Valve's "Solution" to Review Bombing Ignores Steam's Longstanding Problems

A fancy graph may actually incentive further review bombing runs, and underscores Valve's reluctance to hire humans to deal with human problems.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Their obsession with “fixing” all their platform issues via automation and crowdsourcing is bordering on parody. It’s so bizarre that a developer that once prided themselves on eschewing popular trends in favor of making what they wanted to make, is now laser-focused on utilizing populist solutions to all their problems.

Are they so afraid of rupturing their meritocratic workplace utopia that they can’t hire dedicated teams for these things?


So they turned the nebulous percentages into easy to read numbers that mobs can learn both how to have the greatest impact and compete with each other to do the most damage? Great.

Steam’s review system is already such a mess that can barely be trusted at its best and now Valve is basically ignoring the problems at its worst. Review bombing is, let’s be clear, a coordinated attack against a platform first, then the intended target second. It’s an abuse of Steam reviews in the hopes that some of that damage ends up hurting a game’s sales. Valve’s response to this and future attacks is to say “Here’s some charts so you figure out if we’re hosting fraudulent reviews.”

I’m always hesitant to be an armchair expert and act like I know better than the people actually involved, but this is getting ridiculous. There’s only one way to stop this: delete fake or joke reviews and disable an account’s ability to leave reviews after they’ve been flagged too many times. That doesn’t mean every review needs to be a long, professional analysis. They can still be only a sentence or two, poorly worded, and super angry as long as they’re legitimate and people can judge for themselves how much to believe them like they do now. Unfortunately, that sort of judgement call is difficult for automated tools to make and Valve doesn’t seem to want to hire anybody for anything so…graphs.

I really hope we see some more competition between online marketplaces in the years to come, because it’s increasingly apparent that Valve knows they are by far the largest retailer for PC games and isn’t bothering to fix stuff like this because the money comes flowing in regardless.

Until consumers are given other attractive options when it comes to where they want to shop, (GOG has been getting there over the years, but slowly) Valve will likely kick their feet up and do the bare minimum when it comes to issues like this, as frustrating as it is.

But that is not going to happen, Steam is quite ubiquitous, even with options, the audience is too alienated to move to other services and make the kind of change that is needed.

As it is with most problems in the games industry, huge changes like this one has to start at the bottom of the chain and oh dear, good luck with that.

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The problem is that it isn’t just a marketplace, it’s also tapped into the social network side of things. When you get a critical mass of people, they are reluctant to move anywhere else because their friends and acquaintances are already there, and it becomes a self-reinforcing thing.

See: every other shitty social network. Cough.

You’re completely right, not to mention that I already have the vast majority of my game purchases in one nice, clean list on steam. As convenient as that is though, I wish that list existed on a service without a storefront cluttered with obscure dating sim DLC and random $1 shovelware getting the spotlight. It’s really too bad.

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We’re talking about a company who rather then get actual paid employees to handle translations or keep their platform from being a breeding ground for racists, sexists, and other forms of hate speech has instead decided offload it on to volunteers who on top of having jobs must come home and try to wade through the never ending garbage pile up that is Steam. It’s not like there’s 16,000+ individual profiles that come back when you search for the word “nazi” or allow for racial slurs to be used in the naming of items in their games.

It’s a good thing they filter the words ass and piss though, wouldn’t want little Timmy seeing that.


Well, I’m doing my part moving slowly to GOG and buying directly from developers when I can. The only thing that makes me worry a bit is the potential to use the review bombings as an excuse to erase valid criticisms like the current disaster that is NBA 2k18 and exploitative micro-transactions. I doubt Valve is going to change any time soon, it’s been too profitable for them this approach so the only option that we have is to use the little power our money and criticism wields to push things in the right direction.

@patrick.klepek I did want to let you know that it seems the histogram automatically appears if a “High Volume of Negative Reviews” is detected. So you only have to manually open the graphs on games where Valve hasn’t detected a review bomb recently.

In any case, while it’s true that this will likely only aggravate the use of review bombs in the future, I agree with Valve’s decision not to inject itself into managing the review bomb issue with humans. Much like managing the curation issue with humans, forming a team of living bias-having people brings in too much risk of manipulation. As Valve points out, there are times when review spikes are justified as related to the game (see the negative reaction to Bethesda’s Creation Club rollout). We wouldn’t want humans who might have a horse in the race summarily deciding what reviews are and are not valid with no oversight.

Personally, this seems like the best fix under the circumstances. Let me see that a review bomb is going on. Allow me to filter those reviews either in or out so I can tell why it’s happening. Let me decide for myself if it’s an issue I care about.

Thanks again for the article, Patrick.

