TurtleBlaze released their ‘ninja parkour’ platformer, Kunai, on 6th February 2020. Just ten days later the game had an impressive 8.1 User Score on Metacritic along with some great coverage on a bunch of websites.
They must have been feeling pretty good. Indie games can take thousands of hours to make and the work is often done by small teams working long hours. All of that hard work was paying off.
But things took a turn on February 17th, when their Metacritic User Score plummeted from 8.1 to a measly 1.7 in the space of a day.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Metacritic, that’s a seriously low score on one of the internet’s biggest game review sites. The kind of score that’s going to send players packing and derail your launch.
They could tell they’d been ‘review bombed’, which is when people ruin a game or film’s score on review sites by leaving negative reviews.
After a bit of digging, they were able to find out how. The review bomber left a post on Reddit explaining how he did it. The post has since been taken down but you can see a screengrab below.
It wasn’t a personal vendetta. It wasn’t even someone who played the game.
It was a random attack by a lone wolf who wanted to show how Metacritic’s review policy left developers exposed. Turtleblaze were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Unfortunately, they’re just one of many developers, large and small, who have had their games review bombed. But why do people do this? And what can be done to stop them?
People review bomb games and films for all kinds of reasons. Some of them more laudable than others.
For some people, review bombing a game or a film is a way of voicing their opinion.
The Last of Us 2 was review bombed heavily after its release. The effects are still visible today. The game has a glowing Critic Score of 93 on Metacritic, but a User Score of just 5.7, which is suspiciously low for a game that won Ultimate Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards 2020.
Granted, some of the negative reviews were related to the game itself. We won’t post the comments here for fear of spoilers, but you can find an explanation here if you’re interested.
But some gamers felt that the storyline was too politically charged and criticised the developers for pushing an agenda they didn’t agree with.
A less political example is Astral Chain, which was flooded with 0/10 ratings on its release because it was exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. Gamers without Nintendo Switches punished the developers by leaving brutal reviews on a game that they wanted to play but couldn’t.
But there is another side to review bombing that’s a bit closer to the purpose of online reviews. Actually, you might wonder whether it’s ‘review bombing’ at all.
After the developers of Fall Guys released their game on Steam, they posted on Twitter that they were getting review bombed.
We're currently being review-bombed on Steam... ??— Fall Guys ?? (@FallGuysGame) August 4, 2020
We're working really hard to get running smoothly for SO MANY players!
We know it's super frustrating, but if you could hold off from negatively reviewing - Until you get chance to play the game, it would really help us out ??
But when one journalist took a closer look, he found that a lot of the negative reviews were legitimate, either related to server issues or the gameplay itself.
Another example of a big name game that attracted a lot of negative reviews is Bethesda’s Fallout 76, which has a Metacritic User Score of just 2.7. But was this a review bombing, or was it just a disappointing release? The Guardian interviewed one of the review bombers who contributed to Fallout’s low score.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “If this didn’t have the Fallout title on it, nobody would pay $60 for it. It’s only because it’s related to Fallout and Bethesda that some people even play it.”
So is this review bombing, or just a disappointing game getting the feedback that people feel it deserves?
Political or random review bombs may be hard to justify. But getting feedback is an important part of any creative process. It’s important to make the distinction between people leaving negative reviews because they have an axe to grind and people leaving negative feedback based on the shortcomings of the game.
Metacritic has been criticised for allowing review bombing to happen. Specifically, letting people review games without some proof of ownership.
People have also shared other ideas online for how to prevent review bombing from happening in the future:
Game ownership can be verified, like it is for users on Steam, which won’t allow users to review games they don’t own.
Fake domains used to bomb games need to be automatically blacklisted.
Reviews from the same IP address should be flagged as at least suspicious.
Accounts should be given a grace period of a week or more before they are allowed to leave a review.
Stop letting users review games on the day they are released, which is something Metacritic has actually already instigated.
Review bombing is unlikely to go away anytime soon, so it’s going to be up to the review platforms themselves to take steps to reduce it.
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