Off-topic review bomb Steam

Valve has had a major problem these past few years with user submitted reviews. One of the biggest issues with user reviews, be they on Steam or anywhere, is when a push is made by a community to review bomb a game or other form of media. These usually result in a ton of negative reviews in a short span of time for a product because of some perceived slight by a studio concerning a game.

Steam displays user scores in a couple of ways. They show the average of the most recent scores given to a title and the average of all of the reviews from the start. So while the short-term impact of a review bomb can come and go, those scores could substantially lower a game's overall score, often times unfairly.

In a new blog post, Valve says that they are giving developers and publishers a new way to combat review bombing from users. This is something that companies can optionally disable this feature and let the reviews fall where they may. Otherwise, control seems to be left up to Valve's algorithms that aim to detect "off-topic review bombs."

We define an off-topic review bomb as one where the focus of those reviews is on a topic that we consider unrelated to the likelihood that future purchasers will be happy if they buy the game, and hence not something that should be added to the Review Score.

Obviously, there's a grey area here, because there's a wide range of things that players care about. So how will we identify these off-topic review bombs? The first step is a tool we've built that identifies any anomalous review activity on all games on Steam in as close to real-time as possible. It doesn't know why a given game is receiving anomalous review activity, and it doesn't even try to figure that out. Instead, it notifies a team of people at Valve, who'll then go and investigate. We've already run our tool across the entire history of reviews on Steam, identifying many reasons why games have seen periods of anomalous review activity, and off-topic review bombs appear to only be a small number of them.

Once our team has identified that the anomalous activity is an off-topic review bomb, we'll mark the time period it encompasses and notify the developer. The reviews within that time period will then be removed from the Review Score calculation. As before, the reviews themselves are left untouched - if you want to dig into them to see if they're relevant to you, you'll still be able to do so. To help you do that, we've made it clear when you're looking at a store page where we've removed some reviews by default, and we've further improved the UI around anomalous review periods.
There are a few extra catches here. Valve notes that if you make a legitimate review in a period of an "off-topic review bomb," your review will not be included in the review score. Valve also notes that review bombs that concern things like DRM or issues with the EULA will also fall under the "off-topic" category. They say that they had "long debates about these two" items in particular. They find that consumers who do care about topics like DRM tend to dig a bit deeper into researching games prior to purchasing. This means that they can sift through reviews, even those made during a review bomb, to find relevant information concerning DRM.

While it's clear something needed to be done about review bombing, it's not really clear yet if this is the best course of action. There is, as Valve said, a lot of grey area about what does and does not constitute an "off-topic review bomb." Hopefully feedback provided by developers and publishers is actually taken into consideration for how the system can possibly be improved in the future.