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I’m pretty sure Valve has consistently had the worst customer support of any large gaming platform, and that’s just in regards to dealing with purchase issues. With something like this I honestly can’t imagine them ever bringing in people to deal with it.

I think it would be worth noting in your article, that at least one of the people quoted is a friend of the Firewatch developers. James Spafford is frequently on the Idle Thumbs podcast with several Campo Santo developers.

In Polygon’s report of this story, I saw mention of Felix Kjellberg’s response of “DMCA abuse is wrong but I don’t approve of review bombing”, and I really wanna point out how messed up the optics in this situation have become.

The framing in this situation has already shifted completely away from the most influential web personality continuing to say and do bigoted shit, toward one indie dev choosing to make an unpopular decision in order to combat that web personality’s influence, and now they’re dealing with repercussions of having their Steam reviews bombed.

How the hell has the story already shifted from this dude dropping a the hard R n-word on camera, to what one indie studio decided to do about it? Isn’t it kinda fucked up that Felix is getting to be the “good guy” opposing harassment in this situation that he himself created by using a racist slur on stream?

I know this isn’t directly related to the Steam’s stupid attempt to use graphs to solve a community problem, but I’m super peeved about the way this whole story has progressed over the last week.

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The issue is his community and to be honest many fan communities in gaming, don’t want to hold him to account because, to them, racism isn’t as bad threatening the status quo.

Even some of the justifiable worries over the use of a DMCA takedown took away from the central issue, that this guy keeps using racist language and is not willing to rein in his supporters.

DMCA discussions seem to last longer than the ones around why racism is bad. Even that waypoint radio episode fell into it. We don’t need to discuss the DMCA issue when there is a glaring issue of horrible racism to sort out first.

I feel the use of the word “supporters” here is key. These aren’t just fans anymore, they have more invested than that. These followers are basically like supporters of a sports team. There is an element of fanaticism developing around some of these online personalities. They can almost do no wrong because they reflect the worst parts of the communities they represent.

So fans of Pewdiepie can’t chastise him for being racist because they want to continue using racial epithets themselves as a generic insult.

Steam ties into this as well, it has its own team of defenders out there and is also totally unwilling to do the hard work to expunge the worst elements of its community.

So the developers and publishers get it in the neck. It is kind of insane that the actual game creators have to walk such a fine line of fan appeasement but the people who sell and comment on games can repeatedly shaft their audience and get away scot free.

I’m not sure what has to happen for all this to change and for large parts of the community not to work to defend base level behavior as the norm. I would normally think it to be a granular shift but it is so ingrained into the culture as to seem almost inseparable at the moment.

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In [Valve product designer] Kroll’s blog about Valve’s decision, he explained decid[ing] against removing review scores entirely (“Demand for a summary of some kind is likely to still be there, even if players know it isn’t always accurate”), temporarily locking review score submissions (“We didn’t like the way this ultimately meant restricting the ability for players to voice their opinions”), or changing the range of time a review score is calculated (“Doing this would likely result in more fluctuation and potentially less accuracy for all games, not just review bombed ones”).

On one hand, I appreciate that big social networks are attempting to model their product around and solve its problems within a set of ‘values’. On the other, I wish to fucking hell their guiding values weren’t always so blandly, ineffectually centrist.

Why do I hear companies - who are not governments, but are just companies - so often cite their inability to shut down abuse because any action would be a potential stifling of free speech? There is no such thing as free speech in this context. They are just a fucking company, they can do just about whatever they want here. Users engage with their product under the pretense of the terms & conditions they accepted when they started. They can change at any time, at the whim of the company, and again, users will be forced to accept them or stop using the service.

Stop playing benevolent government and just protect your fucking users. I am sick of hearing all this worthless high-minded vacillating about what it ‘would mean’ to stop people from using slurs or storming the castle like a bunch of shrieking, hangry children.

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I think specifically in Valves case, the reason why they’re so centrist is because a vast amount of their hardcore users are right leaning/4chan/t_d, and they know it.

Light Steam users probably don’t care about the review system and other systemic problems. Developers (especially indies) can’t argue because they have to launch on Steam. The rest of us who are upset about it are irrelevant because most will keep buying things on Steam.

I’ve definitely been using GOG a lot more, I don’t mind Origin, and hopefully Microsoft will push harder with the Windows store. This is the point at which I wish Facebook or someone else would make some type of platform to incorporate all launchers into one. Or someplace to group all your friends together, I guess discord is kinda that.

