Why users write Steam reviews

bukowski 1

One of the most interesting and controversial features of Steam’s user reviews is the system’s open-ended nature. Reviews can can range from a couple of lines to thousands of words, can adopt virtually any style, and only need to possess passing relevance to the game in question. What results is a system where thoughtfully written reviews reside alongside jokey one-liners, incoherent rants, and political rallying cries.

This issue has led for some developers to call for more stringent moderation of reviews, either to separate them into different categories or remove certain kinds of reviews entirely. Yet while the opinions of user reviewers are visible for everyone to see, why users are compelled to leave the kinds of reviews they do in the first place is less obvious. Hence, I reached out to several very different reviewers, each of whom has posted a large number of reviews, to find out their motivations behind what they write and why they write it.

Establishing a baseline for the average Steam review isn’t easy. This is partly because they’re so numerous and varied, but also because of Steam’s limited capacity for searching through user reviews. Although it’s possible to filter reviews for specific games, it isn’t possible to search for reviews by a specific user. So you can’t search for the most prolific Steam reviewer, or the user who has the highest “most-helpful” rating.

If you went by the standard of an ideal reviewer from a developer perspective – I spoke to developers about Steam reviews earlier this week – you could do worse than Dr Ryan Dorkoski. Dorkoski is a technician at the Auditory Neurophysiology Laboratory at the University of Ohio, and moonlights as an aspiring game developer, currently working on a social art-sharing game called The Painter’s Playground. At the time of writing, he is also the author of 670 Steam user reviews. Since posting his first review in January 2014, this averages out at 3.2 reviews per week.

“I write Steam reviews for two reasons. I write them for my Steam friends, and I write them to force myself to dissect and critically think about game mechanics,” says Dorkoski. “The gaming community lives and dies based off of reviews, and I have always enjoyed reading other gamers thoughts on different titles to help me make purchasing decisions. I have a deep love affair with indie games, and writing reviews is one way I can give back and contribute to the community.”

Beyond the prolific nature of his criticism, Dorkoski is a fairly typical example of an “informative” user reviewer. His reviews generally range between a few hundred to a thousand words, are written in a straightforward and informative style, identify positives and negatives in a clearly listed format and consider value for money. They are largely consistent in structure, though not entirely. Some reviews are only a few lines long, and his review of the Binding of Isaac simply reads “Best game ever.”

dorkoski review

Dorkoski epitomises the ideal Steam reviewer from a developer perspective, providing considered and informative feedback that a developer can take into account for current or future projects. However, Dorkoski also has another motivation for reviewing the amount of games that he does. “What happens is if you write a lot of reviews, people friend you so they can see your reviews on their feed. Okay, good. Now what that translates to is my reviews get many upvotes right out of the gate… so my reviews rise to the top fairly quickly in most situations. Then other people see and vote on it.”

In other words, Steam’s own systems encourage Dorkoski to review games regularly as it maximises the eyes on his reviews. “I can also further push this by reviewing on a Saturday morning. All weekend it gets upvoted. You also have to review new titles if you want your reviews to get real traction.” It’s easy to see how this system could become problematic. By rewarding users for quantity of reviews over quality, Steam’s system might encourage users to leave shorter, less explanatory reviews.

It’s important to note that Dorkoski is himself a neophyte developer, and so both his views on games and Steam reviews will inevitably be coloured by his own experiences at the coalface of game development. Another prolific Steam reviewer who is not a developer is Joshua Chapin, who has written 277 reviews since 2013 under the username “Calibrojosh10”. Chapin began writing user reviews as a way to digest his own personal experiences with games. “I love talking and discussing games and I don’t have friends that feel the same. So I write about the games as a way to express my joy or disappointment,” he says.

Chapin’s reviews have gained a small following due to their detailed and pragmatic structure. They begin with a short bullet-point summary of what he liked, which is followed by a series of longer bullet points under the title “What you need to know.” He also includes his own personal score, the price he paid, the number of hours he took to complete the game, and a list of similar games he recommends. The style is very matter-of-fact, but Chapin’s commitment to consistency and precision is impressive. He even keeps a spreadsheet that details information about the games he has reviewed “I love collecting data so I started reviewing and keeping track of my games in the most extremely nerdy, excel-table kind of way.”

