What developers think of Steam reviews

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Since 2013, Steam has allowed its users to leave reviews on the Steam page of games they have purchased. Using the system, players can leave a written description of the game in question, and then award it a binary “Recommended” or “Not Recommended” rating. These reviews are then aggregated into “recent” and “overall” ratings for the game which are displayed on the game’s Steam page. These ratings range from “Overwhelmingly Positive” to “Mostly Negative.”

Because of Steam’s ubiquity on the PC, Steam reviews have become one of the main ways that developers receive feedback on their games. But how do developers feel about the system itself? Do Steam reviews provide a beneficial service that can help improve games? Or is it a perpetual nuisance warped by review bombing and ‘joke’ reviews that cause stress and confusion to the people who make the games we play?

To find out, I spoke to developers about their experiences with the system, asking them about their views on its advantages and disadvantages, and discussing whether there were any obvious improvements to the system that could be made. I aimed to speak either to solo developers or developers in charge of their own studios, who had direct experience reading and responding to Steam reviews with little or no moderation buffer. These ranged from the vast community and perpetual updates of Rust, to smaller, niche games.

Their responses covered topics such as common player complaints, the contentious ethics of review-bombing, and the strange case of the thousand-hour negative review. For the most part, however, the developers I spoke to believed that Steam reviews can be a useful source of feedback. “Reviews on products are great,” says Garry Newman, head of Facepunch Studios and creator of Garry’s Mod and Rust. “The advantages are obvious. You can warn people if the game is shoddy, or broke, or their sales garb is bullshit. Leaving a positive review allows consumers to reward the developer in an extra way.” They’re also aware of the systems usefulness from the user perspective. “I think it has empowered gamers,” says Bill Gardner. Formerly a level designer at Irrational Games, Gardner is currently director of TheDeepEndGames, whose debut release was last year’s horror game Perception. “It’s a great way for gamers to have their voices heard.”

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What comes across in conversation with all of the developers I spoke to is the seriousness with which they take feedback from their games’ communities. “At its heart the Steam review is the most raw unfiltered feedback I’m going to get,” says Phillip Bak, creator of twin-stick shooter Bezier. “It’s simultaneously both thrilling and terrifying. Paying players are not known for their courtesy and to be honest nor should they be.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that developers are boundlessly grateful and pay mind to every review that they receive. Newman in particular has come into conflict with his community over criticism in the past, such as in this post on Reddit.

Although most developers pay some mind to Steam reviews, the impact of a positive or negative review varies enormously. For a game like Rust which has a huge following, a bad review is a drop in the ocean. “We’re in a privileged position where I think we’ve got enough goodwill in the community that reviews don’t really have any effect on us,” Newman says. “We can get review bombed to death and people will still buy our games.”

The case is very different for a game like Duskers, which has a small but active fan-base that communicates frequently through Steam reviews. “Before [Steam reviews] I was beholden to Metacritic, and as you may guess, for indie games there just weren’t enough data points to get a solid review,” says Tim Keenan, creator of the inventive, claustrophobic sci-fi horror game that was one of RPS’s favourites in 2016. “Now I can create a niche game and have it reviewed by people who care about those games. When I’m developing, I can scan those reviews to get an aggregate idea of things that players are struggling with and address them.”

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Gardner, who has experienced user feedback both as a small developer and as part of a large mainstream studio, explains that with mainstream development the sheer size of the audience makes it difficult to respond to individual concerns, which is less the case in indie development. “In AAA, you’re all but guaranteed to get your game in front of millions of eyes. As such, individual reviews are likely to get a bit more watered down simply in volume alone,” he says. “You’re only ever going to be able to understand a minuscule fraction of the people who played your game. With Perception, I feel I’ve been able to understand the people who are playing a lot better.”

While Steam reviews can be useful in this way, the developers stress that they aren’t the only important source of feedback. “I think there’s a tendency to put more weight on user reviews out of fear,” says Gardner. “While obviously there is a concrete piece of data that impacts the appeal of your product, the impulse to react to reviews rather than comments can be perilous,” Keenan agrees with this. “The only worry is that this tends to make you crazy, and want to reply to any bad review, which would be exhausting.”

Indeed, feeling the sheer weight of the internet pressing down on your game can be a stressful experience for a developer. “When anonymous players are rating your game, it’s very hard to remember that they are individual people. You can easily see them as a unified voice and paint them all with the same brush,” says Katie Goode, creative director of Triangular Pixels, who develop VR games such as Unseen Diplomacy and Smash Hit Plunder. Even if a developer is able to receive and digest the majority of reviews dispassionately, any particular review has the potential to cause considerable distress. “Any review can affect you, your team morale, your studio’s reputation and future, and your mental health deeply,” she says.

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Meanwhile, not everyone finds Steam reviews so useful. “I don’t find reviews as helpful as forum discussions,” says Cliff Harris, founder of Positech games. “They are often too short, they are rewarded for being ‘funny’, and developers are told not to reply to them in most cases.” Harris is referring to users’ abilities to tag reviews left by other users as “helpful”, “not helpful” or “funny”. These tags are designed to let users filter out specific kinds of reviews, but they can also incentivise users to write reviews that prioritise being “funny” rather than being “helpful”.

Harris puts the unhelpful nature of Steam reviews down to the small percentage of players who actually leave reviews. “Hardly anybody leaves reviews, about 1%, so you get the ultra angry, or the ultra time-rich, who do not represent the majority of gamers. Unless 5-10% of players are ranking something, you aren’t going to get a realistic appraisal of a game.”

Indeed, one of the quirks of Steam reviews that nearly all developers find baffling, is reviewers who play the game in question for hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours, and then leave a negative review. “NOBODY is so cash-poor and time-rich that 100 hours of entertainment for $20 is a bad deal. It just looks totally silly,” says Harris. Newman agrees. “You gave us $20 and we entertained you for over 1000 hours. What else do we have to do?” Bak, however, thinks there may be more value to these reviews than is initially apparent. “Those reviews are often the most interesting, and I think a player who has sunk that much time might have a lot of valuable stuff to say. Often the thumbs-down rants give me more reasons to purchase a game than the positive reviews.”

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Negative reviews with a ridiculously long playtime aren’t the only type of review that cause developers to raise their eyebrows. Gardner, for example, is troubled by reviews that have very short playtimes. “One thing that really doesn’t sit well with me is that reviews with so little playtime on record are given the same weight as someone who has finished the game,” he says. “Perhaps if there were separate pools of reviews where there is a minimum required time played to enter a pool A vs pool B, where people have only sampled.”

Another contentious issue is review-bombing, where users will collectively review a game negatively on account of some perceived slight. This could be a change to the game that a section of the community dislikes, but it can also have nothing to do with the game whatsoever. A controversial business decision by a publisher, or a statement made by the developer which the community disagrees with, can both lead to games taking a critical beating on Steam.

“It’s terrible how users can use reviews to bomb negative feedback on what could be an unrelated issue,” says Goode, “Buying the game, writing a ‘review’ laying into the developer, then refunding it… it’s a problem for everyone – obviously for developers, for Valve who seem to enable rage-filled, immature hate, and for the players who are just trying to see if they may like a game for what it is at that current time.”

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Gardner agrees with this. “When gamers use reviews as a tool to make a statement it can be pretty frustrating and kind of defeats the entire purpose of reviews altogether. To be clear, I am all for gamers speaking up and making their voices heard. I just think there are ways to do that aside from poisoning reviews.”

