Steam Store Shakes Up Player Review Presentation

Valve have changed how Steam store pages present reviews written by players, placing greater emphasis on newer reviews. It’s more helpful in these days where the experience of a game can change quite a lot over time, Valve say. I realise your first and most trusted source for Wot People Think is your pals here at RPS, on everything in all aspects of your life (your bedsheets are hideous, by the way), but we don’t have time to tell you about everything. And certainly not to constantly update you. Steam reviews are helpful (hey, I check ’em myself) and these store page changes sounds helpful, but this might have some downsides too.

If you’ve had your head under a rock, I’ll explain. Steam pages let players write reviews of games and give them a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ recommendation. Reviews appear at the bottom of store pages, and the percentage of recommendations is converted to a rating on the page – categories like overwhelmingly positive, very positive, positive, mixed, mostly negative, and so on. Steam being Kind Of A Big Deal in PC gaming, these matter.

The default category of reviews shown on Steam pages is now reviews rated most helpful by readers within the past 30 days, changed from all-time helpful reviews, and alongside them is now a second column of recent reviews. Valve explain that the change is because, under the old way, “the most helpful reviews presented on a store page would often describe an outdated view of a game that might have changed dramatically over the course of Early Access or post-release development.”

The other big change is adding a ‘recent’ rating sitting alongside the ‘overall’ all-time rating at the top of store listings. That rating is the percentage of positive reviews over the past 30 days (once a game has been on Steam for at least 45 days).

Valve’s reasoning is sensible. I do normally read a few newer reviews when looking on Steam, not just the ones rated most helpful overall, to get a feel for how it’s coming on. These are useful! However, this also means I encounter a lot of reviews I find unhelpful at best. Valve seem slightly oblivious here, assuming that all Steamers write calm, reasoned reviews. Many do, absolutely. But some post reviews as petulant protest.

If developers make changes some players don’t like, or don’t make some they would like, or don’t patch the game as enough as they’d like, or are uncommunicative… for these reasons and more, disgruntled players are organising to post and rate-up overblown negative reviews in attempts to pressure developers or punish them. There are more than a few wildly negative reviews posted by people who played a game for hundreds of hours then turned around and shredded it because of an issue which might be minor or unnoticeable to someone coming in fresh. This change will emphasise those reviews, push them to the front. That sounds a bit bum.

I don’t have a good solution for this.

As ever, read reviews rather than glancing at ratings.

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  1. Shar_ds says:

    It’s the apparent rewarding of foot-stamping strops that disappoints and worries me the most :(

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Why? They’re customers. If a particular issue with the game is important enough for them to change their review, it’s their right to express their opinion. If they’re in the minority, their reviews are still going to be outnumbered by other customers’ reviews.

      • anHorse says:

        Can still get a darkest dungeon situation where the people all suddenly reviewing the game are basically just being whiny idiots

        • Crowsen says:

          Yeah, but your example of Darkest Dungeon shows that this stuff already happened before this change. And it is now possible that these whiny reviews become obsolete at some point in time, when the game actually gets better.

          Sure there is the problem that developers might be afraid to change stuff that people might not like and restrain themselves because of it – again Darkest Dungeon and the corpses functionality may not have been implemented this way … but I believe, or at least hope that this is the minority and that this change for the reviews leads just to a better understanding of what the state of some game is right at the moment.

          And last of all: Whiners gonna whine, that surely won’t change ;)

      • Universal Quitter says:

        I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

        Reviews only work when the reviewer demonstrates good faith. Choosing to not recommend a game, solely to dictate a desired price or pressure a developer into making changes, is not acting in good faith.

        I don’t bring these up as hypothetical situations. That’s how Steam reviews are being used, right now. They are weaponized as political statements to fight crusades against DLC, DRM, too much social justice, a lack of social justice, or just about anything you can imagine.

        Furthermore, lending more weight and credence to these kinds of people is extremely unfair to the gamers who are too busy enjoying their game to write positive reviews. When you have a million customers, a thousand angry, tooth-gnashing reviewers hardly make a consensus. But they do make a lot of noise.

  2. wilynumber13 says:

    The situation I’m thinking of has leveled out now, but it reminds me of when manchildren brigaded the Skullgirls review section with negatives because they discovered, months after the fact, that three animations had been altered to show less underwear. Cries of “censorship” and “stealing content” were rampant. Under these new standards their page would have been unjustly filled with red for months.