Chapin’s reviews occupy the extreme end of what Steam terms “informative” reviews. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has little time for reviews that prioritise humour. “I personally don’t like all joke, meme or purposely stupid reviews as they can just post it in another form elsewhere. I get the personal expression but the stigma of Steam reviews is still seen as garbage and pointless and hurts those trying to put in effort,” he says.

steamreviewsjosh

Indeed, many steam reviews that Steam tags as “Funny” are comprised of a single line or a handful of words that may exist purely as the basis for a joke. One reviewer who falls into this category is Mateusz Jabłoński, a Polish user who goes by the username Musk. Jabłoński has written 159 reviews, most of which are one or two lines long, nearly all of which are either a quote from the game or Jabłoński’s own, fictionalised quote. His review for Playdead’s LIMBO, for example, is:

“Enjoy a happy, colorful adventure through a happy land of Limbo, where everyone is kind and helps you on your journey!” – Totally accurate description.

While his most recent review, of Sven Co-op, is:

“…”
– Gordon Freeman

I asked Jabłoński’s why he writes these short and only passingly relevant reviews. His answer, essentially, is that Steam requires him to write something to give the games he plays a rating. “I simply want to add a ‘thumbs up/down’ to the overall rating of the game, as I feel this is the most important metric here,” he says. “Still, I also didn’t want to just write a generic ‘it’s good/bad’. My first review ended up being a quote, and so I kinda made it a challenge for myself to keep the rest of them this way.”

This raises an interesting point. Users who only want to leave a rating, rather than a review, cannot do so as the two are bound together, and consequently they have to write something in the box, even if, for whatever reason, they don’t want to. Jabłoński happily admits that his reviews “aren’t meant as useful feedback for the devs”. He simply wants to click a button to give the game a thumbs up or down. Because he can’t, he leaves a quick, daft joke instead. Jabłoński suggests, however, that silly reviews may have their own merit independent of providing developer feedback. “It’s possible that funny reviews might encourage more people to read and/or write reviews on Steam, which might help the rating system,” he observes.

Joke reviews aren’t the only kind of unconventional review that appears on Steam. Some users have found Steam’s review system to be a platform from which to take a stand against what they perceive unethical practices in the industry. One of the more vocal “ethical” reviewers goes by the online persona Ghost of Bukowski. The majority of Bukowski’s reviews are not related to the content of the game in question, and instead list the “crimes against gaming” by either the developer and/or publisher of the game along with the lead perpetrators of said crime, which is typically the company’s executives or board of directors. The companies in question include Valve, Ubisoft, EA, Warner Bros, and Activision.

musk review

I wanted to understand why Bukowski was using Steam’s review system to wage a personal campaign against these companies, and why he felt the review system was an acceptable vehicle for these accusations. “Writing reviews started as a free association thing, with some way over the top, others small and factual, for fun and variety. Then things changed for the worse in the games industry and I saw an opportunity to address that,” he says. “No matter your preferences; the gaming industry is now being consumed by the same corporate greed that forced people to escape into games, movies, and other forms of entertainment in the first place.”

Bukowski states he wrote his reviews to “inform consumers about predatory tactics”. This includes things like microtransactions, loot-boxes, and paying YouTubers for positive coverage. But it also includes things like tax avoidance or publishers closing certain development studios. Such reviews often form part of what’s called “review-bombing” although Bukowski states that his own reviews do not count as review-bombing because “review bombing would have to be done en masse, [but] I’ve only posted this from one computer.”

The intention is to rouse other players from a perceived apathy, and to convince people not to be blindly loyal to a company that has no personal interest in their well-being beyond its ability to profit from them. “Being a ‘fan’ of any product makes you a tool for people who want to take advantage of you and fellow consumers,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a product you bought or got gifted. It means you should be aware of that product or franchise steadily becoming worse because of incessant greed.”