But shouldn’t it be up to the users to decide what is important when it comes to making or informing others about a purchase? If, for example, a developer revealed themselves to be racist, that’s an issue that many players would want to know about before they supported the developer with their money. “This is absolutely a fair point,” Gardner says when I raise the issue. “I’d never want to tell people how to use their voice. I personally feel that this is not the right avenue for this type of thing simply because it’s unclear where this sort of protest review stops… We have so many places to set the record straight with social media. However, reviews have their own purpose. They’re there to be an assessment of the work.”

General player tastes and prejudices can also be a problem for developers on Steam. One issue that players frequently bring up is game length, particularly with games that are shorter than average. “We did a late, short early access period and suffered largely from Steam players’ attitude towards short games,” says Jordan Thomas, co-founder of Question! and developer of The Magic Circle. “I can’t really fault the review system itself, the players would mention TMC’s short length even in positive reviews. They thought it was worth ‘warning’ people about.” Gardener has experienced similar problems with his game, Perception. “We see very conflicting feedback. The game is about 4 hours for most people. I think the majority have found it to be a good value, especially considering the games that share some overlap. But there are always going to be a lot of people who expect a minimum of 12-15 hours for a single player game.”

For some developers, it can be tough putting their game on Steam and watching the resulting tsunami of criticism pour in. But it’s important to note that, unlike with critical reviews where analysis and opinion is generally set in stone, with Steam reviews developers can act to alter the tide. In fact, Valve recently split Steam reviews into two categories, prioritising the most recently written reviews to highlight any changes made to the game.

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“The dynamic score does work!” says Goode. “In this age of rapid patching and updates, the weighting to newer reviews keeps users and developers informed of the current state of the game, rather than the state it launched with.”

Cliff Harris, however, is less enthusiastic about the flexible nature of Steam ratings. “Pretty much any change to an established system is going to knock your review score down,” he says. “If you make a change that 90% of people prefer, they won’t react in any way to it, but the 10% who preferred the old system will leave negative reviews in a disproportionate amount. Basically changing anything to an existing game can be risky.”

Positive apathy seems to be a general concern amongst developers, this notion that happy players remain quiet while dissatisfied players shout the loudest. But Newman believes there is a way to combat this phenomenon – talk about it. “A while back we were getting reviewed negatively for some changes we made to the game (whatever we do, we get a subsection of players that aren’t happy). We mentioned this in our blog and our reviews went positive for a couple of days,” he says. “This worked because the huge majority of people that are enjoying the game didn’t review it, so they decided to help fight against the negativity by giving us a positive review.”

Is there anything that can be done to further improve Steam reviews? Aside from combating the issues already mentioned, the main thing developers want to see is more people using the system. “Incentivise them!” says Harris. “The text for ‘leave review’ is like an afterthought. Anybody who has played > 2 hours of a game should get a little pop-up, like the screenshot uploader suggesting they give it a thumbs up or down, at the very least,” Bak concurs with the notion of incentivising players to leave reviews. “Awards for the best reviews (Developer spotlight on their favourites). 1% off your next game when you review the last one you bought.”

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Crucially though, developers want to see players using the system properly, leaving reviews that explain why they liked and didn’t like the game. They don’t particularly want “joke” reviews that offer no information, and they certainly don’t want their Steam reviews used as a platform for a more general grievance. “Ultimately there needs to be another way of allowing users to voice their discontent, rather than review-bombing,” says Goode. “Users should also have their reviews checked by a bot – have to be a minimum length, consisting of words that actually make sense. If a person is going to publish a review that can affect someone on a personal level, it’s only fair that they have to put in a minimum amount of effort.”

Lastly, Harris also urges users to remember that, when they leave a review, at the other end is a person who will probably read it. “People reviewing games need to remember that virtually no developer is actually greedy or evil, or incompetent,” he says. “There are real humans, probably stressed, tired, worried, and hugely emotionally invested, who will read what you write about what is likely the last two years of their life.”

119 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I agree with basically everything in this article.

    I get why people do the review bombing thing, I do. But it’s gotten to a rather absurd degree at this point, where the smallest change in a game, or faux-pas on social media, will just dominate a perfectly good game’s reviews all to hell for weeks.

    That said, I definitely do look at reviews before buying. Steam offers refunds yeah, but a lot of games take more than two hours to really get a feel for it, and endlessly refunding things is going to make Valve start giving you the stink-eye after a while, I expect.

    So yeah. More actual participation, and less memes and crusading. That’d be nice.

    • vahnn says:

      I’ve done close to 100 refunds since they started that. No stink eye that I’m aware of. My most recent one a couple days ago just took the usual 24 hours to take effect.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        You’ve refunded 100 games. You’ve refunded………1 hundred games.

        I’m still getting my head round the fact you have refunded one hundred games.

        Good on you, I think ! What are your top refund reasons ?

      • Chentzilla says:

        RPS needs to write an article on you.

        • MonkeyJug says:

          No it doesn’t. The guy is clearly an imbecile. I mean, who the fuck refunds 100 games?

          What kind of person does that? Maybe he should just stop playing games cos he clearly doesn’t have a feckin’ clue!

          • Leroy says:

            I don’t understand your argument. You don’t know how many games they have not refunded.

            If they have only refunded 50% of their games or only 10% of their games does that change your argument?

            I think it is really good that this person is trying out, probably obscure to them, games! It is good to test what you like, but also refund if you feel you need to.

            Maybe this person is abusing the system, but we can’t assume that from the information given.

          • Massenstein says:

            That doesn’t sound unreasonable number for someone who buys a lot of games. I’m a very careful buyer myself since I’m never very rich, but I still end up refunding every once in a while. With expensive AAA titles I do this very easily, with indie titles I am more patient even if the game didn’t meet my expectations. But still, even with my slow pace I would probably reach the one hundred mark in a few years.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        I feel like doing that many refunds is the type of thing that prevents the rest of us from being treated more fairly by companies.

        Are you spectacularly bad at researching your purchases, or are you misusing the refund system as a form of ‘try before you buy’?

        • Shirsh says:

          Hey, I probably made much more than 100 refunds. And yes, I’m missing demos, and I’m not rich enough to buy and keep all nice indie games just out of respect to their developers, though sometimes I do that too. It’d be nice, but not possible. So when I buying next new indie game that looked curious but not hook me up by gameplay, by “feel” if you like, I’m refunding it.
          So now can you tell me, how it makes you being treated by game companies poorly?

          • Assirra says:

            Because that comes over as abusing the system which will eventually end up in the system being reworked to include harsher rulings. Remember when you could gift games across regions without any issues? Well the grey market keysellers totally ruined that and now it is no longer possible across some regions. What you are doing is opening the gates for publishers to add some extra rules which will make the system worse overall.

          • MajorLag says:

            I’ve never refunded anything. I follow the guideline of “If I can’t afford $5, then just don’t buy it in the first place”. Maybe that’s Richie Rich behavior, maybe it just keeps me from wasting my own and everyone else involved’s time.

          • Shirsh says:

            Hmmm, see, I have 109 “new”(+/- six months) indie games in a wishlist that I find curious and want to play, when I can afford to spend those 5-15-20$, I spend it, but if that one particular game appeared not for me, I have another 108 in a queue.
            It was rather easy in 2014, to just check new games once per week and buy, and got a great time, but not in current flood of new releases.