  3. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Gee, I have absolutely no idea who wrote this article based on that header image.

    • silentdan says:

      I think she’s angry because Steam isn’t responding to her stick inputs, which may indeed be quite frustrating, if you’re expecting it to act like a Steam Controller or something. :)

      • LionsPhil says:

        She forgot to enter Big Picture mode first. :(

        • Samwise says:

          She’s disappointed because her Kempston is no longer supported. she really loves waggling Kempstons on Daley Thompsons’ Supertest.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Or she’s doing the thing you do as a kid where you stand at the arcade machine, wiggle the sticks and pretend you are playing the game as the demo runs, whilst watching a Steam trailer.

        • Samwise says:

          I used to let the Trackmania intro run and put the controller in my 4 year old godsons’ hand and would think he was playing it and have a great old time!

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I thought she was angry, because she couldn’t use the controller while at the Steam store page. Silly, yes, but Steam’s reviews shows that people are often that silly.

    • Premium User Badge

      Dorga says:

      That’s how I game everyday

    • Pazguato says:

      Eternal hate to Deadly Premonition.

    • khamul says:

      She is very very angry that Alice insulted her bedsheets. She puts a lot of care and thought into choosing them.

      I am not sure about the joystick. Maybe she is just clinging to it so she can get her face closer to the screen.

      Also – where on Earth did she find a CRT monitor? Is she a time traveller from the Noughties?

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      I know we’re all appalled when we see Deadly Premonition’s rating on Steam.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    They should probably make it so only people who have actually bought the game in question can vote on the helpfulness of reviews.

    • gou says:

      but the truely most helpful reviews to me are the ones that convince me not to buy the game.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        That’s often going to be the case, but someone who has played the game is going to have a better idea of how accurately the review represents it… and when malicious inaccurate or exaggerated reviews are a serious a problem (which, let’s face it, they are for some games) there needs to be a solution for that and we already know Valve doesn’t want to step in and moderate that stuff manually.

      • P.Funk says:

        But that doesn’t mean that your upvoting of that review in any way reflects the accuracy of the review, just you having been persuaded by it.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          Sure, and that means the review did its job. The least helpful reviews are the ones that just spout off dry facts like it’s a Wikipedia entry. I want to know whether the reviewer was entertained or not. I tend to look at the most-played games of reviewers who express a strong opinion to see if i am likely to share their opinion based on similar libraries, similar favorite games, similar number of years using Steam etc. A helpful review to me is one that helps me make the buy/don’t buy decision, and that is based entirely around how closely my tastes align with the reviewer and how persuasively they expressed their opinion.

      • Crocobutt says:

        Same. It’s always easy to read glowing reviews, someone sucking the game off for no one’s benefit. The most helpful negative reviews tend be most constructive or as sometimes all you get are paragraph-long reviews of no critical weight, in which case, the game is most likely really good.

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          There’s nothing more tiresome on the internet than the absurd notion that there is *no such thing* as sincere glowing praise, that it could only ever be “to someone’s benefit” somehow harbouring an ulterior motive… The idea that someone might genuinely *like* a thing and want to share it with others is sadly incomprehensible to some denizens of the internet.

          • Crocobutt says:

            I never said it’s a rule to live by. It’s great if people like a game and they praise it, more power to them.

    • silentdan says:

      gou beat me to it, but yeah, I strongly disagree. People who haven’t bought the game shouldn’t be allowed to review the game, but anyone should be able to put in their $0.02 on the review itself.

    • Xiyng says:

      Sorry but no. Helpfulness is a measure for people that don’t own the game. They should be the ones to determine whether a review is helpful or not. People that have played the game might think a review represents the game perfectly when in reality it could be uncomprehensible to people that haven’t played the game. You gain so much perspective from playing the game in question it’s bound to change the way you read reviews about that game.

      • P.Funk says:

        So the people who get to control which reviews I see are the ones who don’t own the game?

        My brain hurts trying to rationalise that.

        • Premium User Badge

          Risingson says:

          Actually it is a miles better solution. If not you find the “if I agree with the review it’s useful” metric.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            If you played it you agree (or disagree) based on actual experience. The only downside to restricting votes to owners is people who have played the game outside of Steam would not be able to vote on the accuracy of a review.

            Come to think of it, maybe “helpful” should just be renamed to “accurate” (with voting restricted to people who bought the game). Problem solved.