Bukowski’s responses to my questions amounted to a 7,000 word document, which ranges widely and delves deeply into the problem of publisher ethics, often through colourful turns of phrase such as “The funeral shirt has no pockets, all that matters is legacy.” Much of it, while not exactly irrelevant, ventures beyond the scope of this article. Within it, however, are some salient points. Bukowski states he placed his reviews on Steam because, “This is the place where the end user sees this info while he’s browsing for goods” whereas “A blog or YouTube channel is not guaranteed to inform the consumer about such behaviour.” He also observes that “while I tried to be political because it matters for how joyful the hobby will be or not be, and Steam didn’t like that, others can write ‘lol kek’ in a review and still get it posted.”

Last year, as part of an effort to combat review-bombing, Steam banned the majority of Bukowski’s reviews for “violating Steam’s terms of service”. Strangely, this doesn’t remove the text from Steam. Instead the reviews cannot be edited by Bukowski. Regarding why these reviews were banned, there’s nothing in Steam’s terms of service that explicitly prohibits reviews related to perceived company ethics. Rather, it states users must not “artificially manipulate the User Review system or voting/rating systems,” a vague rule that requires interpretation by Steam’s administrators. Bukowski himself believes that his reviews were victims of “overzealous moderators”, although that doesn’t let Valve off the hook in his mind.

bukowski2

Should ‘ethical’ reviews be allowed on Steam? Bukowski, of course, thinks so, summarising the exclusion of ethics from criticism in typically colourful fashion – “only review how the lamp works and looks, nevermind that it’s made from human skin”. But he isn’t alone. “Review bombing is important information that shouldn’t be banned,” says Chapin. “Removing mods, or lots of accidental perma-bans, price increases, or how they handle micro-transactions are all good for users to know.” Dorkorski doesn’t comment on review bombing specifically, but does suggest that different kinds of review should be separated.

The issue of ethics in reviews is problematic. While many developers feel that such information is not key to a review, there are other scenarios, such as a developer being discovered to be an ardent racist or misogynist, where it’s obvious that some users might not want to support the developer and would want other players to be aware of that as well. On the other hand, this exact tactic is frequently used in far less noble ways, such as to attack games that attempt to represent women and minorities. The question, ultimately, is to what extent is a creative work allowed to stand on its own two feet, apart from the views and actions of its creators or those who finance it and profit from it?

Either way, it is worth bearing in mind this method of reviewing is one of the few options consumers have to ensure developers – and particularly large publishers – pay attention to issues they feel to be important. Bukowski’s own reasoning for posting his reviews was he “had this tiny hope that my review musings could help wake up some people.” At a time when publishers are exploring increasingly elaborate ways of making money from games – from loot-boxes to algorithmically-driven content, marketing, and curation, it would be unwise to discount those who question and criticise these practices – wherever those criticisms may appear.

Beyond the issue of ethics, all the users I spoke to feel that Steam reviews should be better sorted and categorised, albeit in different ways. Dorkoski feels there should be two review categories – “actual game content review” and “Game technical review (ie. It won’t launch or is too buggy)”. Chapin, meanwhile, would like “an option to filter funny or worthless joke reviews out” or the ability to hide all reviews from a user if they “only post meme reviews”. Jabłoński suggests that “the content of a review should be completely optional. It would let anyone give the rating for a game even if they don’t have anything substantial to say.” Finally, Bukowski would like “some kind of feature next to a review saying ‘be careful, this company has been accused of shady practices’ or some sort.”

Like developers, users for the most part appreciate the free and open nature with which Steam allows them to express themselves. But they also feel Valve could do more to ensure this expression is channelled in more focused directions. In an ideal scenario, Steam would enable everyone to have their say (or in the case of Jabłoński, not have their say) in a way that is constructive and doesn’t result in a barrage of noise, but without resorting to a more heavy-handed enforcement of what ‘counts’ as a review.

57 Comments

  1. SaintAn says:

    Steam already protects games from bad reviews enough as it is. They shouldn’t interfere anymore.

    And Steam moderators are nearly as bad as Reddit moderators these days. I see a lot of censorship of criticism and special treatment of fanboying on the fourms.