            About wasting time, I don’t think refund requests distracts programmers who were making half-life 3 instead of people who have job in tech support (if it actually not automated thing, considering how it all getting done in 2 hrs).

        • mike69 says:

          How is it misuse? One of the valid reasons for returning a game is ‘its not fun’. How could you possibly determine that without playing it?

          I buy a LOT of games, and I probably have a good couple dozen refunds under my belt too. If I buy something and don’t enjoy it then I’ll refund it.

          It’s strange that people see this as some form of abuse, or that it’s taking advantage and that Steam will get angry. Incredibly naive! Steam offer refunds because it gives people the confidence to buy MORE. Offering refunds allows Steam to make more money, not less. Reducing your barrier to entry is their goal, they want you buying more flippantly and only returning that which you don’t love.

          • MonkeyJug says:

            If you had a refund habit like that in any high street store, you’d be perma-banned from that particular store for life!

            That is NOT normal behaviour!

          • Blastaz says:

            But Steam isn’t the high street and digital goods aren’t physical goods.

            There is a real cost to the shop if you return a physical good before they can get it ready for sale again (packaging cleaning etc.) you don’t have this with a digital good.

            While there have been reports of Steam getting shirty with frequent refunders the original policy announcement actively encouraged people to try using the service to demo games.

            While I don’t frequently do it, knowing that I could refund a game often encourages me to be more experimental with different game types, and I have occasionally reached for something outside my comfort zone to then refund it if it doesn’t click – Ben Foddy, Legrand Legacy, Steep

          • Landiss says:

            Exactly this. I can’t understand why people are getting angry about this. Not only it is not abuse of anything, it’s perfectly legal, it’s not stealing, it doesn’t actually hurt anyone* and it definitely brings Steam and game authors overall more profit.

            *it does hurt authors of bad games and it might be a problem for games that can be completed in 2 hours. And only in that last example it would be in any way an abuse by the buyer.

        • Premium User Badge

          Dios says:

          What makes you think that trying before you buy is an illegitimate use of the refund system?

          Companies treat you badly because you live in a capitalist system. Companies are not your friends.

        • thischarmingman says:

          Quote from Steam: “You can request a refund for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason. Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it.”

          Maybe it’s the rest of us suckers who need to smarten up and refund that game that didn’t quite click.

          • Baines says:

            While it specifically mentions “free” games and not just “constantly returning games”, there is leeway to interpretation, the same Steam policy includes:

            Refunds are designed to remove the risk from purchasing titles on Steam—not as a way to get free games. If it appears to us that you are abusing refunds, we may stop offering them to you.

      • mike69 says:

        Steam processes refunds *within* two hours from request.

        If your refunds are taking 24 hours then you’re already in a different queue to the rest of us.

        • Landiss says:

          Do you actually get the money back in 2 hours or just the confirmation email?

  2. Mirarii says:

    I am particularly glad Steam doesn’t simply allow reviewers to leave scores out of 10 or 100 or 9832 or whatever number. The binary system forces reviewers to choose simply whether to recommend a title or not. With the “overwhelmingly positive—Mostly negative” spectrum visible on mouseover, it allows buyers to see at a glance, whether the community as a whole recommends or does not recommend buying something. This promotes the idea that developers need to release polished, quality titles at reasonable prices such that they land within the positive spectrum and can win over those extra “at-a-glance buyers”. If an individual consumer wants to know more, they can simply click the page, read what the developers say, and then read reviews.

    Easily accessible reviews have always been a major part of entertainment since the internet became a household utility. Sure, Steam’s system isn’t perfect, but having reviews right in the marketplace allows consumers to make better decisions about their purchases and promotes quality products at (generally) reasonable prices.

    My only suggestion for the Steam review system would be to separate overly “funny” or “unhelpful” reviews from the immediate positive/negative score. Something like a (albeit high) threshold of helpful:unhelpful:funny reviews to allow the simply absurd or gibberish reviews to be filtered out. Reviewing the reviewers, so to speak. That isn’t saying they should be silenced, but particularly useless or unhelpful reviews wouldn’t be immediately present.

    • Nosebeggar says:

      I’d like to correct one thing about your review. The spectrum actually reaches down to Overwhelmingly Negative, it is just a very rare sight. Check Command and Conquer 4 or Dungeon Siege 3. Those games are hated beyond comparison :)

      • Blastaz says:

        TIL that civ 6 Viking scenario pack is the most hated thing on steam “Overwhelmingly Negative – 9% of 862 positive user reviews” looks like you need a certain volume of reviews to move from Very to Overehelmingly not just a minimum score…

  3. Wilson says:

    Great article, very interesting!

  4. Someoldguy says:

    I agree with most of this but there are other considerations. If you only have 2 hours to refund a game, those 1.2 hour negative reviews need to count or you’re automatically weighting the game towards only letting the more enthusiastic players comment. Those who played 2 hours and liked it enough to keep playing before commenting later.

    I’ve once given a negative review to a game after 180 hours – because I spent most of those 180 hours tabbed out looking up how to resolve issues with it or just doing something more interesting – like reading RPS. 180 hours of the game running and less than 10 of them actually in game trying to find some fun in it.

    I’ve also given a negative review to a 500+ hour game because I felt a major overhaul patch had taken it in a direction that was much less fun than the original. That doesn’t seem unfair. I’d still recommend the game in its prior form to anyone, but the negative review set out clearly all the drawbacks to its new form.

    Steam reviews aren’t perfect, but I do think they’re usually pretty good at giving you an impression of the game as long as you read a balance of them, not just a few.

  5. Michael Fogg says:

    >>>Anybody who has played > 2 hours of a game should get a little pop-up

    oh, do sod off

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Was just about to write the same damn thing.

    • Leroy says:

      Would your opinion on this change if in your steam library next to the play button there was a ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ button which appeared after 2 hours?

      I would like to know what issue you take with that feature.

      Personally I don’t like being interrupted by pop-ups.

    • Caiman says:

      Yes, see the AppStore for how well that works. For example:

      “I was quite enjoying the game, but 1 star for bugging me with a pop up asking for a review. Well, here you go.”

    • MajorLag says:

      Right? This isn’t the Play Store. I take time to leave reviews when I think it is worth it, getting in my face about isn’t going to do you any favors.

  6. satsui says:

    In some ways I like reviews on Steam. I enjoy seeing the general population outlook on a game overall verses recently.

    However, it’s like Amazon reviews to me. There are some of those reviews that will write something (in Amazon) that say, “shipping took forever. 1 star!!!”, but it has nothing to do with the product itself. Likewise, in Steam people will give a negative review because the game doesn’t work with their specific outdated hardware.

    Or, a sequel has high expectations. I know the last time I looked at the Civ6 reviews and it was generally negative. It’s a great game, but everyone is comparing it to this pedestal god that doesn’t exist.

    Negative bombing a game because a publisher did something that isn’t related to the game itself is just ridiculous too. People spent time and effort into making a game, and if it doesn’t sell they could lose their job. It’s the whole reason why I started building software, because unless you work at Blizzard or something, where you work after each game release is a mystery.

    • vahnn says:

      >everyone is comparing it to this pedestal god that doesn’t exist

      Civ 4 DOES exist, though!

