Are User Reviews A Reliable Metric Of A Game’s Quality?

With recent reports of Assassin’s Creed Unity being positively review bombed following Ubisoft’s support of Notre Dame’s reconstruction, it becomes even more important to call into question the legitimacy of user reviews. Certainly, people deserve to have their voices and opinions heard, and platforms should continue to allow gamers to openly share their thoughts and feelings on games. But when user reviews are consistently weaponized- whether for the benefit or dismay of developers- it begs a more broad question regarding the validity of said user reviews as a stable and reliable metric.

Review Bombing And Its Role In Gaming

Review bombs are nothing entirely new to the gaming industry. They’ve been observed as early as 2012 when players discovered Mass Effect 3’s ending was less than stellar, leading to the title’s Metacritic score tanking following its release. The trend has been prevalent over the years since then as well, plaguing games like Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, and more recently Metro Exodus. The list, however, stretched far beyond the aforementioned titles. Specific games have also been targeted not for their content, but by the fanbase of curators and critics who have been critical of certain games or developers. In one instance back in 2015 fans of the late John “TotalBiscuit” Bain targeted Titan Souls when the renowned critic panned the game, an act which he later stated was not condoned or intended by him.

The consistency with which review bombs have been affecting online review platforms such as Steam and Metacritic has seemingly grown over the years, but an interesting few occurrences have flipped the practice on its head. With the recent announcement of Borderlands 3 came the reveal that it would be a timed Epic Games Store exclusive, which of course led to past titles being review bombed on Steam. But a large portion of fans saw this as an injustice to the series’ past entries, and as such took to Valve’s online storefront to counter-bomb it, showering the originals with high praise. The second and more recent positive instance hit Assassin’s Creed Unity when Ubisoft dedicated a half-million dollars to the reconstruction of the Notre Dame cathedral and offered the title for free on PC.

Ubisoft Dedicates Funds To Aid In Notre Dame Reconstruction

It’s certainly heartwarming to see the typically malicious practice turned into a force for positivity, but with review bombing being such a volatile variable on online platforms, how much can the industry truly rely on user reviews? Audiences retaining their voice is undoubtedly important, which is why it’s near impossible to stop review bombing without stifling the opinions of the masses. Websites such as Steam have claimed their intention to mitigate instances of review bombs, but effective countermeasures have yet to be observed.

In the end, it seems as though there isn’t much that can be done about the weaponization of user reviews. Whether positive or negative, it must be broadly acknowledged that maybe they simply may not be the most reliable system when it comes to determining the quality of a game or developer. Often times the practice of review bombing in the industry says more about the reviewers than the games they are targeting.