    It’s about time for a new digital game store/hub to show up and compete with Steam already.

    • Jue Viole Grace says:

      Yeah, that won’t happen. At least not in the short-term. Steam is just too present, to ubiquitous in pc gaming that any other platform announcing itself as a direct competitor will flunk. I have known people (console users, mostly) that genuinely believe that the only way to purchase games for pc is Steam, as if it were the official Windows/macOS shop.

      • dahools says:

        I think it’s possible but not likely. It couldn’t be just some new start up. The mountain is just too steep to climb.
        Maybe someone like Amazon, Google or other companies with huge online presence and budgets could, but would they want to is the bigger question.

        Stores like EA’s and Ubisofts will never want to be game unbiased/independant so will never truly compete as a marketplace for all games I do not believe.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      I have more than one game on at least 5 different stores right now, and have bought from at least 2 more than that. (not including Windows Store, because screw that) Just because they’re dominant doesn’t mean there’s not competition. And just because they have a hub, doesn’t mean we need more hubs. We can keep reviews to websites.

      But if we’re to translate your meaning, what you seem to want is for more people to support alternatives, which I agree with!

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I dont need another client to download, another password to remember, and another service to give my credit card information to. Steam is far and away the best at what it does, I see no need to shit on it for things outside it’s control.

      • dahools says:

        If it’s out of steams control, out of interest who’s area of control/responsibility is it within?

        I agree about not needing another store bit giving the current most popular one a free pass isn’t the way to go about it.

  2. mitrovarr says:

    Seems a bit disingenuous to give an example of a ‘political’ reviewer as someone who carefully criticizes actual bad industry practices, and not the far more common example of a legion of ‘gaters who come in to review-bomb a game because of ‘SJW’ associations (real or imagined).

    I can understand it, though, as I wouldn’t want to have to talk to one of them either.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I think the flip side is FAR more common, people review bombing games because of their real or imagined association with perceived racism or bigotry (see Kingdom Come for recent example)

      • Risingson says:

        Are you white, by chance? And male? If not, have you experienced racism during your life that prevented you from joining certain clubs or promoting at work?

        I ask to you too. Whenever someone says “both sides” in this cases, or “perceived racism” there is a HUGE red flag in my screen.

        • Kittim says:

          @Risingson

          Ah, so someone you don’t know comments that another (possibly more common) reason for review bombing is because of real or imagined perceived racism or bigotry.

          And that’s a HUGE red flag for you?
          Are we talking about the flag with a hammer and sickle perchance?

          You assume that the person making the post is a white male because of what they said.
          Gosh, that would be you applying a racial stereotype!

          You ask if they have experienced racism. I’m a white male and I have, and not the examples of joining clubs or promotion either. More along the lines of “am going to get out of this alive?” racism.

          I don’t have a problem with things people can’t control, like skin color or place of birth.

          I do have a problem with belief though. For example, if someone believes that it’s ok to cut off the clitoris of a female child and then sell her off in an arranged marriage. Then yes, I have a huge problem with shit like that and anyone that defends it in any way shape or form.

          Getting back on subject, if I buy a game and think it’s shit then I’m going to tell people. I find reviews like that invaluable.

          Developers need to suck it up and make better games.

  3. dahools says:

    It’s a hard thing to moderate but ultimately no matter what you have to say it will lead to controversy.

    I think Steam reviews need ripping up and redoing from the ground up to be more useful to customers and developers who really care about people’s thoughts are on their game(s).

  4. Jue Viole Grace says:

    Valve is truly in a very special position. Users as well as developers say there should be many changes in how Steam works (cof cof Steam Direct) yet they can just sit down and watch money pour in.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Sure lots of people have suggestions for things they’d like changed but its not as if any of them agree on much. Valve has to balance a lot of competing interests and if they get anything too wrong they risk killing the money hose. On the other hand their current position shows they’ve managed to get more right than wrong over the years – they’re not perfect by any means and there’s things I’d change if I was in charge but I’m not about to boycott them over it.