          • Premium User Badge

            alison says:

            What you are describing is the exact problem that Steam’s “helpful” rating currently has – it gets boosted up by fans upvoting other fans and downvoting people who disagree with the groupthink. This is the reason that spammed “helpful” ratings can actually hinder a buyer’s ability to find useful purchasing advice. A review should not be subject to a popularity contest. A buyer wants to find out if people like him enjoyed the game or not. Or if people who are exactly NOT like him enjoyed the game or not. Some reviews are testimonials that help sway a person toward trying a game he normally would not play due to evidence of its crossover appeal. But other reviews are there to help people avoid spending time and money on games they are probably not going to like in the first place. If the review persuaded a decision one way or the other, it was helpful. If the review did not have any influence on the purchasing decision at all, it was not.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            Or maybe just “agree/disagree” since “accurate” suggests the illusion of objectivity.

  5. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    I do think this will be a useful change. There are plenty of games that will remain in mixed or negative reviews for eternity purely because of a problem at launch, be it bugs, disconnections etc, that have long been fixed but got “negged” into the ground on day one because people couldn’t connect for a few hours.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Then they should have released a working product with sufficient server support for the initial rush.

      “I’m sorry, sir. I know you just bought that car and need to get home. I promise, once our servers are back online, you will be able to drive it. Be sure to give it a positive review in the meantime.”

      “What do you mean, you cant upload patient/customer/client data and need support immediately? Its a rush. Once its over, you can perform surgery and sales once again, we promise. No, no, its working as intended; it just gets busy on Friday afternoons, is all.”

      Grr…sorry, but…I am so sick of the endless excuses “because its just a video game.”

      NO. It is NOT just a video game. Its my leisure time. An activity around which I planned the use of some of the most precious commodity I possess: Free Time. Its my relaxation; its my challenge; its my muse or zen.

      But even more importantly: Its a FINISHED PRODUCT I PAID FOR. You have an ethical – and I do believe in many places, a LEGAL OBLIGATION to make sure it WORKS at this point.

      Unless of course you buy early access survival games. In that case, you deserve whatever’s coming to you, good or bad.

      • Blackcompany says:

        I want to add here quick: This does NOT mean games do not also deserve second chances when they improve later. Not by any means.

        But please dont fault people for leaving tons of negative reviews early on, if those reviews are genuinely deserved.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          I’m not faulting people per se, but it is completely and utterly useless for any potential buyer if half of the reviews are people venting rage because the servers were overloaded at lauch.
          Reviews are a buyers guide, not a means to punish or praise developers. Leaving reviews based on such short lived issues is largely pointless.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            But that’s why I like this change, it can filter out the large number of potentially negative reviews from a troubled launch, as you say, not excusable, but reality. If the devs fixed the game, I don’t like the idea of still judging it because of some launch problems. This change helps show the response it is getting more recently.

          • aepervius says:

            I disagree: on the short term such negative review tells me to back off a game until it is solved, in fact such negative short term review ARE important. i usually then looked at more recent review long time afterward. This new system streamline it.

            As for people saying “it is to be expected at the start” do you even work in IT ? There are quite a few way such problem can be avoided, but they cost money. The dirty secret is that they perfectly know usually that they will have subpar server load or connection initially, but they buy into it, knowing there will be an initial rush, because they know it will taper off. So rather than pay premium for a few more 9’s (as in SLA 9’s) they target NOT the initial rush but the mid term/long term usage.

            Any other industry than game you would get kicked by the clients, because of SLA. But there is no SLA for games, they just have their cake and eat it (iow give you a “license” but no minimum service).

            And that is why such initial bad review are important, in addition to warn off people, to punish the practice.

      • wengart says:

        On the other hand all of those early reviews aren’t relevant to me when I am buying a game two years after release for $15 or whatever.

        In general this is also useful for early-access games. A game might start with a lot of promise and get a very positive set of reviews, but then introduce a game breaking bug. In the old system that would be hidden under the weight of the positive reviews but now I can see that the last 1,000 reviews are uniformly negative.

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        This attitude is petulant and dickish. I actually agree with the meat of what you’re saying, devs should be releasing working, quality products, but you know what? Human beings make video games. Another thing that humans make is mistakes.

        I have played many amazing games that had a little trouble at launch, and yes it’s annoying when that happens, but fuck me, can we not learn to forgive?

