Can Steam stop Chinese gamers from review bombing games?
After Rotten Tomatoes blocks Captain Marvel trolls, Steam rolls out new rules
Answer: They all incurred the wrath of Chinese gamers, who bombarded the pages of those games with a barrage of negative reviews.
Now their favorite form of online protest might be closed off -- and guess what? They’re not happy.
The tactic, called review bombing, features little in the way of actual reviews. Instead of people offering their objective and critical opinion, they intentionally post terrible reviews -- sometimes without actually playing the game -- to signal their displeasure, trying to drive the average score down.
It’s not exclusive to games, either: Witness how Rotten Tomatoes dealt with trolls expected to review bomb Captain Marvel.
Now Valve says it’s going to combat review bombs by filtering off-topic reviews. Users can still opt-in to read those reviews, but they won’t be factored into the overall score.
Chinese gamers aren’t taking it well. While review bombing certainly isn’t exclusive to them, it’s a common tool used to express themselves -- either to show their frustration (at Metro Exodus for being unavailable on Steam) or anger (at Devotion’s hidden insult to China’s President Xi Jinping).
Devotion is a particularly good example of how powerful review bombing can be. It was critically acclaimed at launch, with 90% of the 4,000 reviews on Steam being positive. But after the hidden insult was found, the review bombs began: Eventually, just 40% of the reviews were positive. (The game was later taken off Steam altogether a few days later.)
But it doesn’t take a game insulting their country’s leader for the bombs to fly. Sometimes games are review bombed by Chinese gamers simply because they don’t have Chinese language options.
Notably, games such as Stellaris, Nier: Automata, Football Manager 2017, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Darkest Dungeon saw their Steam pages flooded with negative comments because of their lack of Chinese language support. Nier: Automata saw 1,113 negative reviews posted in a single day -- again, not as critical appraisals of the game as reviews are supposed to be, but as a way to lash out in anger.
Chinese gamers are so linked with review bombs that, In response to Valve’s new rules, one Weibo user sarcastically wrote, “[This is an example of] how Chinese people made the world change.”
Another gamer wrote on a forum, “Is Steam going to hire a Chinese-speaking moderator? I’m signing up!”
Others had alternate suggestions for Valve. One gamer wrote online, “They should learn from Starbucks and its scale of tall, grande and venti. Just give us: Neutral, recommended and highly recommended.”
But there are also many who see the benefit of limiting review-bombing. A Chinese gamer wrote, “It’s about time for a change… Sometimes the game developer has indeed done wrong but gamers are way too emotional.”
Other Chinese gamers also support removing negative reviews that are given to a game simply because it doesn’t have Chinese localization. “Steam will be a lot cleaner if those Chinese language support reviews are gone,” one wrote.
One way or another, Chinese gamers have been vocal on Steam, and they can affect the review score of even the biggest games on the market. Last year, when PUBG featured in-game ads and suffered from server lag, Chinese gamers launched their review bombs: They posted an average of 5,400 negative reviews a day.