    • MajorLag says:

      What’s funny is that while so many users and developers seem to agree that Steam should change, everyone seems to want Steam to change in different, often contradictory, ways.

  5. Frosty Grin says:

    Shutting people up is not a good idea. If reviews currently serve as a feedback vessel for aspects other than the content of the game itself, the right solution is to provide another feedback vessel, in addition to game reviews. Developer/publisher reviews, basically.

  6. waltC says:

    My own thought is that personalities who write a lot of game reviews, and especially those who write a lot of lengthy reviews, have a psychological need to be heard and to imagine they are affecting the world around them to some degree. Involved here is their penchant for wanting to keep their lives under their control, of course, which is only a natural impulse for most mentally healthy people, imo.

    But I think the fact is that most people–including me–only read a very few Steam reviews about a game we are deciding upon–no one reads hundreds of reviews on a single game–but if they did they’d retain little of value from the experience, most likely. So the bottom line is that reviews on Steam are somewhat cathartic for the people who write them moreso than those reviews will actually color people’s decisions to buy or not to buy a game, etc. Myself, these days I only write game reviews on a game I like a great deal–or one that I think stinks and is a rip-off…;) In each case I will justify my opinions with specific examples from the game itself.

    What always amuses me a great deal is to see 150-hour + games released and a day or two later someone is “writing a review” as if he’s finished the game when it’s likely he’s still in the first chapter somewhere…;) That’s an excellent example of the psychological need to be heard and noticed that some game reviewers have.

    Developers sort of tick me off on this subject though–and that’s the reason they quit producing game demos, although they are to a limited extent coming back into vogue. Most very negative game reviews–not all, but most–are richly deserved and the reviewers take the time to tell you about the *bugs* in the game that ruin it for them. Premature Game Release (PGR…;)) is only the fault of the developer or publisher–certainly not the reviewer. Too many games are shipped in a bug-ridden state requiring six months or longer to whip into playability. Reviewers are *right* imo to crucify such games and developers are wrong to ship them and sell them in such a state. As a result, I probably buy only 1 out of every 10 games I buy in the first week of availability, and I *never* pre-order–unless a publisher offers 50% off the MSRP to entice me to order it before it ships…;) That never happens, though, oddly enough. Why people pre-order beats me–it isn’t as if the publisher can run out of downloadable copies…!

    • mitrovarr says:

      Writing a review for a very long game a day or two in isn’t necessarily inaccurate. You don’t have to play an obviously bad game all the way through to know it’s bad.

    • Kiena says:

      While I don’t read a hundred reviews for a game, I absolutely check them over before any purchase, and they definitely influence whether or not I buy the game. Additionally, I write fairly detailed reviews not because I want to be heard and control something (thank you, armchair therapist) but because those are the types of reviews I find most useful when deciding to purchase a game.

      Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, dude.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I’d read a 50% pre-launch discount as the publisher being convinced the game will be a complete bomb on release.

    • Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

      We are social creatures, for Christ’s sake! Wanting to be heard is, like, in a top 10 list of reasons that motivate people to do some action.

      I personally have started writing reviews on games that I particularly like to just practice witty writing, full of, I thought, profound observations and snappy punchlines. Very soon it has become apparent that nobody needs that in their lives, especially when many games are drowned with hundreds and thousands of user reviews already, so I just started doing it to catalog things I enjoyed (or extremely disliked if the game was bad/broken) and to write down which command-lines and user patches are recommended to apply to improve player’s experience (judging by the amount of “thumbs up” my Doom 3 user review received – it’s definitely something some players might find helpful).
      But it’s mostly just for me – I like to come back to games I’ve previously played and it’s rather useful to list which ones have impressed me the most or which ones were so bad I’d rather have something else remember the reasons that caused me to have poor experience.

      Same is exactly what I’m looking for in other people’s reviews when a pretty screenshot on a store page has caught my eye, and they certainly are useful feedback, if you can look for keywords and ready to do brief cross-check.
      Here are examples of my “filters”.

