A review bomb is an Internet phenomenon in which large groups of people leave negative user reviews for a product or work online in an attempt to harm their sales and/or popularity, particularly to draw attention to an issue with the product or its vendor. It is a similar practice to vote brigading, and review bombing shares characteristics with this practice.
- 1 Justification
- 2 Notable examples
- 2.1 Video games
- 2.2 Films and videos
- 3 Effects
- 4 References
Review bombing is often done to draw attention to an issue, especially if the vendor does not have an open communications channel, or seems unresponsive to direct feedback. However, in some cases, it is simply done as a means of coercion or trolling.
The term is primarily associated with video game review aggregates and storefronts (such as Steam), where justifications for these campaigns can include unpopular changes to a game, controversies related to them, or the behavior of their developers or publishers. The increasing prevalence of review bombing was precipitated by the increase in influence of online user reviews in the main storefronts where games are sold, combined with little to no oversight of the content of these reviews. This is particularly true in the case of Steam, the predominant seller of PC games, where user reviews are often the only way for indie games to gain traction on the service.
The website Metacritic was criticized in 2011 for poor oversight of their user reviews, leading to rampant review bombing on popular games such as Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War that brought their user rating to low levels. The game Mass Effect 3 was also review bombed on the site in 2012 due to controversy over its ending.
Titan Souls was review bombed in April 2015 by supporters of the YouTuber John “TotalBiscuit” Bain after the indie game’s artist Andrew Gleeson mocked a statement that Bain made saying the game was “absolutely not for me”. Bain, in a following podcast, stated that the developer “has it out for [him]”, leading several of his followers to review bomb the game, though Bain later expressed that he did not endorse that behavior.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was review bombed in 2015 by customers angry about the game’s introduction of paid mods, leading Valve to reverse their decision and remove the paid mod functionality. Additional review bombs for Skyrim as well as fellow Bethesda game Fallout 4, occurred following the launch of Bethesda Softworks’ Creation Club in September 2017, which reintroduced the potential for paid mods.
Nier: Automata was review bombed in April 2017 by Chinese players demanding a translation of the game to Chinese, whom PC Gamer called “a powerful new voice”.
Grand Theft Auto V was review bombed throughout June and July 2017 after publisher Take 2 Interactive issued a cease and desist against the widely-used game modification tool OpenIV, as an attempt to stop single player and multiplayer mods for GTA V and GTA Online. The review bombing reduced GTA V’s overall Steam review rating from “positive” to “mixed”.
Crusader Kings II and other Paradox games were review bombed in the same month by customers angry that they had raised the prices in some regions, and because of ongoing frustration about Paradox’s DLC policy.
In 2017, Valve changed their policies to make unpaid games of any kind not count towards the game’s review scores. The developer of Defender’s Quest, Lars Doucet, stated that this policy prevented low priced games from being review bombed, but harmed the visibility of crowdfunded indie games. Dota 2 was reviewed bombed in August 2017 after Marc Laidlaw, a former Valve writer for the Half-Life series, posted a “fanfic” on his personal blog that several journalists deduced was the plot for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which had been planned for release in 2007, but appeared to have become vaporware within Valve. Players were upset that the episode has not been released, and review bombed Dota 2 believing that Valve’s backing of the game led them to drop work on the Half-Life series. That same month, Steam users review bombed Sonic Mania in protest of its use of Denuvo DRM, which was not disclosed by Sega on the game’s store page on launch day.
Firewatch was review bombed on Steam in September 2017 after its developer, Campo Santo, filed a DMCA takedown against a video PewDiePie made of their game, following an incident where PewDiePie uttered a racial slur during an unrelated livestream. Campo Santo stated they did not want someone with PewDiePie’s ideologies supporting their games to justify the takedown. A large number of users issues negative reviews of Firewatch, claiming that Campo Santo were “social justice warriors” or were supporting “censorship”.
In October 2017, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was review bombed, primarily by Chinese players, after an advert for a VPN service was shown in game. As the Internet in China is highly regulated, VPN servers have been used by some players to bypass Chinese regulations and play on servers in other regions, which causes lag for players in those other regions, so the promotion of such VPN products is poorly received. The review bomb may also be tied to the fact that the product, which is not free-to-play, included advertising support, which has yet to occur for the game in any other region worldwide. Kerbal Space Program was similarly review bombed by Chinese players after the developers Squad changed a line of Chinese text on one of the game’s assets, which was inspired by a quotation from Chairman Mao Zedong, that some had perceived as sexist depending on how the characters were translated; the replacement line lacks such confusion but also distorted the original meaning, leading those upset with the change to respond with negative reviews.
The Creative Assembly’s Total War: Rome II, initially released in 2013, had been patched in early 2018 to include the potential for women generals to emerge from the game’s mechanics. When an image of the game showing one player’s armies all led by female generals, users on Steam complained about the historical accuracy. A female community content manager stated the Creative Assembly’s stance, that the game was meant to be “historically authentic, not historically accurate”, but a portion of these users began to review bomb the title on Steam, believing that the content manager was pushing a personal agenda. Creative Assembly affirmed the content manager’s statement providing the probability of how a situation like this could happen, and how players have the ability to modify the game to change that probability of women generals appearing, including setting it to zero if desired.
In January 2019, the publishers of Metro Exodus, the third game in the Metro series, announced that they would now be releasing the personal computer version of the game exclusively through the Epic Games Store for a year rather than through Steam or other storefronts; after a year, the game would be made available elsewhere, but those that had pre-ordered the game would still have their order honored through that storefront. The previous Metro games on Steam became subject to review bombing, as players were upset over this exclusivity deal, using the review bombing to vent their frustrations at the Epic Games Store.
The game Devotion by Red Candle Studios, a game primarily aimed at the Chinese market, was review bombed after players discovered an in-game posted that referenced the meme of Xi Jinping censoring the character Winnie the Pooh. While Red Candle stated the poster was not meant to be in the final game and took it out on the next immediate patch, the game was still hit with negative users reviews, forcing Red Candle to terminate their publishing deals and turn to self-publishing the title.
Films and videos
Review bombing is not limited to video gaming: prominent, poorly-received videos on YouTube are often targeted for mass “dislike” ratings in a similar manner (such as YouTube Rewind 2018, and the music video for Justin Bieber’s song “Baby”, which are the two most-disliked videos on the service as of December 2018). The film ratings aggregate Rotten Tomatoes has also faced review bombing campaigns through its Audience Score system prior to a film’s release, and has since eliminated the ability for its users to review films prior to wide release.
In some cases, storefronts and aggregates have intervened to stop review bombs and delete the negative reviews. Valve added review histograms to Steam user review scores to show how these change over time; according to Valve’s Alden Kroll, this can help a potential purchaser of a game recognize a short term review bomb that is not indicative of the game itself, compared to a game that has a long tail of bad reviews. Kroll said they did not want to silence the ability of users to leave reviews but recognized they needed to highlight phenomena like review bombs to aid consumers. In February 2019, Rotten Tomatoes announced that it would no longer accept audience reviews of a film until after its premiere, as part of an effort to counter pre-release review bombing.
According to Steam Spy, review bombing generally has little effect on a game’s sales, and may in fact even increase them due to the resulting wave of publicity. However, it may be a symptom of decreased consumer goodwill, which can have a more long-lasting effect on the publisher, developers or game series being criticized. Depending on how such situations are resolved, the effects of a review bomb may be reversed by those users re-issuing positive reviews as in case of Titan Souls.