        A short list of games that would have failed at launch if they had been negged into oblivion by small problems at launch:

        World of Warcraft
        Diablo 3
        The Division

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        This attitude is petulant and dickish. I actually agree with the meat of what you’re saying, devs should be releasing working, quality products, but you know what? Human beings make video games. Another thing that humans make is mistakes.

        I have played many amazing games that had a little trouble at launch, and yes it’s annoying when that happens, but fuck me, can we not learn to forgive?

        A short list of games that would have failed at launch if they had been negged into oblivion by small problems at launch:

        World of Warcraft
        Diablo 3
        The Division
        GTA online
        Asscreed Unity

        The list goes on. I don’t think this is an acceptable practice, but all the games I listed are pretty damned good games, and loved by many, so maybe we should relax on the foot-stamping?

  6. Jay Load says:

    I don’t write many reviews but felt compelled to do so for X: Rebirth’s v4.0 update after finding out it was very different from what I’d personally been expecting AND seemed to be a far different experience from what was reported at launch. Steam had it classed as Mostly Negative, I think, despite most of the most recent reviews classing it much higher.

    Now there’s a clearly visible dual rating, and if you mouse-over you get told that “70% of the last 108 users reviews are positive”.

    You also get two sets of reviews side-by-side. Looking at the most recent list for Rebirth, the negative reviews are one line put-downs from those obsessed with previous X games, while the positives are taking time to explain why they like it. Anyone looking at that now may well be more disposed to buy the game because it’s doing a good job of representing the passion people now have for it.

    It’s a vast improvement, Steam. Well done.

  7. stormy says:

    I always find it hard to get useful information from Steam reviews.

    I love the header image in this though, and will read any article that uses a variant thereof.

  8. Aerothorn says:

    While Valve isn’t going to come out and say this (because they don’t want to give anybody ideas) I *suspect* this change is also intended to address review-bombing. Because these are usually the result of temporary movements or sources of anger, this means that, at the very least, gamergaters et. al. have to keep writing hateful reviews rather than doing a single action where they all write reviews and then vote eachother’s reviews as helpful (which has ruined many a game’s review page).

  9. Coffee Ray Gun says:

    It’s almost getting comedic how much the Steam commenters hate RPS articles. Is there some hidden reason or is it the totally expected reason?

  10. slerbal says:

    Sounds like a reasonable change to me. I guess we will see how it plays out.

  11. celticdr says:

    I once had a kettle that made Steam – true story.

  12. April March says:

    Good to see you’ve become a regular here as well, Stock Picture of Angry Woman Shouting At Computer While Holding Joystick.

  13. Daemoroth says:

    My only worry is that this new system benefits publishers who follow the sell-now-fix-later attitude. Early Access games can use this system, but once it’s released it needs to live with the reviews it gets.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      No, absolutely not. A review is not there to punish or praise a games company, it is there to tell me, the consumer, “is this game worth buying”. A ton of negative reviews from launch because of problems from launch, that no longer exist, are of ZERO use to anybody and can only serve as justification to those that already bought the game that the developer received sufficient punishment”. Not the purpose of a review at all.

      • Daemoroth says:

        Obviously I disagree. In an ideal world reviews would represent the current quality and publishers would do everything in their power to deliver a working/complete game at launch, focused on creating a great experience knowing that it would lead to sales.

        Unfortunately, in this world, publishers take every shortcut they can think of, release games in incomplete states, cut out content to market as pre-order exclusives, or sell the additional content as DLC for you to buy a complete game, and almost universally (For the big publishers especially) create games based on focus-testing and marketing potential.

        At least that meant that reviews would be a representation of the fruits of their labour (Or lack thereof). While this new system is a great idea, I’m just concerned about the potential for abuse.

        I firmly believe that we, as consumers, are responsible for the state of our hobby. Pre-order bonuses/unscrupulous DLC practices/micro-transactions in fully priced retail games are our fault because as much as we complain, the majority still go out and buy the games they’re complaining about ( happens all the time).

        If we give publishers an easy opportunity to make dates more important than an actual finished product, I’m pretty sure that they’ll take it.

    • Premium User Badge

      caff says:


  14. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Now I’m just wondering what it would be like to try to play Deadly Premonition with a joystick.

  15. P.Funk says:

    I feel like reviews should include a mention of the specific major version number in addition to whether its Early Access or not.

