User reviews are a wonderful thing, in and outside of the games industry. People have legitimate reasons to question the integrity of professional reviews because on rare occasions, they can be influenced. User reviews on the other hand takes the power from a couple of dozen people and allocates it to the masses. The masses need to use the tools well if they want to keep it, or its power.
One of the most controversial uses of this power is a little manoeuvre called review bombing. If you are unaware this is where many people give a game a 0 rating to drop the user scores averages on platforms like Metacritic or Steam. This is usually triggered by an action like adding game breaking micro-transactions so that the scores won’t be as appealing to new buyers, which gives the ability to make publishers think their decisions through if they aren’t necessarily the most consumer friendly.
The case for the use of review bombs is it is a real chance for user’s views to make a difference. Gamers who decide to vent in the past have done horrible things like sending physical items of intimidation to developers, which is a disgusting move. Hate crime level tweets aren’t better, and the problem is when someone feels slighted by a developer of a game which they are passionate about, there aren’t many outlets to vent. Bring on user reviews.
Review bombed for discussions outside of the game doesn't seem fair to Firewatch
If a game has been great and created a passionate fan group, it can be tempting for publishers to find a way to squeeze some more dollars out of those users. Sometimes it’s with cosmetic loot, systems, other times it’s with sneaky game balancing issues like the slew of issues that Destiny 2 had. So, when this trust is betrayed, review bombing is an effective way to balance the user scores that may have been heavily balanced towards glowing, to a fair score for its current state.
Review bombing at its best can be used to get a publisher’s attention in the one place it will hit them, the wallet. If they make a change, the game gets review bombed, and sales start to define, they will be aware of how their actions affected their loss of income. Publishers regularly make comments along the lines of if people stop buying them, we will stop incorporating them”, meaning all they care about is that almighty dollar.
So, review bombing is a good tactic, right? It gives the little man a little bit of power to affect sales if bad tactics are incorporated after they already got the buyers money, how could it go wrong? Well there are two major issues I am aware of that dilutes the power of review bombing.
A lot of those 421 reviews are a 0
The first is review bombing a game because it has gone in a different direction. A good example of this is the recently released Pokémon Let’s Go titles. Within hours of the game being released the game was getting 0 scores across Metacritic and other sites. Amazon Japan closed its user reviews while they tidied up the mess this caused.
If you have played the game and dislike its new way of catching Pokémon, then give it the score you feel is appropriate, but hours after it is released, with significant numbers of 0 scores, something isn’t right. Considering the game is an excellent Pokémon game with battles and other systems being the same as previous entries, it’s hard to imagine someone playing the game consider it to have little to no value with its major change to the catching mechanic. It is clearly a review bombing attempt because people aren’t happy the title is trying something different. This wouldn’t be an issue if there were substantial numbers of reviews after a day or two from release around the 4 to 6 scoring. That could be people giving what was considered a decent score for what they played.
Are these games really that bad?
Then there is review bombing for social issues. Firewatch got review bombed last year for the developers taking a stance against PewDePie’s racial slur, and recently Total War got review bombed for having female generals. These aren’t anti-consumer, they are completely irrelevant to the content of the game, and as such, are poor ways to address what the gamers think are social issues to be addressed.
The reason this irks me is that review bombing is a valuable tool for consumers if used correctly. Used incorrectly by people who don’t like the idea of change, or because of the Anti-SJW vs SJW issues only dilutes the power of this tool. When people hear a game was review bombed do you want them to think “wow something broke the game recently”? Or do you want them thinking, “there may be an issue with the game, or the developer may have said something people didn’t like, or there may be ladies in power in the game”? One of them is likely to have a bigger impact on people buying the game.