    • rambo919 says:

      The prob with civ 6 is its basically civ 3 again. Beloved by some, annoying to others because of its experimental nature. Civ 4 was a refinement of everything that came before it which actually worked miraculously well even before the expansions. The big problem is that instead of actually fixing the rot spots on the apple firaxis is poking more holes and building more mounds to see what happens… civ 6 is essentially a grand experiment… or at least I hope it is because some things it introduced like warmongering being almost exclusively linked to actually fighting a war properly that some other idiot started because the ai felt like starting it is utterly moronic.

      • DEspresso says:

        I think Civ6 took certain design choices that make it a bit unappealing to OldTimers. For example the non-existent queues and Traderoute management which bordered on harassment combined with the (a bit) excessive happiness penalities focused the game towards smaller Empires.

        Which in my opinion, is quite a reversal from the earlier parts of the series where the sprawling never stopped (encouraged by the growing colour maps shown at the end).

        While Civ6 has qualities I very much like, especially the optimisation and selfirony presented I can totally understand those unhappy with the direction the series took.

  7. pookie101 says:

    The best game to check out the reviews for is usually Crusader King’s 2

  8. woodsey says:

    I’m glad to see they mostly approve, because I almost feel a little sorry for Valve with the disproportionate amount of shit they seem to get for the review system (cue the Woody Harrelson GIFs).

    Of all the review systems on all the storefronts across the internet, I can’t really think of one that does it any better. No 5-star bullshit, just a simple yes or no, tags for “funny” (ahem) ones, a graph for reviews over-time, and so on.

    Review-bombing can be a problem, certainly (the Firewatch vs. PewDiePie thing), but it can also be a huge boon, I think – if only to one’s sense of schadenfreude. I’ve put up with enough shitty ports over the years that seeing a big old MOSTLY NEGATIVE next to the next technical disaster from multi-billion dollar publisher XYZ is fine by me.

    • DuncUK says:

      A flood of negative reviews for a disastrous PC port isn’t review bombing though… that’s legitimate criticism about the game.

      Review bombing is a small subsection of the gaming community exploiting the fact that only 1% of players review and posting en masse negative reviews for issues not directly related to the game, like the lead developer criticising Trump or something.

      I think I’d also include situations concerning contentious issues like micropayments, where some use slippery slope arguments to suggest that their imagined theoretical nightmare scenario justify an ideological opposition to the practice, hence review bombing any game with them in is justified no matter how they’re implemented.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        I’m not too concerned with review bombing – for one thing the cause might be something I care about. Anyway its usually pretty obvious when it happens and I think people overestimate the mythical customer who bases their decision solely on the single summary line in the store.

        I also think the suggestions to try and stop it will be completely counterproductive – if they’re motivated enough to bomb you now they’ll happily get round bots and so on with comments about the horror of your UI or port or story etc. Making it harder for other customers to identify the review bombing and cluttering your feedback with bad data.

  9. dahools says:

    There needs to be a neutral value as well as a positive or negative. It’s too binary.

    What about that game that was meh. . . alright but nothing to shout home about.
    Or one that is technically serviceable but not what you were perhaps quite expecting, or ok but could be good if it did (X) feature differently.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      The binary question is essentially: would you recommend it to others? Or alternatively: was it worth your time?

      If you’re borderline on those questions, I’d usually lean towards “no”.

      • dahools says:

        Other who’s though? Other me’s or other you’s?

        Surely if you borderline the best thing to do is neither?

        As the article does enough talking about unjust negatives?

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          What’s unjust about it though? The question is just if you’d recommend the game to someone else not to try and reach some objective good or bad judgement. Even better there’s a spot for you to say why so other people can decide if your reasons for recommending the game (or not) is useful to them.

    • celticdr says:

      Agreed, I think a “neutral” button would lead to more reviews, there’s a decent proportion of games in my library that I’m “meh” about but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I wouldn’t recommend them, maybe they’re good games that I bounced off, case in point for me: Oxenfree. I totally bounced off that but it’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.

      Give me “neutral” Valve!

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, I’d appreciate a neutral position. I can understand why percentages/stars/etc are considered undesirable in the context, but the current binary is just not nuanced enough for my feelings on quite a few games.

      • DanMan says:

        It’s not about you though. It’s about the person who’s interested in the game, and they eventually want to know, if you think the game is worth checking out. “Maybe” doesn’t really cut it and is useless for the aggregate rating. Imagine a game with 100 reviews, 90 of them neutral, 7 negative and 3 positive. What overall rating should that one have? Impossible to say.

        Do you regret playing it? Was it a waste of time? Downvote. Otherwise vote it up. The text field is there to further justify your decision and to mention any reservations you have. Then the reader can decide, if those reservations are a deal-breaker or fine.

    • MajorLag says:

      There is a neutral option: don’t leave a review.

    • DanMan says:

      No. A neutral review is useless to me as an interested, potential customer. You either recommend it, or you don’t. You can’t expect others to read through your (possibly long-winded) whole review just to get an idea. If those were the requirements for all reviews to be allowed on Steam, I’d use them a lot less.

      As someone else wrote: if you don’t have a strong opinion on it, you might as well not review it in the 1st place.

      • dahools says:

        To me a balanced review will trade off the positives Vs the negatives which you may have strong opinions about. what I hate about the game might not bother you or be something you find potentially interesting. A neutral review would allow you to see that. I can’t recommend a game to you or not because I don’t know what you do or don’t like, your tastes will differ from mine.
        Positive and negative reviews in my opinion shouldn’t be a zero or 100. Which Steam in how it accumulates them and companies advertise games as. (E.g. 97% positive review score!) It could be everyone who thought alright but nothing special gave a thumbs up and all of a sudden the game is 97 / 100. I think the current system of grouping all the thumbs up and downs and giving an overall percentage is a bad way to go about it. Have a neutral zone and let people read some of the bad, good and indecisive then decide for them selves. I think having more tags such as funny, helpful, rant, informative, technical, respectful and more would help people filter the type of thing they want to read.

        Just my 2pence but hey ho.

  10. Tam Toucan says:

    Interesting article. One thing I’ve noticed is the often when a game goes on sale it’s dynamic rating drops. Perhaps it’s because more people take a risk on it and it’s not quite their type of game. Or maybe people who paid more rate higher (unconsciously?) to justify the price to themselves.

    • Landiss says:

      I think what often happens is that people who are really into the genre or the specific game (it could be a sequel or they loved another game of the authors) buy it full price. When there is a big promo, people who were not that interested about the game itself, but there was a lot of hype, now do try it finally and are disappointed. I had that happen to me several times.

  11. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    Reviews… It’s a tricky one.. I’ll bet fewer than 0.001% of plunkbag owners read a review before buying. I think to be successful a game needs to gather momentum before launch via the other channels…

  12. JOBN says:

    I’ve never understood the mentality that if you put a lot of hours into something then it must have been good/enjoyable. I can think of many examples of shows I’ve watched all of that I didn’t really enjoy. Lost, for example. I really hated that show over all. But I watched every episode looking for some closure that would satisfy me. In the end I didn’t get that (I’m sure many people enjoyed it, and that’s cool, each to their own). But, in the end I watched all 121 episodes, lets average that to 40 minutes an ep for simplicity sake, that’s over 80 hours invested into something that I wouldn’t recommend and disliked overall, admittedly I liked it when it first started, and maybe that’s how it began with some of these people. Also, I’d argue that just because someone is trying to get their moneys worth out of something, doesn’t mean they are enjoying it either.

    • Beefenstein says:

      It is more polite to assume that you put so much time into something because you enjoy it rather than assuming you are an idiot.

