Shelter from the bombs

Age of the Geek: The internet is a modern miracle, providing nearly endless avenues for people to express their likes and dislikes in virtually any form of media they can imagine. Social media allows for unprecedented levels of direct contact between businesses and consumers and there are a multitude of platforms available to everybody that facilitate people to make their opinions known in the format of their choosing.

Why then are people bombarding old games on Steam with bad reviews over unrelated issues?

It's an increasingly common practice called "review bombing" and it's become such an issue that websites have started taking countermeasures. Rotten Tomatoes, for instance, has addressed the problem by doing away with pre-release reviews from the general population, as they had become little more than a venue for people to express how much they hated a movie they hadn't seen, often over slights, perceived or otherwise, largely unrelated to the movie.

On Steam though, it often of works the other way around. Instead of leaving negative reviews for yet-to-be-released games, users express their unhappiness with developers by bombarding older games with bad scores. Did a developer or publisher do something you didn't like? Hit a six year old game with a negative review in the hope that it will discourage any potential new buyers from picking it up. That'll show them.

This is, obviously, not what the review system is supposed to be used for. The solution for Valve has been to create a system that detects a large influx of off-topic reviews and excludes them from the metrics that determine a game's overall score. The off-topic "reviews" are still there to be read if people choose, but if a game reception was "Overwhelmingly Positive" at launch, and has remained so during its time on the store, a sudden burst of bad reviews will no longer change that rating.

Ironically, the first live test of this system has been used in defense of a publisher that is technically working with Steam's competition.

2K Games recently announced the long anticipated "Borderlands 3," much to the joy of fans of the franchise. Shortly after the announcement, 2K Games also revealed that "Borderlands 3" would be exclusive to the Epic Games Store for the first six months of its release. This news was not as well received by fans.

This is not the first time I've written about fans of a game franchise being upset that the next installment will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store rather than Steam. Just a couple months ago Deep Silver's "Metro Exodus" walked into the same controversy, resulting in upset fans going to Steam to review bomb previous entries.

The same thing is happening now, but with the Borderland's franchise.

Just to be clear what we're dealing with here. People angry that they won't be able to buy "Borderlands 3" on Steam at launch are expressing that anger by trying to sabotage potential future sales of previous Borderlands titles on Steam.

Except now the recent 1,000 reviews on "Borderlands 2" with such insightful comments like "Was a great game till you find out 3 will not be on steam for half a year" and "Just here to protest exclusivity extortion" won't factor into the score of a game released seven years ago. More than 4,000 similar "reviews" have been negated across various titles in the franchise.

Some would say that this move denies customers the ability to protest actions that they dislike. After all, how are 2K Games supposed to know how much you dislike their decision to launch "Borderlands 3" on the Epic Games Store if you don't leave a bad review on a game released in 2012? It's not like the company has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, or Instagram.

Oh wait. They have a presence on all of those platforms along with a page on their website dedicated to submitting feature requests for "Borderlands 3," which I think preference of launcher may technically apply.

Now there are definite concerns to be had about Steam's new policy about selectively sweeping bad reviews under the rug. Where is the line drawn on what would be considered "off-topic?" Are there instances where a sudden influx of negative reviews should be considered? Steam has already stated that they will consider complaints about DRM in a game to be off-topic, a puzzling stance considering DRM is part of what customers will be downloading to their computers from Steam's servers. Hard to get more "on-topic" than that.

Moreover, this is all part of the larger conversation about how much one should separate the art from the artist. But that's a column for another time.

Steam is definitely opening up Pandora's Box here, but it's hard to see what the alternative is. Customers should have access to fair reviews free from manipulation from both publishers and trolls, but you can't limit one without encouraging the other.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and wonders what else will slip out of Pandora's Box because of this.