Steam New Review System Won’t Include DRM or “Off Topic” Criticisms

Steam New Review System Won’t Include DRM or “Off Topic” Criticisms

Steam is overhauling their review system, and "off-topic" review bombs are no longer counted to the final score... including DRM critique.

It seems like every week Valve is re-inventing Steam, for better and worse. The latest policy change revealed yesterday afternoon was an overhaul of Steam’s review system, effectively removing “review bombing” from a game’s overall user review score. Further, a deep-dive into this process showcases some valid critique — like complaints over EULA or DRM policies — will likely be wrapped up into this process, not reflecting in the final score.

As far as things go, the announcement was very clear cut and communicated well from Valve. Posted yesterday on the Steam Blog, the development team noted the end-goal of the changes: “[Steam] is going to identify off-topic review bombs, and remove them from the Review Score.”

This is a fairly steep departure from previous solutions — the most recent change came in September 2017 when Valve introduced a visual aid to let consumers see the trend of both positive and negative reviews over time. While these scores would still be added to the total review score, consumers were easily able to see if a game was trending in the right direction, had been subject to some controversy, or were making changes or updates that negatively affected the game:


While this new change will keep that bar graph, the default settings will completely remove “review bombing” from the average review score.

To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at Metro 2033 Redux. Despite the game’s generally stellar review history, the announcement from publisher Deep Silver that Metro Exodus would be pulled from Steam after months of being available for pre-order left consumers (rightfully) miffed. As such, many consumers protested the business decisions of Koch Media by leaving negative reviews of previous titles in the series:


This has lowered the general score from the game to “Mostly Positive” from a once “Overwhelmingly Positive.”

In the new system, this latter part wouldn’t happen — while the reviews would still be available to read and the line-graph still appears, a system tool will identify any uncommon spike in activity and alert a team at Valve to monitor the reviews. At this point, that team will make an assessment on whether the reviews are “off-topic” and then strike a time period from the Review Score calculation.

An important note is that this only applies to the default view — anyone who believes that all reviews should be considered (regardless of it is off-topic or directly related to the game) can opt-in via their preferences.

But what is considered “off-topic” according to Steam and the Valve team? According to the blog post, this is any review “where the focus of those reviews is on a topic that we consider unrelated to the likelihood that future purchasers will be happy if they buy the game, and hence not something that should be added to the Review Score.” (Emphasis added).

On the other hand, these subjective decisions do exclude topics that many gamers do care about: DRM and EULA changes. Despite “long debates” from the Valve team, they decided it is technically not a part of the game and people who are protesting industry business practices “are often willing to dig a little deeper into games before purchasing.” This will undoubtedly include other business decisions that gamers are critical of, including criticisms to pay-to-win mechanics, loot boxes, or abuse of copyright law which are normally outside of the lens of the game itself.

Publisher Valve and Steam as an ecosystem has been the topic of intense debate lately. On one hand, many dedicated PC gamers are standing with the platform as it enters battle with Epic Games’ digital storefront, Epic Games Store, and their track record of exclusivity. On the other hand, questionable choices on game censorship have had critics argue that the service is not consumer-friendly, regardless if they agree with the content involved.

What are your opinions on the change to Steam Reviews, and do you have any better alternatives? Let us know in the comments.