      • gwathdring says:

        Video games are often particularly designed to be intimately compelling. You’re often supposed to get sucked into the core game loop and let it ride.

        The problem with that is that not everyone who is compulsively susceptible to your game loop is interested in the compulsive part of this particular game or games in general.

    • MajorLag says:

      I agree. There’s a difference between entertaining a player and merely occupying their time.

      If an addict spends 6 years of their life injecting themselves with heroine or whatever, and doesn’t recommend it, that doesn’t seem at all discongruous to me. Games can be full of skinner boxes and other such “engagement” nonsense that make them time sink without being at all worth recommending.

  13. Baines says:

    There is nothing strange about thousand-hour negative reviews. Just because you continue to play something doesn’t mean that you enjoy it, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you would recommend the game to others.

    (And remember that Steam reviews are not “Did you enjoy the game?” but rather “Would you recommend this game to others?”)

    • Archonsod says:

      “(And remember that Steam reviews are not “Did you enjoy the game?” but rather “Would you recommend this game to others?”)”

      Precisely. There’s a few games I’ve put a fair few hours into that I personally enjoy but wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others; usually because there’s simply better examples of that particular style or mechanic out there. It’s also quite possible to personally enjoy a game for a specific reason while knowing said game isn’t a good game to begin with.

    • malkav11 says:

      “Just because you continue to play something doesn’t mean that you enjoy it” but it probably should and if you are continuing to play something you don’t enjoy, maybe consider stopping. You’ll get more out of life.

      • gwathdring says:

        The very image of easier said than done, that.

        • Viroso says:

          I think it’s easy to stop playing a game, unless someone’s addicted to it. It’s something people do more often than finishing a game.

          I think these negative 1000 hour reviews are from very passionate players who felt let down by the developers. Sometimes because of a change to the game, sometimes because they got so deep in the game that they’ve found a number of flaws that never get fixed.

  14. Osi says:

    On the ‘played 1000+ hours, left negative review- how is that reasonable for a $20 game’ argument-
    I’ve just gotta say- if we were talking about a stagnant game like KOTOR and a person played it for many hours, then decided to leave a negative review- I’d say sure- I agree that’s unreasonable.
    However; games that you bought during very early access based on marketing puffery about what would be possible leave the door wide open for unmet expectations despite high played time.
    There are so many games that I can recall that were marketed with bullshot (both image and video) that a negative review far down the line would have been an obvious consequence- these types of games are not stagnant and design changes midway through development aren’t always positive in impact.

    One last thing; a large hour play count doesn’t suggest they enjoyed all of it. I know in a lot of games I play I end up modifying my behaviour to work around bugs or design problems. The day you realise they’re never going to fix it is typically both the same day you stop playing and the same day you leave a negative review warning others to stay away.

  15. MrEvilGuy says:

    You never know who’s doing the Steam review—many times a gamer might have a new experience in a game and rate it highly, but to my dismay the experience is a clone copy of a game I played way back.

    At least I know RPS reviewers have a fair to excellent understanding of past games and genres and conventions to contextualize their views.

  16. Generico says:

    “People reviewing games need to remember that virtually no developer is actually greedy or evil, or incompetent,” he says. “There are real humans, probably stressed, tired, worried, and hugely emotionally invested, who will read what you write about what is likely the last two years of their life.”

    Evil, sure. But greedy or incompetent? No, there are definitely greedy and incompetent game developers. First of all, game dev is a for profit business. Greed is going to rear its ugly head from time to time, that’s inevitable. You think loot box gambling exists because somebody thought preying on people with gambling addiction would be a great artistic expression? Secondly, most people by definition are mediocre at their jobs. Some will be good, some will be bad. You might as well say there are virtually no incompetent politicians because they’re also just stressed, worried, tired, and emotionally invested in their job.

    Personally I think the steam review system is pretty good as review systems go. It’s not perfect, but find me a solution that is. The guy complaining about people voicing their opinion of the developer rather than the game itself via review bombs is kind of missing the point. People do that precisely because the review system works. It sells games with positive reviews, and it takes sales away with negative reviews. If he wants people to air their grievances somewhere else, then he’ll have to come up with another place where those voices actually have an impact. The result would be the same either way though.

    • aircool says:

      Agreed. Ideally you want your customers to shout ‘take my money’ and really enjoy the game. However, that requires the game justifying the price. There are some good games out there, Elite: Dangerous for example, that piss me right off when they release new content 12 months later for exactly the same price, yet it includes the original content as well. That game went from ‘take my money’ to ‘go get fucked’ as soon as the new content (which wasn’t even finished) appeared.

      • DuncUK says:

        Honestly, I think your position on Elite Dangerous is stupid and I was in the same position as you – I didn’t buy Horizons either but I bore the developers no ill will. Games anyways depreciate with time and elite is a game that requires continuous development. Charging full price for the base game and an additional premium for the Horizons pass would have been commercially disastrous, it would have placed to high a barrier for entry to new players.

        My only grievance was that I thought they wanted to much money for Horizons and that was the main reason I didn’t buy it. It was in a very real sense an early access nicely where you were passing for a small amount of content and a promise of much more content somewhere down the line. It was too big a leap of faith for me given that I had many issues with the base game. I recently bought Horizons for Judy over a tenner and I look forward to getting into all the new content that I’ve missed over the years.

        Ultimately they have abandoned that release model, I think they’ve seen that there’s more money in (so far cosmetic) microtransactions going forward. Let’s not forget, this is an actively supported MMO that’s not charging a recurring fee, ongoing monetisation is a constant issue.

      • Martel says:

        Why did you buy a game and keep it for 12 months without playing it? Or are you suggesting you did play it but got no value out of it in those 12 months?
        Sounds like you are the type of person that should only be buying GOTY editions, helps avoid that type of conundrum.

    • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

      There’s an aphorism I’m rather fond of that goes something like “Never assume an act is malicious if it can be explained by incompetence”. It’s certainly prevented me from writing some angry letters, instead making a more considered response later.

      • Paul Hercberg says:

        “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” It’s called Hanlon’s Razor.

  17. left1000 says:

    I love steam reviews. I read them before buying games.
    The thing about unfair negative reviews though, is that even a local bar has the same problem. Someone who has a terrible experience will write a nonsensical rant about their specific feelings. 1000s will have a fine time and never write anything.

    That’s just how the nature of user reviews work. It doesn’t make the steam users short-sighted or in anyway unique or different.

  18. aircool says:

    The odd thing is, I generally agree with the overall result of Steam reviews. Some games might take a hammering for reasons other than being a good/bad game, but often those a quite valid reasons for video gamers. Charging too much for DLC that perhaps should have been included from the start? Sure, the game may be terrific, but if it’s cynically short on content, why not put the boot in?

  19. InternetBatman says:

    A lot of these dev opinions make the review system distressingly democratic.

    People who play the game for an hour, bounce off, and leave a negative review absolutely should be allowed to do so. I have a game that flat out doesn’t work on my computer because it’s not compatible with more recent versions of Java; I should rightfully be able to trash it.

    I don’t want to see the dev’s most favorite reviews. They have an incentive to not put reviews which aren’t quite honest about flaws.

    I do want to hear about a game that is too short. There are many games I would enjoy equally for the same price; I might as well pick one that entertains me for longer.

    And sometimes I like joke reviews. Let’s not forget that the name for walking simulator as a tag started as a joke. View jokes as a way to further interest in your game, and as another way to help create something new.

