A review bomb is an Internet phenomenon in which large groups of people leave negative user reviews online in an attempt to harm the sales and/or popularity of a product, particularly to draw attention to an issue with the product or its vendor. It is a similar practice to vote brigading, and review bombing shares characteristics with this practice.
Review bombing is often done to draw attention to an issue, especially if the vendor does not have an open communications channel or seems unresponsive to direct feedback. However, in some cases, it is simply done as a means of coercion or trolling.
The term is primarily associated with video game review aggregates and storefronts (such as Steam), where justifications for these campaigns can include unpopular changes to a game, controversies related to them, or the behavior of their developers or publishers.
The increasing prevalence of review bombing was precipitated by the increase in influence of online user reviews in the main storefronts where games are sold, combined with little to no oversight of the content of these reviews. This is particularly true in the case of Steam, the predominant seller of PC games, where user reviews are often the only way for indie games to gain traction on the service. According to Steam Spy, review bombing generally has little effect on a game's sales, and may in fact even increase them due to the resulting wave of publicity. However, it may be a symptom of decreased consumer goodwill, which can have a more long-lasting effect on the publisher, developers or game series being criticized. Depending on how such situations are resolved, the effects of a review bomb may be reversed by those users re-issuing positive reviews as in case of Titan Souls.
The website Metacritic was criticized in 2011 for poor oversight of their user reviews, leading to rampant review bombing on popular games such as Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War that brought their user rating to low levels. The game Mass Effect 3 was also review bombed on the site in 2012 due to controversy over its ending.
Titan Souls was review bombed in April 2015 by supporters of the YouTuber John "TotalBiscuit" Bain after the indie game's artist Andrew Gleeson mocked a statement that Bain made saying the game was "absolutely not for me". Bain, in a following podcast, stated that the developer "has it out for [him]", leading several of his followers to review bomb the game, though Bain later expressed that he did not endorse that behavior.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was review bombed in 2015 by customers angry about the game's introduction of paid mods, leading Valve to reverse their decision and remove the paid mod functionality. Additional review bombs for Skyrim as well as fellow Bethesda game Fallout 4, occurred following the launch of Bethesda Softworks' Creation Club in September 2017, which reintroduced the potential for paid mods.
Grand Theft Auto V was review bombed throughout June and July 2017 after publisher Take-Two Interactive issued a cease-and-desist against the widely-used game modification tool OpenIV, as an attempt to stop single player and multiplayer mods for GTA V and GTA Online. The review bombing reduced GTA V's overall Steam review rating from "positive" to "mixed".
Crusader Kings II and other Paradox games were review bombed in the same month by customers angry that they had raised the prices in some regions, and because of ongoing frustration about Paradox's DLC policy.
In 2017, Valve changed their policies to make unpaid games of any kind not count towards the game's review scores. The developer of Defender's Quest, Lars Doucet, stated that this policy prevented low priced games from being review bombed, but harmed the visibility of crowdfunded indie games. Dota 2 was reviewed bombed in August 2017 after Marc Laidlaw, a former Valve writer for the Half-Life series, posted a "fanfic" on his personal blog that several journalists deduced was the plot for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which had been planned for release in 2007, but appeared to have become vaporware within Valve. Players were upset that the episode has not been released, and review bombed Dota 2 believing that Valve's backing of the game led them to drop work on the Half-Life series. That same month, Steam users review bombed Sonic Mania in protest of its use of Denuvo DRM, which was not disclosed by Sega on the game's store page on launch day.
Firewatch was review bombed on Steam in September 2017 after its developer, Campo Santo, filed a DMCA takedown against a video PewDiePie made of their game, following an incident where PewDiePie uttered a racial slur during an unrelated livestream. Campo Santo stated they did not want someone with PewDiePie's ideologies supporting their games to justify the takedown. A large number of users issues negative reviews of Firewatch, claiming that Campo Santo were "social justice warriors" or were supporting "censorship".
In October 2017, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was review bombed, primarily by Chinese players, after an advert for a VPN service was shown in game. As the Internet in China is highly regulated, VPN servers have been used by some players to bypass Chinese regulations and play on servers in other regions, which causes lag for players in those other regions, so the promotion of such VPN products is poorly received. The review bomb may also be tied to the fact that the product, which is not free-to-play, included advertising support, which has yet to occur for the game in any other region worldwide. Kerbal Space Program was similarly review bombed by Chinese players after the developers Squad changed a line of Chinese text on one of the game's assets, which was inspired by a quotation from Chairman Mao Zedong, that some had perceived as sexist depending on how the characters were translated; the replacement line lacks such confusion but also distorted the original meaning, leading those upset with the change to respond with negative reviews.