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it’s really telling that, even after a dozen failed attempts at automating around human manipulation, they still believe that their theoretical supergiant monopoly that might exist a decade from now matters more than actually taking care of their developers and users.

the response is always some variation of “it isn’t feasible to hire human moderators long-term”, as if the basic concept of hiring more workers when your company gets bigger isn’t how company growth works. no, the reason valve wants an algorithm-controlled marketplace is that, eventually (in theory), you don’t have to pay anyone to moderate it other than a few programmers to do some upkeep. humans cost money to hire, after all, and once you get it in your head that you want to have all the money, persuading you to be satisfied with just having most of it is going to be a challenge


Doesn’t Felix still have a Publicist? That reads very much like a publicist trying to move the story to something else in the hopes that it goes away and condemning the review bomb was the perfect pivot. It’s been a trick used for years in the Tabloids to accentuate the “positives” out of the original negative news, or pivot to a “positive” message. Say a cheating celebrity making a comically overblown statement they were sorry they were caught, in the hopes that it drowns out the negative action they made in the first place to the point that it never really happened. And very often in the same paper that got the scoop (As the publicist will have usually aranged a pay off for the story from the celebrities end). It’s an interesting tactic that seems to have stuck even though we’re in the internet age, even though supposedly “The Internet Never forgets”. Considering his monetary value, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a publicist and PR on retainer. I wouldn’t put much stock in his moral value though.

To be back on topic. I’ll echo the feeling that Valve knows their own hardcore, evangelistic fanbase is incredibly toxic. But the biggest problem tends to be that the most vocal and toxic of the trolls always seems to be the ones with hundreds of hours, and hundreds of games. They contribute hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year to Valve even when you consider Valve is only getting 30% of the cut. They are the very hardcore Neo-Grognards that we were warned about by gaming media of the past. And even worse, they are the best damn marketers in the industry with their constant brand evangelism and fanatical devotion to the platform. So when a developer does something they don’t like for whatever arbitrary reason they have come up with this month to review bomb or try “Hurt” the developer via review bombing, spamming the steam devs forums, trying to loophole refunds et all. And in a weird, twisted way. It’s engagement with the service. It pumps up those all important MAU’s and those consumers keep on consuming anyway because there’s no other service to go to, let alone this insane attempt at trying to make steam their purtanical hardcore gamer promised land (With all the anime boobs they can oogle). Valve doesn’t care where the money is from as long as the money keeps coming . And Valve has been aware of this for some time. And they don’t care.

In fact, Automation is just another degree of seperation from the customer while still trying to retain their money. This lateral move is just a hoodwink. It’s designed to make devs and consumers who are tracking the issue feel Valve has done something, but they have done nothing at all to actually curb the problem. Anyone who lightly or moderately games on Steam will just look up PC Gamer or Can I Run It and maybe glance at the current reviews or forums to make sure there’s no performance issues. They don’t give a heck about “The devs have a female designer now who RUINED IT BY BEING OUTSPOKEN ON TWITTER” review bombs. Hardcore Grognard users, they have already figured how to rig the system as soon as Valve makes it (And the system is very riggable since Valve now has a nice big yellow banner calling attention to the review bomb. Nice job Valve). And Publishers/Devs can get hecked cause its the only game in town, unless Tencent brings over WeGame or Microsoft suddenly discovers how to create a competent Windows store client overnight. Everyone’s stuck playing the twisted game of Steam that Valve has created and gamified. And what’s more shocking, Valve creating a nightmare client that’s allows the most hateful of abuse to be directly hurled at creators, Or Valve acctualy making a game?

To dissemble and simplify it. Valve only made a PR move to appease the media while still maintaining their hardcore Whales. Campo Santo got the abuse for not wanting to be associated with a person and Felix got off scott free on what should have been a career ending incident in any other industry. Everyone’s been had. Except for Valve and Felix Kjellberg.


I’d love to see these assholes actually stop using Steam. They cannot do it. There would be an ‘uproar’ for a week, many rallying-cry YouTube videos would be made, and then everything would be fine again. The users who complained would ‘hate Steam’ from then on, but they’d still use it. They’ve bought in, and now they can’t buy out.

This is the root of the issue: Valve knows their user base is not able to leave. It’s the very reason they don’t give a shit about managing these problems. User happiness is irrelevant, because the users will be here, adding to and accessing their libraries. The same is true for Twitter, Facebook, etc. All these companies don’t intervene when there are real functional problems for their users because they just don’t have to.

It’s the same old shit forever. I almost wish these companies wouldn’t say anything at all, that they made no gestures toward virtues or beliefs. They are so monolithic and soulless in their inaction, it’s actually made worse when a person steps forth and speaks on their behalf.

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And the worst part about Valve to me is that they’re not publicly owned. So I always told myself that they may make mistakes but they’re probably still in this because they are passionate about games. I guess that was just a delusion. Monopolies are monopolies regardless of anything else.