Why Steam is asking users to revise their reviews and why they need to

Let’s face it, Steam reviews, or any user based review system, has issues. These are systems that allow for the existence of review bombs, tons of people spamming the system with negative reviews without ever having played the game in question. However, you don’t have to have malicious intent to poorly affect a system like this. Many people will write reviews without having seen much of a game’s content. Some will snap to a bad review if they experience a single glitch.

This is why Steam has introduced a new system for revising reviews. Basically, Steam will ask players if they want to change their review for a game after having played it for a prolonged period of time. This essentially gives players an opportunity to “second chance” review a game, something that almost never happens in the gaming world (at least not until games fade into nostalgia and get retro reviews).

But now more than ever we need these second chance reviews. Why? Because we live in a market that makes first-look reviews obsolete almost immediately. Even fans who are trying their best to review a game in good faith, even professional game reviewers, cannot accurately produce reviews with the way games are currently produced.

Back in the days of the NES, the product you received on your desk before launch would be the same as the product that people would buy several years after launch. You were reviewing the game, everything that it ever was, and everything that it ever would be.

These days that’s not the case. Many games have day 1 patches, making the version that reviewers played immediately obsolete. In fact, some review guides mention bugs that are planned to be fixed in a day 1 update which puts the reviewer in a difficult position. Do I mention the bug and immediately get criticized when the patch fixes it? Do I not mention the bug a risk missing a huge point if the patch doesn’t fix it? Either way, they are reviewing an incomplete game and can only guess at what the patch would do.

Your natural response would be “well wait for the day 1 patch to publish your review then” but that doesn’t really work either. What if there’s no day 1 patch but a ton of post-release support. Just look at No Man’s Sky. The game it is now is nothing like the game that was originally released. Even if we waited past day 1, even if we waited for months, we would still not be reviewing the “final” game. Any review you read of No Man’s Sky these days largely references a game that no longer exists. There’s no reasonable amount of time a reviewer could have waited while both creating an accurate review and keeping their review relevant.

And Steam seems to understand this and through their new library has proposed a solution. Just review a game more than once! Give your first-impression review and then, after having played it for quite some time, come back and review it again. See if the game holds up. Maybe it’s gotten better with post-launch support. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it was when you first reviewed it and now that the new game smell has worn off you might want to dock it a point or two.

This would certainly avoid situations like Crash Team Racing where publishers wait for positive reviews before integrating exploitative microtransaction models. Yes, as game journalists we also cover these changes, but consumers won’t see those in reviews, nor will they see them when they browse user reviews who were also likely made shortly after the original release.

The proverbial cat is out of the bag. We will never go back to a system where games are complete on launch. Even if a game never patches itself once in its lifetime, there’s still the chance for DLC. Even Nintendo, the last bastion of traditional game development, offers DLC for its biggest titles. “Complete” games are the exception, not the norm.

So we, as gamers, and as game reviewers, have to shift our point of view. Games aren’t singular experiences anymore. They are living experiences, growing and evolving with their fanbase. Reviews also have to be living experiences as well. It’s simply not enough to play a game once and give your impressions on it. You need to come back to it, dust it off the shelf, see if it still holds up. Steam’s reminders are a good start on the user side.

As for the professional side? Stay tuned. We are going to take a look back at some of the biggest games from the last few years and see whether we still agree with our original review scores.