11 quick thoughts on the new Steam reviews

Steam reviews are a thing now, apparently.

Now it’s easy to see what other Steam users think about a product before you buy. With Steam Reviews, you can browse for reviews that others have found helpful, or write your own reviews for titles you’ve played on Steam

A few quick thoughts in no particular order:

  1. Valve is displaying the time you’ve spent on a particular game next to your review. That’s interesting; that suggests they might also use it as a ranking factor for your review. It certainly means people will judge your review as less helpful if you’ve spent less time in the game than others. For positive reviews maybe that makes some sense; for negative reviews maybe it doesn’t, so much, because I don’t need to play 20 hours of Duke Nukem Forever to know it’s awful, or more than 5 minutes of the PC port of Fez to know it’s unplayably crashy on my setup, for example.
  2. They’re also flagging up the number of things you’ve bought on Steam, even ahead of your Steam level (which is to some extent a proxy for money spent). That’s an even more interesting choice, because it is almost certainly going to affect how people see the review on a subconscious level.
  3. You have to launch the game via Steam in order to review it. So I can’t review some of the games I’ve played most, because I didn’t buy them on Steam. Platform lock-in. But I also can’t review games just for the sake of hating on them from a distance, which deals with some of the Metacritic & Amazon swarming problems.
  4. But what I can do, if I want to game this system, is launch the game once, leave it on overnight to gather Steam cards & game cred, and then review it. Whether anyone will care enough to actually do that is an open question at this point.
  5. The only ranking factor they specifically mention is time – ie more recent reviews will be visible on game pages – and that’s framed as a good thing for the devs. But there will be others – game time and helpfulness are the obvious ones, but Valve would be daft not to include things like friendship data, similarity of game libraries etc in personalising reviews for individual readers.
  6. They’re defaulting to post-moderation, removing or hiding things when flagged, and not giving devs the ability to hide things directly without moderator input. That makes some sense (hide all negative reviews won’t be a valid strategy) but is also potentially concerning (we don’t yet know how much moderator support they have, or the moderation guidelines by which they’re operating, or the speed with which they’ll respond, or… etc).
  7. This could be a serious Metacritic competitor, because of Steam’s metadata about who’s played what games for how long, which could tie into an authority system using upvotes and activity more generally…
  8. …but (at the moment) they’re not including a scoring system, just recommend vs not recommend. Thankfully. Any numerical system would be exactly as open to abuse as the current Metacritic system is, with all the existing issues about people only looking at the score when purchasing or devs’ pay/bonuses being dependent on numerical scores that are, let’s be honest here, based on spit and whimsy and nothing more.
  9. The language stuff – allowing users to review games in their own languages and search for reviews in particular languages – is great for users especially in areas underserved by games press. And potentially a nightmare for devs, if they can’t translate.
  10. Helpful vs non-helpful is a nice way to harness the middle bit of the 1:9:90 rule.
  11. Mutualisation is interesting. I wonder how many devs and users were clamouring for this feature.