Valve are making more changes to Steam reviews in response to a different kind of review manipulation. This time the changes are to how Steam decides which user reviews are most helpful, and to make the user reviews that are displayed on Steam's homepage representative of its overall review score. This is on top of changes made back in September designed to reduce the impact of organised "review bombing" campaigns.
For some time, users have been able to rate Steam reviews as helpful or unhelpful, ostensibly making it easier for others to find the highest quality reviews. In a sane world, that’s exactly what would happen: the cream would rise to the top. But we’re talking about video games here, so obviously it's not that simple.
In a perfect world, people would truthfully mark a few reviews that were helpful for deciding to purchase or not purchase the game and we could use that data to directly determine the ten most helpful reviews. Alas, it turns out that not everyone is as helpful as we would like. Instead, we are seeing more and more feedback from players that the helpful reviews shown on store pages aren't representative of how well people are actually enjoying the game.
According to Valve, 11 million people have used the ‘helpful’ buttons, and most of them rate some reviews while trying to decide whether or not to purchase a game -- the way it was designed. But then there are the weird outliers ruining the system for everyone else. Valve spotted some users rating more than 10,000 reviews for a single game, and they tend to rate up negative reviews, while pushing the positive ones down. Like review bombing, it’s often done out of spite.
To stop a small number of users from having an unreasonably large influence on a game’s reviews, Valve is changing the system in two ways.
1. Firstly, our system will use a new method of calculating the helpfulness of each review, taking into account the users that are trying to manipulate the system. One way we're doing that is by counting the helpful ratings on reviews differently for users that are far outside the norm. Ratings from users that follow normal patterns of rating will continue to be counted the same way that they have, whereas accounts that rate an excessive number of reviews on an individual game will see the weight of each individual rating count for less and less.
2. Secondly, store pages will now show the default helpful positive and negative reviews in a similar proportion to that of the overall review score for the game. For example, if the game is reviewed positively by 80% of reviewers, then the ten reviews shown by default on the store page will be 80% positive, showing eight positive and two negative. This should keep the reviews shown on a game's page from being so easily manipulated by a few determined players and should more accurately represent the overall sentiment of the people playing the game.
Obviously, with an open system like this, it’s not possible to stop people from abusing it without taking tools away from everyone. Even if skewing ratings in this way was a banning offense, that would just be damage control. Reducing the impact of multiple ratings, then, seems like a reasonable solution, though it remains to be seen how effective it really is. I’m less convinced by the second change. Sure, not every opinion or stance deserves equal attention, but a review is no less valid just because it goes against the grain.
These changes are in beta, but you can start testing them now by turning them on and off ad seeing how they impact user reviews.