      Useless bad review: won’t run on W10 and that one guy in dev team is a meanie poo.
      Useful bad review (even if i might disagree): the game repeats same puzzle for 10 times, it drags on. Also, that “dead zone” issue in mouse controls haven’t been fixed for years by either developer or fans.
      If keywords from “useful bad review” repeat themselves several times in other reviews, either positive or negative, for the same game – it becomes very useful information.

      Steam reviews are far from perfect (that “keyword” stacking stats would be extremely nice thing to have – like, how many players found it “short”, “buggy”, “beautiful” etc.), but they are definitely more useful than any other digital storefront for videogames I’ve seen so far (including console and mobile markets).
      I’d rather empower millions of players and deal with a tiny percentage of bitter trolls, rather than put my faith into goodwill of just one entity, be that either Developer, Publisher or Storefront itself.

  7. DarkFenix says:

    I think the ‘normal’ reason for writing Steam reviews is being a) Chinese and b) enraged at the notion of a developer not providing Chinese localisation at the precise moment you wanted it.

    • Baines says:

      That is only because most of the games on Steam do not have Chinese translations.

      You see the reverse in pretty much every Chinese game that was offered without an English translation, plenty of negative reviews from English-speaking people who ignored the orange box saying that the game didn’t support your language.

      • Xelos says:

        And both sides of this scenario are assholes. Noy supporting additional languages is not a fault, it’s like complaining that French movie is in French. Just refund it and politely ask the developers via appropriate feedback channels…

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      The second most popular reason is “where’s the Mac version?”

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        If you’re mainly a PC developer, supporting Mac is a huge pain for very little return. In fact, between hardware expenses and the annual Developer License fee (never mind development costs) you may even lose money just being on that platform.

  8. kud13 says:

    I sometimes feel that the every publisher/dev should have a Steam Page associated with them, aside of their games. That way people who are not writing reviews for a particular game can take the “political” reviews directly to the offending dev/publisher.

    The only review I posted on Steam was about 2 months back, for Mankind Divided. I posted a long-ish to review, because I enjoyed the game (bought long time post-launch), and I felt that a lot of publisher’s to dumb decisions (DLC-related especially) was coloring the public’s perception of the game itself- which, while not brilliant, provided some fantastic level design and offered a lot of fun game-play.

    I got over 60 hours out of playing it once, and I wanted to share that, in hope of possibly encouraging more people to give it a shot, and eventually convince Squeeenix to continue the series, which remains my favorite.

  9. hungrycookpot says:

    I think that if you refund a game, your review should be deleted. But at the same time, they should reveal statistics on what percentage of users refunded the game, so that total junk games with good marketing (NMS looking at you) can’t dupe customers.

    • TheBetterStory says:

      But then you don’t get to know *why* people refunded it, which makes the information less useful IMO.

      • jssebastian says:

        That could be addressed by having a filter for viewing reviews from players who refunded that you can browse if you’re interested.

        Combined with showing up front some indication of how many refunds a game had (over its life as well as “recently”), that should provide the best of both worlds, making review bombing for non-free games much harder to pull off while still raising a red flag for games that get refunded too much.

        Valve could look at the data to see what impact excluding refunded reviews from overall score would have on how games are rated, and whether it would undeservedly bump up the score of terrible games, and could try to tweak some parameters of how overall rating is calculated to get the best results.

    • Captain Narol says:

      NMS is a great game with a few flaws that does things that no other games did before, but it’s just not fit for everyone’s taste and only clings for explorer type of gamers.

      In fact, it’s rather the marketing that was awful and totally misleading about what kind of game it is, which is the main reason the backlash occured.

    • syllopsium says:

      NMS definitely isn’t junk. I bought it on sale from GOG for 15 quid, and have played at least twenty hours. The early game is great, love the exploration and the language learning, it’s just a pity the flight model, navigation, and the mission management are severely lacking.

      Given that I’ve recently finished Steamworld Dig 2 3DS (15 quid, took me about twenty hours to do a fair bit more of the game than is essential), if I never do more NMS it won’t have been poor value for money.

  10. lancelot says:

    Not Recommended
    0.2 hrs on record reading this article
    TL;D

  11. The Algerian says:

    This system really could use a “neutral” review option.