  16. Unruly says:

    They could always mark the reviews with the version they were written for. When an update comes out, all prior reviews get marked with a “This review is for an earlier version, and may not reflect the current state of the game.”

    I know that Google’s Play Store on mobile does it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s store did as well. It lets people know that the problems in a review may have been fixed, but still leaves the review visible. I don’t see why Steam couldn’t do the same. At the very least, Early Access games should have a huge label on their reviews that mention how Early Access titles are still in development and constantly changing.

  17. Tony M says:

    One day that image is going to get old and unfunny. Today is not that day.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    I’m someone who regularly plays games years after they are released, and I would love to see professionals to something like this to games that have a lot of patching behind them, such as many strategy and multiplayer-centered games where the game’s experience has changed significantly since launch. Since post-release support has more or less changed in post-release development (For better or worse), I would imigane that reviews of GOTY editions or a review of a complete version of CK2 or EU4 when they finally stop developing that game would be very usefull.

    And also, to me, more interesting then games that are currently still in development.

  19. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    “(Your bedsheets are hideous, by the way)”

    Hah, we literally got new bedsheets yesterday. Silly yellow flowery thing, the significant other will be disappointed in your assessment!

    • thedosbox says:

      I am disappointed that only one brave soul is willing to stand up for their taste in bedsheets.

      • khamul says:

        My bedsheets are pale cream, and 100% cotton. I defy anyone to object to my choice on any grounds other than that I am a very boring person.

        Take that, internet! Hate me if you will, but if you will hate me, do so because I am boring, not because I have no taste!

        • Alice O'Connor says:

          Gonna make a right mess when you’re eating chocolate mousse in bed, aren’t you?

          • khamul says:

            You are clearly a very messy eater!
            …my life has not involved enough moments of eating chocolate mousse in bed :(

  20. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    This could be a good thing.

    For the past couple years i have reviewed every game i bought. I am not sure why, but with games – and no other purchase i make – i depend heavily on user reviews to swing my decision when i am on the fence. So i add my voice too, sharing a point of view that i hope can help other gamers who share my tastes to find games they might like. But the most helpful/not helpful metric on top of that is such an invitation for abuse.

    Slashdot trolls discovered how to game that site’s peer moderation system almost 20 years ago, and the mob rule of today’s social media does not feel much more sophisticated. There is an art to constructing a review that attracts the most votes from peers, and for some i think it’s irresistible to play that meta-game of crafting a review to claim the high score. Unfortunately, once reviews are gamified, there is less value in their content. Self-consciously “helpful” (read: popular) Steam reviews rarely provide more insight about whether i would enjoy a game than a regurgitated content farm article.

    Of course, there are a lot of categorically unhelpful reviews – abusive, off-topic or just so short as to provide no context that could sway a purchasing decision. Sadly Valve doesn’t have a policy to delete these truly useless reviews, and instead they depend on the broken peer moderation system that results in hardcore fans downvoting negative reviews rather than the community downvoting time-wasters.

    Although showing the most recent reviews by default will put the onus back on the reader to sift through all the junk to find the review of a peer who actually has something useful to say to them, it might also be a sign that Valve is planning to deemphasize community moderation and take more serious action against trolls and spammers.

    Oh, who am i kidding?

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      This is a review about the “game” of reviewing games. Amazing.

      Aaaand I’ve got it. All steam needs to do is let users review user reviews. And then let people vote on how helpful or unhelpful those review reviews are. And then let us all come over here and review that system and its individual reviews on RPS.

      I’ll take my cheque now.

  21. Unsheep says:

    Steam reviews are a farce, I can’t believe people still take them seriously, especially if you are an adult. They are no different from Metacritic reviews. It’s probably the exact same people writing them so that actually makes sense.

    90% of Steam and Metacritic reviews are written by children, who can only describe their games as being either ‘best game forever, 5/5’ or ‘completely unplayable console crap, 0/5’.

    The only way Valve can improve the Steam review section is by completely removing it.

    • Crocobutt says:

      Best comment in here.
      Some reviews tend to be memetic, jokes or in-jokes from the game. It’s fun reading through those, actually.. but it’s no better than any videogame imageboard. “-5/∞ would uninstall again”

  22. Chorltonwheelie says:

    My bedsheets? State of your net curtains love…not mention the fluff under your bed.

  23. Bumbum says:

    Why does she have a monitor that looks like it dates back to the 90’s and early 2000’s? I’m pretty sure monitors like those are practically vintage.