Valve Responds To Steam 'Review Bombs' With New Histograms

Valve announced that Steam will now feature histograms showing how a game's reviews have changed over time. This should make it easier to tell when people warmed up to or went cold on a game—or when they're bombarding it with negative reviews to punish their developers.

These so-called "review bombs" have become common over the last few months. Many people swarmed Dota 2 with negative reviews after a Half-Life writer revealed one of the game's plots, with their purported intent being to protest Valve's decision to abandon the franchise. A similar campaign waged against Firewatch because its developer issued a DMCA strike against a popular streamer for using racist language.

It's a simple concept. People often check Steam reviews before they buy a game, so if a bunch of negative reviews are posted, the developers who raised gamers' ire will take a financial hit. If you squint hard enough, this starts to look more like a form of protest and less like people spreading misinformation in what is supposed to be an unbiased source people can use to figure out if they should spend their money on a game.

Here's what Valve said about these review bombs in its announcement:

So why is review bombing a problem? On the one hand, the players doing the bombing are fulfilling the goal of User Reviews - they're voicing their opinion as to why other people shouldn't buy the game. But one thing we've noticed is that the issue players are concerned about can often be outside the game itself. It might be that they're unhappy with something the developer has said online, or about choices the developer has made in the Steam version of their game relative to other platforms, or simply that they don't like the developer's political convictions. Many of these out-of-game issues aren't very relevant when it comes to the value of the game itself, but some of them are real reasons why a player may be unhappy with their purchase.

The company also noted that in many cases, a game's review score rises to its previous level after the campaign ends. This led Valve to call review bombs' effect on a game's rating a "temporary distortion" whose effects are really felt only while the review bomb is ongoing. Instead of preventing those review bombs, Valve decided to make it clear that a game whose review score has suddenly cratered is probably still good.

That's why it settled on the new histograms. These pretty little graphs show the ratio of a game's positive-to-negative reviews over time, and if you hover over a specific date range, they'll show you a sample of the reviews posted in that time. Now it will be easier to see when a game has been review bombed and when it's simply a bad game. (Or suffers from crippling bugs, for example, that were introduced with a recent update.)

These changes should reduce the effect of review bombs without making people feel like their voices aren't being heard. The last thing Valve needs to be accused of is censoring its users, so blocking these campaigns would be problematic, especially since at least some people are likely to submit legitimate reviews while the bombs fall. Instead, Valve wants to let people to express themselves while also protecting developers.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • JonDol
    A nice one, thank you Valve.
  • therickmu25
    Checked this out yesterday and really happy with the change. Being able to click a negative or positive line and see those specific reviews from that time-frame is helpful and entertaining at the same time.
  • shrapnel_indie
    It was a good move, IMHO. Although a few of us know to take reviews with a grain of salt, this will help us determine if a trend is valid. Reading the reviews can help determine what is more likely legit vs a "protest" or designed to punish.
  • Xenophage2112
    Valve impresses me with their thoughtfulness and careful approach to solving complex issues like this. Well done.