A review bomb is an Internet phenomenon in which large groups of people leave negative user reviews for video games and other products in an attempt to harm their sales and popularity. It is a similar practise to vote brigading, and review bombing shares characteristics with this practice. This is often done in response to an actual or perceived slight towards customers by the creator or publisher of a game, such as anti-consumer gameplay changes or insults, in an attempt to force them to listen when other attempts have failed. However, in some cases, it is simply done as a means of coercion or trolling. Review bombing may be intended to affect sales of the game that is targeted: leaving a large number of negative reviews may lower the game's aggregate rating on the service, which could alter the choice to buy the game from consumers who use that aggregate rating as a principle part of their purchasing decision. Some see review bombs as a way to gain wider attention to a problem and draw in the developer to correcting an issue due to the bad publicity, if the developer does not otherwise have an open channel for players or seems unresponsive to direct player feedback.
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. In some cases, companies that run these storefronts or websites have intervened to stop review bombs and delete the negative reviews. For example, Valve has 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.
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 2 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 has perceived as sexist depending how the characters were translated; the replacement line which lacks such confusion but also lost its significance to the original quotation, leading those upset with the change to respond with negative review.[not in citations given]
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.
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.
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