• 10/04/17 04:00 PM

    Dr. Steamlove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Review Bomb

    GameDev Unboxed

    Bombs away! Take shelter!

    The biggest allies that a game developer can have is their community. The gamers themselves are what makes a successful game. A game can be great, well made, and incredibly deep, but if no one buys it, you can assume it’ll go under the radar and has the potential to fall into obscurity. In contrast, the biggest enemies that a game developer can have is also their community. This can be seen in the most heart-wrenching sense this past month.

    Let’s start early in September to explain what’s all gone on so far. Felix Kjellberg, known by millions of people by his YouTube alias PewDiePie, got himself dunked in hot water again for things he’s said. This is an internet sensation, with one of the highest subscribed channels in YouTube history at over 52 million followers. His fanbase is of all ages, but the demographic does get pretty young. To call him an “influencer” is an understatement.

    And yet, this isn’t the first time he’s gotten himself put in the news in the past year for pretty insidious things he’s said or done. His previous escapades landed him in the hot seat by both YouTube and Disney, where he lost both of his largest partnerships. That’s a heck of a way to have consequences to your actions.

    PewDiePie's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

    But, this time, he was live streaming a round of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds stream (PUBG for short). As someone that curses like a sailor, myself, I can’t really judge him on the vulgar content that was surrounding the offending word. Unfortunately, in a “heat of the moment” call-out, he used a racial slur, the “N-word” more specifically, against a player he was shooting at, without remorse. Now, I’m not here to complain about his crude humor or be offended. I’m here to discuss the implications and consequences that have come due to his (now) third strike in under a year.

    Let’s cut to a few days later. Sean Vanaman, co-founder of Campo Santo, the developing studio of Firewatch, decided that they no longer wanted to be affiliated with PewDiePie. That’s fair. He has made multiple Nazi references in the past and is now live streaming himself yelling racial slurs. It’s a fair assessment and want to distance yourself. Therefore, they issued what is called a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown of any Firewatch-related videos that PewDiePie has made, which has YouTube personally remove videos under the order.

    Let’s explain what a DMCA entails. Back in 1998, the DMCA law was put into effect to protect intellectual property and copyright thereof. This law was created to help deter theft or copying of images, writing, video, or any created materials. If someone duplicates a piece of art, the original creator has the right to a DMCA Takedown, which is enacted by the original owner and contacts the incriminated party either by governing or contingence body. In the case of video games, a game developer can send a DMCA Takedown to a Let’s Player or game reviewer, if they so choose.

    Camp Santo Taking Charge Of the Indie Dev Community

    In the case of Campo Santo, furthermore, they contacted YouTube directly. They requested the Takedown of any videos that PewDiePie may have done involving their game, Firewatch. The developer won the fight and the DMCA Takedown took effect, which is a success in the name of indie developers having power over offending content. PewDiePie even apologized, albeit after the fact.

    Now, why is this bad? The developer won. The guy using racial slurs didn’t. Little guy won over the big, bad guy. We all live happily ever after. It’s a classic story trope. We move on, now, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. Unfortunately, there are consequences. This move has caused two major tremors in two different directions: Influencers and Indie Developers.

    On one hand, this act has now set precedent for indie developers to abuse the system, if they so choose. The main argument is that indie developers that don’t like a poor review score can now issue a DMCA to remove things they dislike.

    DMCA Leads To Anger. Anger Leads To Hate. Hate Leads To...

    So what? The influencer takes it down and they move on? Unfortunately, under YouTube policy, if a video creator gets three DMCA Takedowns, they are banned from YouTube. It does not matter if PewDiePie has over 50 million subscribers and made over $15 million in 2016. If he gets two more strikes, his channel will be completely gone and his bread and butter will be (sorry for this) toast.

    He’s just one example. Imagine an up and coming influencer gets into video creation and streaming, only to have three strikes. If they do three reviews and give three poor scores because a game may be bad, there’s a chance they might as well just need to pack it up. This will cause a rift on what game people will review, but it will also fundamentally change the way that reviewers look at their subjects. Developers now have the power to only have positive reviews of their games be seen by millions of people.

    Not only that, but many YouTubers do fun, funny, and idiotic videos to parody games or IPs. Where it is perfectly legal to parody something, Nintendo, for instance, is known to be very protective of their work and have been known to issue DMCA Takedowns for parodies or likenesses to their work on YouTube in the past.

    As The Bombs Drop...