    I get that it’s hard to put your life and soul into a game and hear criticism, some off-base. Normally the truth rises to the top in a fixed system like this; I’ve seen it happen to more than one negative review that is off-base.

  20. BaronKreight says:

    Developers should treasure every feedback they get in any way or form. No one’s paying gamers on steam for writing a review. In most cases no one is even going to say “thank you for your feedback” unless you are an internet celebrity. You can write a thoughtful and argumentative feedback and people will say your review is funny or unhelpful. Someone will leave a trolling one sentenced review and it’ll get to the top.

  21. ohminus says:

    “People reviewing games need to remember that virtually no developer is actually greedy or evil, or incompetent,” he says. “There are real humans, probably stressed, tired, worried, and hugely emotionally invested, who will read what you write about what is likely the last two years of their life.”

    And real humans aren’t occasionally incompetent? Sorry, but I’ve seen plenty of incompetence in the games industry, from managing people to managing customer expectations to launching ludicrous hype trains that were bound to harm the product. Anyone remember 11-11-11? Did the number 11 have any significant role in Skyrim that justified focussing on that date? Nope. All it did was ensuring that the game had to be shipped by that date come hell or high water, no matter how many bugs and glitches were in there and how many content had to be cut and hidden because it could not be finished on time. More recently, I seem to remember a pretty big publisher having some pretty big license tarnished by customer reception of their monetization strategy so that the rights holder stepping in and gave them a public strapping.

    Let’s not pretend developers are divine infallible beings – they’re just as capable of screwing up, misjudging and cutting corners that never should have been cut as everyone else.

  22. celticdr says:

    I thought it would be appropriate for me to leave my Steam-style review of this article:

    Recommended.

    Rick Lane has written a comprehensive article about game developers thoughts about the Steam review system.

    Pros:
    – well written and presented
    – Rick interviewed many relevant game devs
    – he went into detail without bogging down
    – easy to read and free flowing

    Cons:
    – probably could have gotten a few more devs on board
    – too short (I like my articles to be a minimum of 20mins long)

    Overall would read again 8/10.

  23. Ekleziast says:

    It is true that dissatisfied players tend to be louder than the satisfied ones. But still, on the other hand, there are so many games on Steam that are positively reviewed (around 70% of positive appraisals) and these games are just meh. Maybe my personal expectations are too high, but almost any game that is below 60% seems to be unenjoyable. And still, somehow such a game manages to get about half of the positive reviews.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I know for me it’ll generally come down to genre – an overwhelmingly positive game in a genre I don’t like might end up being enjoyable while something that only gets ‘mixed’ might still satisfy for a while if its scratching a particular itch. Given that its not so surprising that people looking at a genre they like might be more willing to take a chance on the B level games and treat them more favorably than someone stepping out site their comfort zone where the game will really need to impress to get a thumbs up.

  24. DeepSleeper says:

    I don’t actually care what developers think of Steam reviews. The reviews aren’t for them. They’re for me, or more generally, for the consumer.
    Which means I’d mostly like people to stop treating the review box as a direct complaint line to the developers, or worse, a direct line to Valve customer support. So yeah, less review-bombing.

  25. punkass says:

    I get that developers don’t like Joke Reviews, I fucking hate them. But before Steam had a ‘Funny’ rating, there were just as many joke reviews, but people just rated them as helpful. Because most of gaming culture is a toxic cesspool of idiot teenagers (I jest – give me a thumbs up!). Now I know to ignore almost any review rated funny, though I understand that this doesn’t affect the headline score.

    I’m sure any intelligent gamer will check the reviews – a few good ones, a few bad ones – and reach their own decisions. I just guess that devs are probably looking for a few sweet purchases from ‘Overwhelmingly Positive is enough for me’ people – but I do wonder how many of them exist in the wild?

    On a real note, I once left a snotty review of a pretty much universally loved game (shan’t say which, I fear the dox). The dev came back almost straight away being apologetic. I looked at the review, realised I’d been a little unfair, letting my expectations colour my review, and edited it. I still left it negative. I still think ALL OF YOU are wrong about that game, but I tried to make my review more constructive and helpful rather than just showing personal affront.

    That dev may not have helped his game, but I like to think it’s kept me more honest in my reviews since, helping other devs. After all, devs are just human, and if they write a game you don’t like, it’s just because humans have different tastes, and is very rarely because they have spent years working on a game out of spite against you. Apart from that one guy…

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      If there are people out there buying just on the overly positive recommendation its probably because its so hard for developers to game – if they managed to knock out all the people who didn’t like it with half an hour play time and everyone who didn’t like it after 1000 hours and anyone else they didn’t agree with every game would be overwhelmingly positive and the rating would be worthless.

  26. sk0sH says:

    Eh, this makes me feel guilty. Then again I feel justified in my few scathing reviews. After putting up with the sluggish process of DayZ standalone for so long, and knowing that those developers made off with millions of dollars that they didn’t really…well, earn…I made a very negative review of DayZ SA, even with…well, idk how many hours I played it for. Maybe 160.

    Then there’s the review I made of No Man’s Sky. Broken promises by the developers…lack of multiplayer was the biggest one for me, and my first experience in the game was crash-landing on a planet with the most harsh conditions, that after a while I felt “to hell with this, I’m not fixing my spaceship, I have maybe an hour to gather enough materials to fix it and take off again before I become ineligible for a refund”, but I fixed my spaceship anyway. Took off into space and ran out of fuel nearly immediately. Wrote a nasty review, got my money back.

    Needless to say I demanded my money back on that one whilst I still could. It was not worth the $60 that it cost at release. It just made me angry.

    I think my comments on DayZ SA and my review got me banned by the developers….because I am banned on their forums. They had the attitude of “la la la I’m not listening *presses ban button* la la la thanks for your money, sucker!”

    So, if I leave a scathing review, it’s for a good reason.

    But now I feel bad because I didn’t think developers ever read reviews. Until I was banned from the DayZ forums.

    Many people review-bombed that game, over and over, demanding their money back. There are even groups on Steam that are called “DayZ steam refund group” and such….because that game could have been amazing. Could have….well, it never made it. Combine that with the tiny updates every 3 months…it was just infuriating.

    They did take one of my suggestions and put it in the game before I was banned, however. I suggested a flare gun. They put it in. I thought that was cool. Never figured out how to use it though lol

  27. satan says:

    Didn’t really think developers would bother to sift through steam reviews until I saw a few developer replies to my negative reviews. Which was way more attention than I ever got trying to bring up issues with games on their official forums. Store-page-visible squeaky wheel gets the oil I guess.

  28. Don Reba says:

    Indeed, one of the quirks of Steam reviews that nearly all developers find baffling, is reviewers who play the game in question for hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours, and then leave a negative review. “NOBODY is so cash-poor and time-rich that 100 hours of entertainment for $20 is a bad deal. It just looks totally silly,” says Harris. Newman agrees. “You gave us $20 and we entertained you for over 1000 hours. What else do we have to do?”

    What I find baffling is this attitude on the part of developers. Do they really think the only reason people play games is to kill some time? It is not a plus when a game takes over someone’s life. What else do we have to do, they ask. Think how much value per hour your game provides when played for a 1000 hours, compared to a good 4-hour game.

    • sosolidshoe says:

      Indeed. I guess all those film and TV reviewers are doing it wrong by watching the whole thing beginning to end, maybe even a couple of times to catch all the nuances, before writing a review. They should watch the first ten minutes, decide they dislike it, and just shart out a couple of paragraphs about how awful it is.

