Steam Review System Changes – A Mixed Bag

An interesting change to how Steam reviews work rolled out this week.  Valve have updated the system to not only show reviews as they did before, but a separate review score and list of reviews from the past 30 days.

You can read Valve’s announcement about the change here.

Great for games that update regularly

One of the main problems with the Steam review system was the aggregate score sometimes wasn’t an accurate reflection of the game’s current state (something that’s particularly problematic for Early Access games).

For example, let’s say you launched your game in an early alpha state, but it received a bunch of negative reviews.  Those reviews will hurt sales and if there’s a high volume of reviews, then it’s likely that negative impact could last for a long time (at least through the crucial launch period of a game where the potential for sales is the highest).

But, what if you addressed those negative reviews, fixed the problems people were complaining about…and players didn’t update their reviews?  Then that negative review score will continue to unfairly have a negative impact on sales.  An argument for launching a finished product, rather than going through Early Access some might say, but launching early isn’t always a choice for small devs, as funds are often needed to complete development.

The new system is more reflective of the current state of the game in this scenario – players will still see the total review score (which may be lower), but will also see a bunch of more positive reviews that have been more recently posted.  At the very least, this might prompt potential customers into looking more carefully at your game and that gives you a great chance to convert them into customers.

But, review bombing could be more of a problem…

Review bombing (flooding a game with negative reviews to hurt sales), is less of a problem for popular games as there are a number of factors such as your brand presence, marketing efforts, legitimate reviews and so on that effectively counteract the potential impact.  But now, even a small amount of negative reviews for a game that has thousands of positive reviews could have a negative impact on sales, as this “recent negativity” is what potential customers would see.

Similarly, games with a low volume of legitimate reviews could find themselves adversely affected – it would only take a new negative reviews to hurt sales as there might not be a regular flow of legitimate reviews being posted to counteract the manufactured negativity.

Hopefully, Valve will keep an eye on this situation and ensure that these things don’t happen.  I’m sure they must be aware of the potential impact of review bombing and would certainly take action if it occurs.

Tips for managing your reviews

  • Use the Developer Response feature to respond to reviews.  You’d be surprised how often that even a simple, honest response will be enough to turn the review into a positive.
  • The new system will work well for devs who listen to their community and chat with them.  It’s not always easy to disrupt your development plan to include new features, but if you can do so, you’ll reap the benefits.
  • If you do find yourself being review bombed – contact Valve and let them know ASAP.  While there may be short term damage done, Valve should be able to deal with the situation.
    • BONUS TIP – if you do get review bombed – consider putting out an announcement / press release on the subject.  Don’t be antagonistic or do anything to provoke the review bombers further, but if you can address the issue amicably, you might also be able to get some positive PR out of it.

Overall, this is a positive change from Valve and should work in the favour of devs who updating their games regularly and engage with their community.

Bonus tip for Valve!

A third review score showing the average review score from your friends wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  It’d encourage people to buy a game that their friends like – in cases where the game had a lower review score (that may have otherwise convinced you not to buy it), this could be a really useful feature.

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