Once in a while, you might come across people talking about the latest releases that got review bombed to hell and back, then quickly dismiss it as just random outcries. But despite the negative reception most people have with review bombing, it is in my opinion one of the most effective ways to let the world know if there is something wrong with a particular game.
As a brief refresher or in case you somehow missed out on a lot of trending topics in the gaming world, review bombing is when a bunch of people purposely leave negative user reviews – whether they’ve played the game or not. It’s less about preventing newcomers to buy the game but instead to show that the developers themselves have damaged their relationship and goodwill of their consumers, as noted by Steam Spy’s Sergey Galyonkin.
Alternatively, the opposite, where gamers leave tons of positive reviews, is not out of the ordinary either.
As someone who doesn’t read or trust reviews that much, I am in no position to judge whether review bombing is bad or not. But one thing is for sure, it is an easy way to get my attention.
Why Review Bombing is “Easy”
If you’re asking why review bombing is the most effective way to spread your words, the answer is simple, really.
I propose to you two main arguments:
First of all, visibility. When one doesn’t have a major internet presence like a huge Twitter or YouTube following, what’s the easiest way to make their complaint visible to people who go in blind, picking games that catch their eyes and only read more about it for guides about hard bosses or meta character build? Or how to reach out to people who don’t keep up or mingle much with the majority of the English-speaking gaming community? Plaster it on a review aggregator site such as Metacritic or a Steam page, of course.
In the case of Steam page, most certainly it will be the first place someone looks for regarding the game in question. They want to buy it, they’ve got to open one of the store pages that sell it, right? In the case of Metacritic, maybe the particular title isn’t available on PC, and/or they just wanted to know the general consensus by looking at the average review score. Through two or three clicks, just glancing over at the user review-side of things, they can instantly see what’s the biggest issue plaguing the game according to the player base.
The issue people want to tell to others will not be contained in an “echo chamber” like a closed community forum such as the game’s official forum or Reddit, where one’s opinion could be drowned out by defensive arguments if it goes against the majority of the fanbase. And even if it goes with the dissatisfied majority it may still be drowned out as well by louder posts. Or worse, hidden away in non-English speaking forums where developers won’t even know of its existence.
And second, as a side-effect of the first point, the media will surely pick it up when it happens. They’re reporting it not just because it’s an easy, controversial scoop that grabs people’s eyes and ears, but also to help create context on what the issue behind the review bombing is supposed to be. Taking last year’s Monster Hunter World bombing as an example, who would’ve guessed that thousands of angry Chinese gamers’ comments were actually caused by a throwaway line in the movie-adaptation that the development team didn’t have any say on at all? Gaming sites help to connect the dots on such cases. (Although to be honest, you probably definitely could’ve guessed it from social media posts too).
Even if we’re talking about the case of the Star Wars Battlefront II loot box fiasco, there was a huge push in the fanbase to spread the issue outside of the Star Wars subreddit and into more mainstream subs before it finally snowballed to other outlets. That kind of effort is not needed to give review bombs the spotlight they think it deserves. Afterward, it’s a matter of keeping the momentum. But of course, I’m not here to talk about campaign strategy.
The problem with grassroots movements like this is there will be bad apples who piggy-backed the situation and dilute what the message to the developer team is supposed to be. Either by leaving troll/unrelated/joke comments or twisting the complaints to back their own agenda. If I were to make it into an analogy: everyone wants peaceful protests, but most of the time riots are inevitable.
Make Messages Clear
How does one get their point across? The best thing people can do is simply not bomb the user review scores into oblivion with vague remarks (or God forbid, using bots); proper organic arguments are key. Pointing out the problems and how to fix or diminish that effect; others who feel the same way following suit and liking each other’s posts to make sure it stays at the top.
This way, bypassers or game journalists who want to know what caused the sudden spike in negative reviews don’t need to dig too deep, lose interest halfway, and dismiss it as baseless complaints.
And if the demands were met – or if the developers managed to convince the fanbase of a compromise – in one of the updates, it would be beneficial to update reviews. To show that it’s not about demanding things to be changed but also respecting developers’ attempt to communicate and cater to the need of its fanbase. Heck, reverse review bombing a game after most of its jank is gone is a common practice, too, as seen with Fallout 76 and No Man’s Sky.