tell you how much shorter it needs to be. The message that tells you this also has a winking smiley in it, because apparently they find it funny to make you rage in helpless frustration — which you do because you know that you can’t edit your review once it is accepted.

      This means that every single attempt you make at reducing the character count to some unknown acceptable amount must be edited into a coherent review before you click submit!

      You cannot imagine quite how painful this is until you experience it. Anyone who actually tries to submit a good review is bound to fall foul of this idiotic system, and be so frustrated that they never submit another review again.

    • mouton says:

      GOG is just as susceptible to “helpfulness popularity contests” and games often get horribly overhyped due to nostalgia there.

      I like how Amazon does it – it shows the most helpful good review and most helpful bad review.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yes, Amazon’s approach works well. Quite often the most helpful negative review of a CD will be something like “I like this band but dear god the mastering on this album is dreadful and sounds like it’s playing through a wall, avoid”, which is exactly the kind of thing I want to know.

        • mouton says:

          You are being sarcastic or not? I really can’t tell, could work both ways.

      • Hahaha says:

        don’t forget buying votes for the community wishlist being an allowed practice

  9. Syme says:

    But.. but user reviews tell you what REAL gamrs think! “Professional” critics are owned by advertisers!!!

  10. ZethJack says:

    Question of the day is “Who the hell actually ‘reads’ the reviews anyways?”

  11. MeestaNob says:

    The underrated scene in Thor of course being where he hangs up his hammer on the hook. Because fuck physics!!

  12. Kubrick Stare Nun says:

    Hey. Most “professional” reviewers are pretty much just as dishonest and incompetent and craniorectally inverted as the amateurs who keep shitflinging at Metacritics so no further harm can really be done.

  13. SkittleDiddler says:

    It’s about damn time Valve implemented a proper Recommend system. Up until this point, I was always afraid that we’d never see one because of Valve’s overriding concern for their profit margin.

    Of course it’s going to be abused to an extent, but if you’re one of those people who can’t separate the honest reviews from the troll reviews, maybe you shouldn’t be reading them in the first place. Anyway, limiting it to game owners and Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down will prevent the worst offenders from spoiling the soup.

  14. Juan Carlo says:

    I already have these features and didn’t opt into any beta….weird.

    Anyhow, I think this is great. I steam review almost every single game I complete on steam, so I already have a ton of reviews written there. Writing them was mostly for my own benefit (I tend to forget stuff after a few months if I don’t write down my thoughts about it immediately after experiencing it…..I keep a personal movie journal as well), but it kind of sucked that only my 40 some steam friends ever got to see them. Not that this means that hundreds of people will be reading my reviews now (given how huge steam’s userbase is, I suspect everything will just get lost in the deluge), but it’s still slightly better than what they had before.

  15. Awesumo says:

    When you look at the User review scores on metacritic they tend to be rather bi-polar…. but that isn’t a bad thing as most people want a ‘should I buy it’ yes/no review… rather than some wishy washy 78% BS.

  16. itos says:

    I hope it doesn’t happen like Metacritic where a review is 10 or 0 no middle ground there in the user reviews.

    • Soldancer says:

      Metacritic is too open to smear campaigns by people who haven’t actually played the game but heard bad things about it/dislike its genre, etc. Mass Effect 3 was a pretty good example, as it the aforementioned Dragon Age 2. Odd that Bioware generates this sort of thing (more likely it’s perceived as to do with EA’s influence, but that’s another thread).

      Gamersgate has mandatory ownership as a pre-req for reviews, and it’s a decent system. You can usually quite quickly get a feel for whether you’d be interested in a game based on a handful of reviews.

      Overall I think this system will do ok, considering the inherent limitations of allowing People on the Internet(r) to express opinions openly.

    • Bull0 says:

      They’re using a thumbs up/thumbs down system, so no, that won’t happen.

  17. Opiniomania says:

    Well, I will hardly complain about more opinions, right? RIGHT?!

  18. Moraven says:

    I like on GoG.com when I see a positive and middling/negative review as top reviews. You usually get a couple well written difference perspectives on the game.

    I would like to see Top Positive and Top Negative reviews listed.

    • Zekiel says:

      Whenever I look at GOG reviews they always seem to be 4.5 or 5 stars, never anything below. I’m sure that’s not entirely true, but that’s my experience.

      I think this may be because you can write a review without actually owning the game on GOG. WHich means (by the nature of the site) many people may be writing reviews from their memories of playing the game 10 or more years ago – which isn’t actually a very good review for playing it for the first time now. And also doesn’t take into account any problems in the GOGified version.

      • jrodman says:

        The average rating or the individual reviews? The averages are pointlessly high. an average below 4 is very rare. However I find that you can usually find a negative review at least within the first 2-3 pages that has intelligent things to say. I try to do my part by voting the gushing reviews with nothing useful to say down on the usefulness axis and the criticism that are well phrased up.

        • Zekiel says:

          You’re quite right – its the average ratings I’m thinking of – now I recall there are often the odd low-ish score.

          Presumably GOG attracts fans over more general critics? I suppose that makes sense.

  19. Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

    HEY GUYZ IS THIS GAME GUD?!?11?! SHUD i BUY??

  20. Zekiel says:

    Why is it that sometimes Steam pages have a Metacritic score and sometimes they don’t (even when the game is on Metacritic, as is usually the case)? Is it just that (say) if the review score is below 75 is isn’t displayed?