Steam Reviews Are Broken
Steam reviews serve a purpose, quick and easy-access to information to aid players in deciding whether installing is worth their time. But lately I find myself forced to focus solely on negative reviews to garner any semblance of honesty. Or I disavow Steam reviews entirely and scroll down the store page until I see Metacritic’s verdict. I can’t trust the Steam community to accurately reflect a game at a glance. When Positive reviews holding a thumbs up are written in nonsensical English and have play times of “0.0” hours there is an issue.
The gaming community holds Valve and the Steam platform to a standard that is not being met, and change is needed to prevent unchecked abuse and ensure quality titles are recognized. Whether reviews are paid for or made by in-house development teams, or there is a volunteer legion of trolls who enjoy spamming game pages, or reviewers are drunk on a cultural obsession with irony, the conclusion is the same—the process is in shambles and everyone is to blame.
First, I’m wagging my finger at the community—specifically players who bury legitimate reviews through unhelpful jokes like “11/10-IGN, Would uninstall again.” It’s like reading sharpie graffiti in a gas station bathroom. There’s even a subreddit for horrible steam reviews, aptly titled r/shittysteamreviews. Troll reviews paint an unreflective image of a title, especially to the player who glances at the overall User Review score. And while I’ve laughed occasionally, reviews advocating a thumbs up with an ironic description are wanton and uninspired. They aid the game they berate, and diminish the value of every other review in the name of ostentatious sarcasm.
But even the “Most Helpful” reviews are tainted by Steam’s inherent review weighing. Any system that includes a process whereby users can vote and downvote motivates abuse, leading to community censorship. Rather than thumbs-upping an effective gameplay discussion, review patrols give a Commodus-thumbs down to any opinion that doesn’t conform to their own view. This systematic assertion of one’s opinions through like-minds is evident in any similarly-stylized forum. It hinders the review process and promotes a ubiquitous consensus, giving an unfair representation of any one game.
The hivemind rules the review page, and in cases where the Internet Hate Machine is on the prowl a product can be destroyed. Or the Internet Hype Machine drunkenly paints a game in gold, whether deserved or motivated by cognitive dissonance. It’s a dangerous formula. One that shuns independent thoughts through ardent slurs and ad hominen attacks. Try defending a game currently being eaten alive by an internet wolf pack and your heels will be snipped. But the community isn’t entirely to blame.
Developers, your Steam store page is like a shop window around the holidays. Kids run up to the glass and peer through to judge whether begging their parents for your game is worth writing to Santa. Keep your store front clean. The reviews section is the community’s perspective, and there is an implicit responsibility to read your Steam reviews, garner insights, and report suspicious activity. If you’re being spam-attacked by a competitor who overloads your page with negative—or positive—reviews written by seemingly dyslexic migrants submit a report to Steam. Because the community at some point will, and a lynch mob’s forgiveness is not easily obtained.
Steam, your decision to emulate Reddit’s, and other website’s, upvote/downvote system was a mistake. While I don’t expect Valve employees to regulate every comment—nor is it desirable—I do expect the basic systems for reviews to be sound, ones that promotes the greatest degree of expression and fairness, and prevents hivemind promotion.
Eliminate review ratings. It’s near impossible to regulate reviews for thousands of games, but by removing review ratings in-group/out-group selection is prevented. Zealous fanboys won’t be able to downvote negative comments, nor will adamant haters express their distaste for every positive review. And if a game meets negative publicity, the mob won’t have the power to negatively affect the overall ratings of the game they’re currently directing their energy towards. Steam reviews would stop functioning as an echo chamber where like-minded comments are rewarded and dissonance is squashed.
I don’t dismiss Steam reviews entirely but it is a system that needs improvement; unless we’re willing to let it stagnate as another public cesspool. There are thousands of games on Steam—new titles releasing daily. Valve must shrug the burden onto game developers and the community if we want to see a flourishing forum. It is a collective process. Steam must abandon the self-censoring like/dislike review dichotomy, users must abandon youthful trolling, and developers must take responsibility for their pages. Otherwise Steam reviews will join YouTube comments in forum hell.
But that's just one humble opinion. What do you think should be done to improve Steam reviews? Is it too late? Or, are Steam reviews fine the way they are?