The Practice of Review Bombing

The Practice of Review Bombing

Borderlands 3 being confirmed as an Epic exclusive lead to the rest of the series becoming the latest high profile round of ‘Review Bombing’.

Let’s rip the bandaid right off of this one, shall we? I don’t mind the practice of review bombing. In fact in many cases I would even go so far as to say I am supportive of it.

Review bombing is not a new practice, nor is it the exclusive domain of gaming. Movies and even Amazon products have been subjected to it well before it entered the parlance of the general gamer.

It has become a common enough ‘problem’ that the usual extreme libertarian stance and slow to move nature of Steam has been overridden and they determined to take ‘corrective’ action. A period of ‘off-topic’ reviews will essentially lead to all reviews over that time being ignored for the purposes of the score calculation.

None of the reviews so marked will be deleted, so those that care may dig into what they were all about.

Insofar as such a policy goes, I think it reasonably fair and balanced. But of course the devil is in the details. Valve will be the sole arbiter of what is, and isn’t, ‘off-topic’. In the blog post they outlined that EULA changes and DRM based reviews will be examples of off-topic. The rationale being these are not, ‘things a general gamer would care about’.

With the recent Borderlands example, they have also set precedent that undesirable publisher actions will also be considered ‘off-topic’.

So, Why Support Review Bombing?

Actually let me start with my understanding of why most people don’t support the practice.

The gist of it is that review bombing is punishing titles for actions unrelated to the quality of the game or series in question. That a undesirable action on the part of the publisher doesn’t have any affect on one’s ability to enjoy the game itself.

Not an entirely unreasonable view. I just don’t think it is a complete one.

A review in my opinion is for the very purpose of establishing whether or not the game or product in question is one you would want to spend your money on. Of course the actual merits of the game are one of the main factors, but they’re not the only one. And I don’t agree that consideration of the developer or publisher actions, business practices or ethics are somehow out of bounds.

This is not a standard we apply to any other purchase or support decision in life. Sure, not everyone cares about whether their eggs are free range or cage farmed. But you won’t hear anyone telling someone who does care that they’re only allowed to hold opinion on the quality of the egg itself and that anything speaking to the practices of the corporation behind it are irrelevant.

If a publisher or developer takes money to make their game exclusive to Epic, after first making commitments to the contrary and taking money from backers in order to even have a game in the first place? I want to know.

Things like that affect my decision to purchase. Therefore they have a place in reviews. Exposure of this kind is one of the few voices left to the consumer. One of the few ways we have to affect change. We’ve seen it in games when Bethesda attempt to sell ‘premium’ user-created mods for Skyrim in 2015, with the outcry then turning this around.

We’ve seen the power of the voice of the customer in overturning other, more important issues in the world, such as the reliance on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. At first but a rumble, with not enough people actually caring to bring change. Slowly a momentum builds and now all of our big supermarket chains have dropped plastic bags.

So I don’t think we should be so quick to silence, write-off or ridicule those with a different set of standards for publishers than what we may be held at present.

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4 thoughts on “The Practice of Review Bombing”

  1. Review bombing is one of the main reasons the epic store is attracting developers. The irony is so delicious.

    Every time Steam allow something like this, it’s another break in their monopoly from the developer’s perspective. Steam has absolute garbage tools for administrative/community management. Any alternative is going to be extremely attractive. Randy Pitchford was pretty upfront about that fact in the article you link.

    The only answer here is whether or not Borderlands 3 makes money. I’d be ultra curious to see how many of those 1100+ review bombers don’t get it from Epic (or for the actual effect, don’t buy the game at all even when on Steam). For this to change, Epic has to not make money, and developers have to really take a beating on the pocket book. Going to find that out within the next year.

    Does community activism have an impact? Sometimes. But it’s always down to $$$. (Plastic bags are a GREAT example of this. Do you know how much money grocery stores save on this? They were huge proponents of this change.)
    Asmiroth recently posted…Dauntless – Hop, Skip, JumpMy Profile

    • Randy Pitchford is a giant tool. His twitter rant on how maybe he should reconsider his (Gearbox Publishing’s) stance on Steam ‘altogether’ because ‘Steam was clearly not interested in helping’ blah blah came *after* Steam had already made Borderlands their first case of their off-topic review system.

      Also, I don’t believe for a *moment* that review bombing is one of the main reasons. I could believe that not having to worry about reviews at all on EGS if they don’t want to, to be a contributing factor though.

      In any case, for all the hot air coming from Randy, even IF EGS ends up doing exceptionally well — they’re not really going to drop Steam entirely. As you say, it’s all about the money. That of course, we do agree on. ;)

      In terms of the money saved by Grocery stores? No, I can’t say that I do know. At least here in NZ they were quite apologetically resistant to the change for a while. But the attitudes started shifting fairly quickly as consumer support continued to grow. My thinking on this is that they were also in committed term contracts with their bag suppliers for a while, and once those were coming up for renewal the shift away began. ;)

  2. I completely and utterly refute your definition of what a “review” either is or is for, so we are starting at cross-purposes. As a lifelong fan of reviewing and reviewers I have always seen reviewing as an artform in and of itslef, with equal validity to any other. Reviews are collected into volumes and sold for their own merits. Publications, print and digital, pay handsomely for reviews by skilled reviewers because they know that most of their customers will be reading those reviews for the quality of the writing, not because they want advice on what movie to see on a Friday night.

    Therefore it’s completely accurate to object to Review Bombing because it’s “unrelated to the quality of the game or series”. You can’t “review” a game before you’ve played it, a book before you’ve read it, a movie before you’ve seen it. People lose their jobs for doing that. In extreme cases they go to prison. At best it’s deceitful, at worst it’s fraud.

    Not, of course, than anyone’s pretending to have played Borderlands 3. In this specific case we do, at least, know that the “reviewers” have never played it because no-one has. In many cases of review bombing, however, that’s not the case.

    I have never reviewed a game on Steam but I imagine the platform can at least check if you own the game you’re reviewing and how long you’ve been logged into Steam while it’s running. Doesn’t prove you played it even then, of course, but it’s something. Movie or book review sites don’t have that safety-net. You don’t have to scan your ticket stub in before you post your ultra-low review of a movie to which you have political or cultural objections and which you will never see.

    There’s a perfectly good case, which you put, for expressing dislike or distaste for the commercial decisions retailers and producers make. I can’t see any moral justification for hijacking the review platform to do it. It’s not as though, if people want to object to a given business decision, they don’t have other avenues to express their objections.
    Bhagpuss recently posted…When You Get Out Of The HospitalMy Profile

    • (Welcome back! Glad to hear from your post the surgery went well and you’re back home for recovery.)

      In this instance, as you correctly surmised, no-one is purporting to have played Borderlands 3, nor are they making any assessment on the quality (or lack thereof) of that title.

      The reviews are against the earlier titles and make an assessment against the business practice of the publisher of these titles. I see this as a valid criticism, and under my rather functional perspective on what a review ‘is’, have no problem with it.

      I still stand by this rather functional perspective too, in the context of games especially. The main purpose a reader of a game review wants fulfilled is indeed advice on whether or not this is for them.

      I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that reviews cannot become an artform unto themselves, like you suggest. But nor do I subscribe to any notion that reviews with such form are the only ones with merit or that the voice of the consumer is unimportant.

      Note too this comment (and the post) are all referring to non-fraudulent cases. Where people are review bombing movies as if they had seen it, when in fact they had not, that is not a situation I support even for a moment.

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