      What a colossal joke, as if the only thing that matters in the consumption of creative entertainment is volume provided, even garbage-peddling fast food joints take more pride in their product than that.

      “We really value the feedback of the community, even if it’s negative. But not if you’ve spent too long playing, that’s just silly. And if you’ve not played long enough, well that can just be discounted out of hand as well since you obviously don’t have enough experience with the game. Basically, we’ll listen to and value your negative feedback whenever your playtime falls within whatever arbitrary range we’ve decided is appropriate.”

      • ThePuzzler says:

        TV reviewers don’t normally watch the entire series before writing a review. They review an episode. Sometimes the review will say it’s not good enough to stick around for a second episode. How many hours does it take to decide you’re not having a good time?

        • sosolidshoe says:

          Not TV reviewers I bother to read.

          Regardless though, and also to address your other point – you(and these devs) are acting like an opinion of a game can only be binary. You either play the whole thing and love it, or play a couple of hours and hate it. That’s not how people work. You can play a whole game and still in the end, on balance, decide the totality of the experience wasn’t worth your time. Or you can play a game all the way through and then have the experience utterly soured for you by the ending(see: Mass Effect 3). Or you can finish a game and have a mixed view, liking some parts but not others, and maybe the parts you didn’t like coloured your experience of the parts you did. Or you might really enjoy the whole game, but had to deal with technical issues that were severe enough they deserve to be highlighted. Or you could put a lot of hours into some manipulative skinner box rubbish and only realise after a long period that the game has just been throwing pointless busywork at you(see, Dragon Age Inquisition).

          Those are just off the top of my head, so yeah; there are plenty of reasons someone could and would play dozens, maybe hundreds of hours of a game, even to completion, and still be entirely justified in leaving a negative review, because humans are usually capable of a more nuanced experience than a 100% good/100% bad binary state.

    • Evan_ says:

      Games don’t ‘take over’ your life. Some games may inspire you to dedicate your life to them. Individual players may reflect on that differently, based on their spare life available for such purposes.

  29. Don Reba says:

    Negative reviews with a ridiculously long playtime aren’t the only type of review that cause developers to raise their eyebrows. Gardner, for example, is troubled by reviews that have very short playtimes. “One thing that really doesn’t sit well with me is that reviews with so little playtime on record are given the same weight as someone who has finished the game,” he says. “Perhaps if there were separate pools of reviews where there is a minimum required time played to enter a pool A vs pool B, where people have only sampled.”

    Some developers complain loudly about piracy, others, apparently, are oblivious it even exists.

    • Evan_ says:

      Well, a pirate won’t have “so little playtime”. They’ll have 0.

      • Don Reba says:

        When you buy the game on Steam to leave a review and refund (or not), you may well get a little playtime.

  30. Shirsh says:

    I did left negative review at 230hrs once, for a Windforge.

    Because it was unhealthy relationship with wrong person.
    And 220hrs out of it I was doing the last thing one should do in unhealthy relationships with wrong person: tried to “fix” it, tried to restitch poorly stitched animation pieces, tried to patch up textures to remove “shimmering”, tried to draw shadows above flat-drawn pieces of graphic, to add foreground/background contrast differences. To change npc’s unexistant behaviour into some illusion of behaviour.

    It was unhealthy relationship of one wrong person with another wrong person. With wrong person that anyone, like me, can fall into love/hate relationships to only end empty, broken-hearted and disappointed. So I left that neagative review as caution for everyone, to not fall in same pit.

  31. Caiman says:

    I’ve left reviews before where I have 0 hours on the game. That’s because I play the damn thing in offline mode and then review it later, but as Steam doesn’t count gaming time played offline it can be pretty misleading. So no, having a “minimum time played before you can review it” isn’t going to work. If I wanted to leave a positive review but couldn’t, I’d just move on. If I wanted to leave a negative review but couldn’t, I’d just launch the game and wait for the allocated time to tick over, and then be even more scathing for wasting my time.

  32. mistery says:

    Some views I expected, and then there is this gem:
    “When gamers use reviews as a tool to make a statement it can be pretty frustrating and kind of defeats the entire purpose of reviews altogether. To be clear, I am all for gamers speaking up and making their voices heard. I just think there are ways to do that aside from poisoning reviews.”
    -It is because more often than not, gamers can’t get their voices heard. If you comment on their facebook page, it gets burried under fanboy replies and the company can stay silent. If you leave your comments on the forum, nobody cares, except the fanboys, again.
    And this ties in with the 1000 hours invested bad review thing too. I am a peculiar gamer, so are others, we all have different tastes. I know a lot of my friends and what they like or dislike, I know when I see a game I play for a long time for one reason or another that is specific to me, yet I know very well, this is a game only for those like me, that can ignore broken systems, missing features and so on for the sake of this one damn game that had a hook burried deeply in me. So what does it matter if I had my 1000 hours of entertainment, if your game is still sorta shit?! Do my hours sunk into it fix your bugs? Will you suddenly not ignore my 10th report on the same issues you haven’t cared about for the past 2 years because releasing paid DLC is more important than refining the user experience?
    This is why your reviews will get hijacked with long rants about some random shit that most prospective buyers were not onformed about in the many theatrical trailers and the hype media. To inform them.

    • Ethalis says:

      Exactly. The example that pops into my head is Survivalist : it’s still in my top 10 most-played games on Steam for two reasons :
      – I had to manually kill the process in the Windows task manager to actually close it. Clicking “Quit the game” made the window go away but didn’t actually closed the program
      – I enjoyed it and invested a few dozen hours into it, but it’s still a messy, buggy game. The fact that I’m rather tolerant towards technical issues as long as the game entertains me doesn’t mean that my friends and other people will feel the same, and I therefore wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

  33. mike69 says:

    As important as reviews are on Steam, and I do use them, I think the their value is questionable. I can determine this very simply by looking at my top 20 played games and their review scores. A surprising number of them are ‘Mixed’ or ‘Mostly positive’. And that’s the thing with objectivity, it’s not actually all that useful when we ourselves are not objective. What we actually need are subjective opinions that correlate with our own.

  34. SomniumCH says:

    I’d also like to point out the ridiculous effect one single review, even a joke review, can have on a smaller game studio when you are right on the edge of “mixed” “mostly positive” or “very positive” etc. If this review means a change to the downward direction, it can lower the income as much as to a fifth of what it was before, which is especially devastating for smaller devs. Same goes for the positive direction of course but one review alone should never have that much power over the sales of a game.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Isn’t that the point though? Its not one review alone – its just another negative along with all the others or an extra positive along with all of them.

  35. Hutt Butter says:

    FWIW, my Steam review for Elite Dangerous begins, “this is exactly the sort of game that people play for 2000 hours then leave a thumbs down on Steam”.

    It’s a thing. There’s no hate quite like the hate we have for the things we love.

    • Dys Does Dakka says:

      I wonder. If there’s enough thousand-hour users complaining about a product for the producer -and their sycophants- to complain about them doing so, doesn’t that rather indicate that there might actually be something fundamentally wrong about the product?
      -And indeed, it’s no accident I posted this as a reply to someone mentioning Elite Dangerous.
      All I want is to love it -and I’ve tried for over 900 hours and even come close a few times-, but Frontier just won’t let me.

  36. i42-Xblade says:

    Heya! “Throne of Lies” dev here (TL;DR @ bottom).