The Creative Assembly's Total War: Rome II, initially released in 2013, had been patched in early 2018 to include the potential for women generals to emerge from the game's mechanics. When an image of the game showing one player's armies all led by female generals, users on Steam complained about the historical accuracy. A female community content manager stated the Creative Assembly's stance, that the game was meant to be "historically authentic, not historically accurate", but a portion of these users began to review bomb the title on Steam, believing that the content manager was pushing a personal agenda. Creative Assembly affirmed the content manager's statement providing the probability of how a situation like this could happen, and how players have the ability to modify the game to change that probability of women generals appearing, including setting it to zero if desired.
The launch of the Epic Games Store—a competing storefront to Steam—in December 2018, has been the focal point of a number of review bombs, as Epic has secured time-limited exclusive sales for new games in series that have traditionally been on Steam, with those leaving reviews on the older games on Steam upset at this exclusivity. This includes Metro Exodus, the third game in the Metro series, and Borderlands 3 from the Borderlands series.
The game Devotion by the Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games was review bombed after players discovered an in-game posted that referenced the meme of Xi Jinping censoring the character Winnie the Pooh. While Red Candle stated the poster was not meant to be in the final game and took it out on the next immediate patch, the game was still hit with negative user reviews, forcing Red Candle to terminate their publishing deals and turn to self-publishing the title.
Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Astral Chain were both review bombed on Metacritic shortly after their launches in July and August 2019, primarily by disgruntled PlayStation fans who were upset that the critically acclaimed first-party Nintendo games were exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.  These reviews were removed by Metacritic in early September, restoring the games' user scores to their original "generally favorable" and "universal acclaim" scores of 8.7 and 9.0 respectively.
Films and videos
Theatrical films have also come under review bombing, typically due to perceived social issues related to the cast and crew and not due to any aspect of the film itself. This extends not only to user review scores on sites like Rotten Tomatoes but to the film's promotional trailers on YouTube. The 2016 Ghostbusters film was met with user backlash on its announcement of having an all-female starring cast. The 2019 Marvel Studios film Captain Marvel also faced drastically lower review scores at release (with over 50,000 mostly negative reviews within several hours of its release), as some took offense to leading actress Brie Larson's perceived activism.
YouTube's voting system has also been used for review bombing, where dissatisfaction over a creator or a video's content may attract campaigns to "dislike" a video en masse, with a goal for them to be among the most-disliked videos on the service. In December 2018, YouTube Rewind 2018 overtook Justin Bieber's "Baby" music video as the most disliked video on YouTube; the video was universally panned and faced criticism for its exclusion of various top personalities on the service, as well as other factors relating to controversies affecting creators.
Websites offering user reviews of businesses and other establishments, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, can also be subject to review bombing in relation to controversies surrounding their proprietors. A notable example included a Elizabeth, New Jersey restaurant owned by the family of the 2016 New York and New Jersey bombings suspect (with many reviews jokingly referring to its chicken as being "'the bomb").
In some cases, storefronts and aggregates have intervened to stop review bombs and delete the negative reviews. In February 2019, Rotten Tomatoes announced that it would no longer accept user reviews for a film until after its official release.
Valve added review histograms to Steam user review scores to show how these change over time; according to Valve's Alden Kroll, this can help a potential purchaser of a game recognize a short term review bomb that is not indicative of the game itself, compared to a game that has a long tail of bad reviews. Kroll said they did not want to silence the ability of users to leave reviews but recognized they needed to highlight phenomena like review bombs to aid consumers. In March 2019, Valve stated that it would employ a new system to detect spikes of negative "off-topic" reviews on games: if it is determined that they were the result of a review bomb campaign, the time period will be flagged, and all reviews made during that period (whether negative or positive) will be excluded them from the user rating displayed for a game. This system was first publicly triggered upon the Borderlands 3 review bombing in April 2019. Similarly, Valve stepped in to stop negative reviews of Rocket League following the announcement that its developer Psyonix had been acquired by Epic Games in May 2019 and that Rocket League would likely become an exclusive on the Epic Games Store.
By March 2019, Rotten Tomatoes no longer accepted audience reviews of a film until after its premiere, as part of an effort to counter pre-release review bombing. Further, it would only accept reviews from persons that have been confirmed to have seen the movie, as verified through theater chains like Regal Cinemas, Cinemark, and AMC Theatres, or through online ticket sales though Fandango.
Reverse review bomb
Infrequently, a review bomb may be used to praise the game, developers or publishers for other actions that players see as beneficial. One such case was for Assassin's Creed Unity, in the week following the Notre-Dame de Paris fire in April 2019. Ubisoft had made Unity free via its storefront UPlay, as the game included a recreation of Notre Dame Cathedral that Ubisoft wanted players to experience in wake of the fire. Steam users left numerous positive reviews for the game in the days that followed; while such an event had triggered Valve's safeguards against review bombs, they opted to not enforce it since the effect was meant to be positive.
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