This isn’t a new phenomenon in the gaming world. However the trend is becoming a lot more common. Consumers find it an increasingly reliable method for reaching developers and publishers with real consequences.
In 2011 Metacritic received criticism for poor oversight of user reviews. This lead to rampant review bombing. Not always for a rational reason. Here lately it has been over more realistic issues. Mostly.
Mass Effect 3 had its reviews bombed in 2012 over the controversy regarding the ending of the game. This lead to free DLC with an extended epilogue. This expanded but did not replace the original ending.
In 2015 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim reviews bombed when Valve announced paid mods. This lead to the total removal of the paid mods feature on Steam.
This trend has only been growing and this year we have seen a number of games bombed.
Nier: Automata bombed in reviews on April 2017 by Chinese users. Users upset about no Chinese translation at release and demanding the creation of one.
In June and July of 2017 Grand Theft Auto V became bombed heavily as a result of Take 2 Interactive killing all mods. Mods have long been a staple of the franchise. One of the biggest mod providers is OpenIV, who had been openly creating mods for almost a decade. OpenIV is highly regarded and considered the cornerstone of the GTA modding community. Rockstar games has openly embraced these mods.
However, Take 2 (notorious cash grabbers) issued a cease and deist to this and other modders. They claimed it was over mods effecting GTA V online play (THE BIGGEST money maker for the company). However a number of the modders that were shut down mod exclusively for single player. This includes OpenIV. The community felt it was a move to stop players’ interest and replayability in the single player game and push them towards the online community in an attempt to make more of that money, money.
DoTA 2 received a review bombing in August 2017 when one of the writers of Half-Life 2 released a Half-Life 3 “fan fiction” on the 10 year anniversary of Half-Life 2. That just so happens to be when most Non Disclosure Agreements for this sort of thing ends. Many people feel it was the ending of the story finally published. Half-Life 3 is one of the most infamous cases of vaporware (software that is announced to the general public but is never actually manufactured nor officially cancelled). Many feel it was Valve’s backing of DoTA 2 that prompted them to drop their work on the Half-Life series. This lead to a rekindled passion of the Half-Life fans and the bombing of DoTA 2.
Also in August 2017 Sonic Mania became bombed for using Denuvo DRM and not telling the public before hand. Denuvo is very notorious as a program to stop piracy. One only lasting mere days at the most before being cracked. It leaves itself all over the users computer even after the game is uninstalled. It has been proven to cause several issues with game performance. In the case of Sonic Mania, this came in several issues. This includes the inability to play the game in offline mode. You had to stay online just to play the game in single player. The SEGA subsequently removed the DRM a few days later.
Still, not all review bombs are for legitimate reason. Most recently, Firewatch recieved a bombing earlier in September 2017 after issuing a take down on PewDiePie’s videos after yet another massive mistake from PewDiePie in the public eye. This time for shouting the N-word in a fit of anger during a stream of PUBG, Player UNKNOWN’s Battle Grounds. This is just the most recent of PewDiePie’s mistakes but that is a report all of its own. Firewatch becamed bombed with claims of being a social justice warrior and supporting censorship. This is more akin to an advertiser pulling their sponsorship from an athlete. This is another case of review bombing for the sake of review bombing.
Unlike with athletes and other personalities working with modern advertisers and product sponsors, they simply make an endorsement check. When advertisers drop one, that athlete stop getting that check. For a streamer or YouTuber they do not make a direct check from the games they endorse. They get a revenue from ads and replays of their videos (among other sources) and pulling their videos is the only way a developer or publisher can “remove their endorsement.” Streaming and YouTubing is still an evolving frontier. The “untamed wild west” of the internet. This decision lead to the aforementioned bombing.
Steam has just released a new feature however in an attempt, not to combat, but to enlighten. The histogram. This will not remove or moderate the issue of review bombing. Alden Kroll said in a recent blog post that review bombers, as much as anyone else, are “fulfilling the goal of User Reviews” by giving their opinions. Instead, the histogram will give a graph with the visual history of the game reviews. You can see how its reviews change at various points in time. If there was a sudden spike in negative or positive reviews then you can go back and see what the reasons for those reviews were. Possibly an update or DLC or someone disagreed with PewDiePie.
At first this thought meant to give games a more fair view of review history. This allows users to see and determine for the reason of the reviews and if they will or will not take them into consideration when they decide on if they will or will not purchase the game. If the game did really well overall and then had a massive review bomb. If the game did really terribly and then there was a massive review spike. Possibly there was a game breaking or fixing patch that makes a difference. You would be able to see that in the graph and figure out what the change in stance is about.
Now review bombers are taking these graphs as a visual representation of their effect. This visual success is now thought to only be encouraging the idea of this trend. This gives reviewers the validation to continue to use review bombing to influence developers and publishers in the future.
Only time will tell us how this trend goes from here. Is the histogram is a deterrent, encouragement, or something in between? I do not see review bombing going anywhere any time soon. I see it continuing to be an effective tool that could be used for good or evil, and as we know, the internet can be used for both and to great effectiveness. How do you see this trend going? Do you think the Steam histograms will strengthen or harm this trend?