    While feedback absolutely helps, reviews are not the place to give DEVS feedback — it’s the place to let potential players know how you felt about the game.

    What ends up happening for online/community type games is that the better the devs are at moderating, the more the community appreciates it, BUT +the more “revenge reviews” or “bogus reviews” pop up in retort to disciplinary action.

    “F YOU *REALLY OFFENSIVE RACIST COMMENT HERE IN ALL CAPS!” If we suspend this guy (we will), there’s a giant chance he will immediately jump to the reviews and land a bogus review. “50 hours played in the past 2 weeks, 800 hours total” (our game is $9.99, keep in mind), yet negative review “sjw devs”! “devs ruin it!” something like this, hehe :) we always provide a screenshot of proof with every suspension, which dramatically helps these type of reviews (then they know a human reviewed their case).

    The community is pretty smart, though. Although it affects our score, if someone dives into an individual review, some negative reviews have actually HELPED us! Sometimes we get comments like, “Obviously this guy was toxic and you banned him, so seems like you actively moderate — I’m buying this game. Thanks for keeping the game toxic-free”.

    We also get tons of those mentioned “500 hours” of gameplay (literally 200~800; it’s wild) that will give a negative review the moment there’s a subject balance change (The states that 80% of all your changes, people will most likely enjoy; 20% will not. It happens~

    With an official forum or Discord offering feedback, we can search for related feedback, interact with the community with back-and-forth questions. The thing is, if we respond to a “feature extortion” (negative review until we implement some feature obscure feature), we’re responding to 1 single person and potential players, which doesn’t help much. Responding to actual (rather than potential) players that currently play is the feedback you want.

    Our overall score is pretty darn good, so hopefully this looks unbiased (surely it would set the tone differently if our game was “overwhelmingly negative” and said this, haha).

    TL;DR: Reviews are for players, not devs. Online communities suffer backlash of “revenge reviews” in retort to punishment: The better the mod capabilities, the more backlash. However, it’s pretty obvious when it’s a revenge review and is sort of living proof we actively moderate. Subjective changes often results in negative feedback, no matter how many hours they’ve dished into a $9 game. Forums/Discord = king for feedback.

    –Xblade ( link to discord.gg : AMA )
    Imperium42 Game Studio

  37. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I will sometimes glance at Steam reviews if undecided on an unknown game but I usually find them unreliable in the extreme. It’s mostly a lot of whining about non-perfect 60 fps performance or issues on hyper-specific configurations (sometimes below minimum required specs) which is largely useless to anyone without that exact setup… rants about micro-transactions that don’t affect the game in any meaningful way, review bombing by angry children over the scandal du jour, complaints about ‘agendas’, and asinine dollars/hours measuring of value…

    Only about 25% seems to be a fair assessment and account of how people got on with *the actual game*, as opposed to peripheral or irrelevant issues.

  38. rickenbacker says:

    User reviews are always written either to justify buying something, or to get back at the creator of the thing for some perceived slight.

    Thus, user reviews always have been, and always will be, completely useless.

  39. Nosebeggar says:

    Review bombing is really evil, especially for small studios. People have worked hard and are emotionally invested in their game, sometimes they read what you write and I imagine it really hurts them emotionally and maybe even more important: financially. Don’t be a dick on the internet. If the dev checks the steamforums, has their own or a reddit, make your voice heard there. Don’t reviewbomb. If they straight up ignore the community, then maybe it’s time.

    It is called bombing for a reason. You don’t carbomb your neighbour in real life because his walnut tree has branches hanging over your fence.

  40. Risingson says:

    I see a lack of self criticism in most of the issues: not valid when it’s more than 100 hours, not valid when it’s less. This is like when people told me “you cannot say that Buffy is not that good if you only have seen 12 episodes”.

    The problem here is that the only thing that is valued is “you like” or “you don’t like” and not whatever is written to get to these reasons. There is such a need for self validation that the only important thing is “we like the same things” or “we agree” so “I am not alone thinking this”. When actually the line between liking something and not liking it is quite thin. Steam reviews are useful: you just need to go through them and check the prose of someone you feel having the same mindset. Comments and devs can complain about one line reviews, but there are many that I can read every day and are well written, well exposed and gives a clue on why precisely the reviewer did or did not like certain aspects.

    In any way, what I always say: always review a game as if the developer were reading your monitor as you wrote it. Don’t call devs liars or cheaters. If you don’t support a game for certain malware or something the devs said, say it, yes, but also please talk about the game itself a bit. And look to both sides of the street before crossing and be kind to strangers. And don’t accept free drugs.

  41. Sulph says:

    Reading the comments here serves to remind me that there’s always an appreciable percentage of user reviews on Steam that are completely useless as reviews, same as any other platform, because the idea of a balanced viewpoint gets lost in the rants or overenthusiastic gushing.

    You’ve played a game for a 1000 hours and choose to neg it because you personally like it, but feel it’s broken for others? That’s fine, as long as you also call out why you were compelled to keep playing it for so long. The same for a game you’ve rated positively — when you’re done fangasming over it, are there things about it that didn’t work?

    The reason this is important is because until Steam implements a third option — the sideways thumb, or ‘meh’ — the content of the review is as important (MORE important, arguably) as the rating.

    As someone here said, a reasonably intelligent person would take a dip-check of positive and negative reviews to see if the game overall fits their idea of something they’d like to play, and that’s not going to change for the forseeable regardless of how Steam tallies opinions. It’d be nice if more people actually wrote reviews as reviews, though.

  42. Mahti says:

    I could not disagree more with most of the negative points the devs bring up. They do not seem to understand that the Steam “review” is a recommendation to buy the game or not.

    It absolutely isn’t just an assessment of the quality of the product or the work put into it.

    Giving a negative recommendation, for example, because the game description is misleading is a perfectly valid reason. It is to warn the prospective buyer and it is valuable info to the dev for updateing the game description. “Too short” complaints usually fall to this category.

  43. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Hey, since you have the Perception people on the phone, would you kindly tell them to fix the f’ing regional pricing issue already?

    They’ve been “looking into it” for about 6 months now, whereas pretty much every other developer fixed it within a week.

  44. mxmissile says:

    Steam (negative mostly) reviews have saved me more $$$ than I care to consider.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Ah, but what if those negative reviews were deliberately misleading review bombs that misrepresented games that you would have actually enjoyed? Hard to know for sure when helpfulness can be voted on by people who haven’t even played the game.

  45. BeefChesthair says:

    Steam Reviews rate lower on my useful things meter than YouTube comments and Twitch chat.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Really? YouTube comments? Other than 4chan and certain sub-reddits I can’t think of a worse place to get good opinions on anything.

  46. Cederic says:

    Regarding “If, for example, a developer revealed themselves to be racist, that’s an issue that many players would want to know about before they supported the developer with their money.” I do not think Steam reviews are the place for this.

    If nothing else, everybody online is getting accused of being racist so an accusation within a review is now utterly meaningless.

    What I would like to see is better education to teach consumers how to interpret and understand reviews. Be entertained by the funny ones, use the positive ones to identify game characteristics that attract or put you off, and use negative reviews to do exactly the same thing.

    “Best platform game ever” could get 100% positive reviews but I wont buy it.
    “Terrible RTS” could have a raft of negative reviews but if they’re berating the game because “no multiplayer” or “can’t micro your units” then this will make me more interested, not less.