    • MajorLag says:

      It really, really doesn’t need one. Either you recommend the game, or you don’t, and there’s a rather large amount of space for you to elaborate on that if you choose to. In the other thread on Steam reviews, someone said they wanted a “neutral” option because they don’t know who’s reading the review and therefore can’t recommend it to them. That sounds really silly to me. The system isn’t asking you to do that, in fact, no one is asking you to personally tailor your review to them. It’s a simple question: if someone was thinking of buying this game, in the general case, would you recommend it or not? And then you can even elaborate on your answer in case that person might find further information informative.

      I see absolutely no way that a “neutral” option could be in any way helpful to anyone.

  12. aircool says:

    It doesn’t matter in the end as the aggregate of the reviews is usually surprisingly accurate with regards to the game.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      I don’t know about that. Steam reviewers cut indies a lot of slack and can be merciless when evaluating AAA games. I’ve got four games in my library with metacritic scores of over 80 but only get “mixed” steam reviews. And if you read these reviews most of the negatives ones are over stupid shit that has nothing to do with the game.

  13. geldonyetich says:

    I don’t know what Steam thought would happen if you put up an open review board in public in a space where Internet anonymity is running full blast but, taken in that light, they should have fully expected what they got.

  14. left1000 says:

    I really like this article. It totally completes the developer’s viewpoints. This two sided argument is really well delivered and written and I’d love to see more articles like this.

    One caveat though, I do think in the article in which you only talk to developers you should conclude by teasing readers that there will be a sister article taking the opposing side in the near future. I was busy today and almost didn’t read today’s news!~ I would’ve missed this then.

    • left1000 says:

      The edit button seems to be gone. So I’ll just write this in a new post. I would like to see this article link to the interview with the devs, and vica versa. I think anyone who reads this entire article and hasn’t read the other one, would like a link to it. And again vica versa.

  15. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I do think the review system is handled well even though for my taste average games which aren’t particularly bad are rated somewhat too positively or forgiving given the limited time we have to play games.
    This and the damn joke one-liners competing with useful reviews.
    I don’t really care for the devs’ opinion in that matter as quality shall prevail regardless and BS shall be called out.
    They distort the reviews with their own fake reviews and giveaway key friend reviews as it is.

  16. Turkey says:

    I don’t hold much stock in written reviews for video games anyway. They never give me an approximation of what the game is like to play.

    My process for the last few years has been to look up a stream or a youtube video of the game. I usually know if it’s something I’m interested in within an hour or so.

  17. Shirsh says:

    Copypasting long joke reviews helped me pitch Darkest Dungeon to many friends.
    When you see a positive joke review that’s a sign: person did enjoyed it enough to make an effort and add to game’s rate.
    When I check game, it’s amount of joke on-liners a final sign – this game can make people happy for a moment.
    It depicts emotions.

  18. simz04 says:

    If it aint broken dont fix it. You buy the game, you get a vote and a right to leave a comment its fair deal.

    As for the review quality, its up to the readers to make their own idea of it by themselves. The overall mass of rating is usually right anyway. There is no need for more moderation than language/vulgarity check.

    Oh and maybe add a neutral review button.

  19. jssebastian says:

    I’ve written a grand total of 7 reviews, all of them positive, and most of them enthusiastic. I don’t write a negative review just because I realize a game is just not for me.

    As to why I write them: as one of the interviewees wrote, I don’t have many people with whom to talk about and dissect games as I just don’t know that many gamers anymore, so I sometimes feel the need to shout into the void with a steam review or, for that matter, a comment on this site.

  20. TheSplund says:

    TBH what really hurts a game is not a lengthy diatribe that may, or may not, be aimed at damning a game, but in fact the Thumbs Down button

  21. Someoldguy says:

    I don’t like the feedback loop that Dorkoski identifies. If someone is reviewing 3.2 games a week when it isn’t their main job, then their exposure to each game must be relatively shallow even if they spend zero time playing any of the games they “would recommend” that they reviewed in previous weeks. I’m ok with people not recommending games based on 1-2 hour exposure – those early impressions count and if it doesn’t work well with certain hardware, that’s good to know too – but someone who would recommend a game after 5 hours play that then drops it to move on to another game, I think is being somewhat dishonest. If they really liked it, they’d play it, not move on to something else to maintain their Steam reviewer reputation.

