Okay so it seems that the best way to hope changes might be done to reviews on Steam is to suggest simple things that can be easily done. Suggesting big changes most likely have little chances to ever see the day of light so let’s stick to a single problem that could be fixed: small well rated games getting screwed by “helpful” and recent reviews.

While some devs out there were busy approving of all the changes Steam recently made to reviews, others like me were busy pointing the issues these changes were bringing and general problems caused by the review system.

It seems that Steam did read out feedback as some tiny changes were made:

Starting today, the review section on each product page will show reviews written by all users, regardless of purchase type.

It’s nothing big but it’s at least something. Now it’d be nice that devs always defending Steam stop trying to shut the others as apparently they care and listen. They didn’t have to react but they did anyway so am I free to come up with more suggestions then?…

How small and well rated games can still get screwed by reviews

There are 2 ways a small game can be hurt by reviews despite having an overall positive score:

  • Recent review score being generated with as little reviews as 12 (even if the game didn’t changed since release)
  • “Helpful” negative reviews appearing right at the top even with a “very positive” overall score

When your game doesn’t have 10,000 reviews it means that it doesn’t take much to swing your well rated game into bad territory. March of the Living is rated “very positive” but at the start of the Summer sale it had a “very negative” score based on 13 reviews (out of nearly 400 reviews) and it did hurt sales even though the global score was saying the opposite.

“Helpful” reviews don’t really need to be helpful for people to mark it as helpful. This review containing only a chocolate chip cookie recipe is a good example: https://twitter.com/Over00/status/776763811231567872

Negative reviews will generally be seen as more helpful as it prevents you from making a “bad purchase” while a positive review… well, you’re busy installing and playing the game so will you really go back to mark that positive review as useful? If you didn’t like the game then you might be more tempted to screen all other negative reviews and mark them as helpful while if you enjoyed the game I doubt you will do that.

The “helpful” button is an echo chamber skewed toward negative reviews.

So here are my suggestions.

Get rid of the recent score for games not in early access

I understand an argument can be made for games in early access so I’m leaving these games out of my fix. As I said, let’s stick to small changes as there’s more chances they might be made.

Sure, it’s still possible to update a game after its release but generally speaking only bugs and improvements will be made to a released game. Having a recent score for these really doesn’t serve any purpose beside maybe pointing that a bunch of players not quite interested by the game in the first place bought it at a 50% discount, played for 15 minutes, left a negative review and then asked for a refund.

It really doesn’t make any sense to stick a “very negative” recent score on top of a global “very positive” one… It’s not helpful at all when it’s the same game as before that got that “very positive” score.


Show negative and positive reviews side by side

Instead of showing a single column of reviews with possibly a bunch of negative reviews marked as the most helpful ones at the top, show positive and negative reviews side by side in 2 columns. Even better yet, show the number of each type of reviews at the top of these columns. You can even keep the “helpful” button if you wish as with such presentation you don’t make a positive review compete against a negative one to appear first.

That way it doesn’t matter if a negative review is marked as the most “helpful” for a well rated game as it will be clear that there are far more positive reviews than negative ones and people won’t have to scroll or filter to see the real picture.

A review can be helpful, not helpful or funny but not 2 things at once

My previous suggestion pretty much take care of “funny” negative reviews providing no value as there will always be on the other side a positive review to balance everything. The “funny” button was meant to identify reviews people should take with a grain of salt but they serve no purpose if you’re trying to make up your mind about a game. There’s no point having a “funny” review appearing at the top of the reviews listing.

But a “funny” review could also be “helpful” you tell me? I say let people decide which it is most. It was the point of the “funny” button after all right? Right now you can’t even filter out “funny” reviews anyway to cut the noise so such approach would take care of it. Want to post a chocolate chip cookie recipe in your review? Fine, go ahead. People will mark it as “funny” and it will slowly disappear to the bottom of the list.

Very simple changes

The previous suggestions don’t actually change anything to any algorithm that might be at play here. You hide something and then rearrange the presentation of reviews. It’s true it doesn’t fix other issues there might exist but the point here was to come up with small things that can be easily done for a specific segment of games (small and well rated games).

In the end, it’d show a fair picture of a game having a decent chance of making nice sales instead of having it constantly fighting a system unintentionally designed to punish it.