  22. Universal Quitter says:

    “Bukowski’s responses to my questions amounted to a 7,000 word document”

    I can’t be the only person who wants to judge this crackpot manifesto for themselves.

  23. PiiSmith says:

    In the Gauntlet review screenshot, there is nothing of relevance to the game. Sure Warner Brothers is scummy publisher, but where is the relevance to a review of Gauntlet?

  24. quasiotter says:

    My reviews are mostly meant to jog my memory of my playthrough, because there’s no way I’ll remember everything I play. I highly recommend it!

  25. Titler says:

    The missing understanding from this article is that in today’s interconnected information age, a product isn’t just a product any more. There has always been an attempt to push product as “lifestyle”, but today it genuinely is tied into a wider experience that goes beyond just what you purchase.

    On the practical level, you’re buying into a campaign nowadays, because products are increasingly Early Access etc; you’re expected to support the product emotionally in order to keep the hype for it up and the money coming in.

    But it’s wider than just having faith; For instance the Kingdom Come development process was based upon the idea there was needed to be a correction to certain assumptions about fantasy; much of the coverage is based upon whether you agree with those assumptions or not. Would the game have been so well known however if it didn’t have that debate around it? The argument IS the product in that case.

    Thus the idea that you can seperate out reviews based upon the intention of the reviewer is wrong; the gaming industry itself doesn’t make that seperation, but what it really WANTS is the power to use public engagement in it’s own interests, but NOT for the public to be able to express it’s own opinions on the same topics.

    And from the pure perspective of equalising the power structure, people need places like Steam to be able to talk about their own wider experiences. Someone rips you off in Kickstarter, has a terrible refund process, abuses their customers… Have you ever tried getting that story out there? I have, and unless someone in the media picks it up because they’re sympathetic, it’s almost impossible to be heard. The gaming media doesn’t want to lose their access or advertising income. It’s far too easy to fall prey to censorship on forums, or be dismissed because “well the internet is full of noise…”

    I don’t agree with the joke reviews on Steam. And the comments are indeed usually a disaster. But at the same time, you can at least speak about what ELSE comes with the product these days.

  26. Vacuity729 says:

    I have to admit, I was rather expecting RPS to talk to the guy doing “Hodor” reviews, but then it occurred to me that the responses to RPS’ questions might be somewhat less than enlightening.
    RPS: What do you feel your purpose is in writing these reviews?
    Hodor: Hodor!

    I think there’s a simple but possibly unresolvable dichotomy here. Game devs and publishers want a system that helps them identify issues with the game, and/or help them sell more copies of said game, depending on their size/attitude.

    Consumers want a system that helps them identify good/bad games, good/bad devs, publishers and business practices, gives them a space to wax lyrical or vent, and share in a social movement (meme and joke reviews).

    Good luck reconciling that! And hence Steam makes baby steps in changing the review system. I’m not going to blame them for that.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    If all or most Steam reviewers were thoughtful and fair like some of the ones described above, Steam reviews would be fine. What Jablonski said has actually made me reconsider the value of one-liner reviews (being able to give a thumbs up without having to write a lengthy text). Makes sense.

    The kind of crap described here by “Ghost of Bukowski” is exactly what is wrong with Steam reviews. Never mind what developers would like to see in a review, irrelevant rants about ‘ethics’ and “Crimes Against Gaming” (good lord) are useless to me as a Steam user wanting to find out if a game is worth playing… That kind of trash should definitely be banned from the review system.

    I do agree with Dorkoski that it would be good to separate types of review into “technical/performance/stability issues” and “actual game review” so as to better filter out the noise, but still leave those complaints visible for those specifically looking for that type of information.

  28. TrenchFoot says:

    I just think it’s hilarious that Steam gets so many work hours out of people for free. … What they need are editors, but those were deemed useless some time ago by almost everyone.