    In a very strange twist, a large amount of gamers and/or PewDiePie fans went for the jugular. In an event known as “review bombing”, the community bans together in what can only be described as a “negative carpet bomb or reviews”. In this case, they took to the FireWatch Steam page, which had originally held a “Mostly Positive” score in their rating system. These community members, proceeded to down-vote the game and leave negative and sometimes nasty remarks. They left it vague in some cases, but the majority rule was that the developer had upset them, so they needed to make sure the game suffered.

    Let Off Some Steam

    Steam, generally ones to stay out of any and all drama and commotion, spoke up for once. The issue, this time, seemed to line up perfectly with something they had already been doting on: a way to solve for review bombing. They posted a blog to their website which detailed their solvent for this unfortunately common problem.

    “So why is review bombing a problem?” the blog reads. “On the one hand, the players doing the bombing are fulfilling the goal of User Reviews - they're voicing their opinion as to why other people shouldn't buy the game. But one thing we've noticed is that the issue players are concerned about can often be outside the game itself. It might be that they're unhappy with something the developer has said online, or about choices the developer has made in the Steam version of their game relative to other platforms, or simply that they don't like the developer's political convictions. Many of these out-of-game issues aren't very relevant when it comes to the value of the game itself, but some of them are real reasons why a player may be unhappy with their purchase.”

    Steam to the Rescue?

    Noticeably, they seemed very hesitant to get too involved actively, but in the long run, their solution made sense. After solitarily discussing what options they really have or don’t have, they went on to their vision for a better future. “In the end,” they continued, “we decided not to change the ways that players can review games, and instead focused on how potential purchasers can explore the review data. Starting today, each game page now contains a histogram of the positive to negative ratio of reviews over the entire lifetime of the game, and by clicking on any part of the histogram you're able to read a sample of the reviews from that time period. As a potential purchaser, it's easy to spot temporary distortions in the reviews, to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it's something you care about. This approach has the advantage of never preventing anyone from submitting a review, but does require slightly more effort on the part of potential purchasers.”

    Firewatch is a slightly older game, which they can value had higher marks among the excited fans that bought early after its release and ever slowly declined after nearly a year and a half but remain in the “Very Positive” realm ever since. The problem with the review bombs are that they rise to the forefront and become the “Recent” reviews, which currently sits at a “Mixed” rating due to the trouble. Valve’s fix would ensure that people see reviews as a timeline of sorts, giving a historical look at the reviews. The decline is shown, but people can click to see the differences between the higher remarks and the bombing run.

    This entire situation has been a cavalcade roller coaster and I fear it’s only the beginning. The real core of the situation is gamer toxicity, but that’s a problem for another day. Only time will tell how this will end, though.


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       1 of 1 member found this review helpful 1 / 1 member

    I dislike using DMCA's as a method of policing Let's Plays. It's too easy to be abused. Actually, it already has been abused by indies AND major studios - one indiedev making crappy games has had a reputation of DMCA'ing negative reviews of their games, and Capcom infamously DMCA's Let's Plays of some older Megaman games just to clear the search results for trailers of a new Megaman game.

    That said, Valve's review change is pretty cool. I think it also has the benefit of more accurately showing modern reviews vs older reviews. Sometimes, especially near launch, a game gets plagued with bad reviews from bugs or glitches that later get fixed. And with indie games that release their games in alpha, bad reviews from the alpha era shouldn't punish a game for the rest of its life once it's finally released in full. Displaying a history of reviews is a good solution. Even better would be slightly weighting reviews based of age (i.e. newer reviews get slightly more weight than older reviews, based on actual dates).

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    · Edited by Gian-Reto

       0 of 1 member found this review helpful 0 / 1 member

    I think you make the whole event look way too much like Camo Santo are the good guys here. They are not.

    They are also not the bad guys... that dubious title, despite all the controversy, has to go to Pewdiepie. After all, what he said MIGHT not have been meant as a racial slur at the time... but he should know better, he probably knows better, and as people have pointed out, when that is the worst word that come to mind when trashtalking online, it shows at least a severly eroded sense of morality from too much exposure to the worst of online gaming.

    Campo Santo on the other hand. Holy ****. Their Twitter breakdown (or the one of one of their guys) was definitely over 9000. Talk about Virtue Signalling taken to the extreme. Stupid and childish, if you ask me.

    I understand not being happy about Pewdiepie shining a bad light on all of gaming. I understand a snark Twitter comment. After all, twitter is the highnoon battlearea for word gunslingers and virtue warriors to fight their silly online fights, and create some online drama to fuel 50% of youtubes ecosystem.


    But abusing the DCMA System is a pretty vile act in itself. So really, I have zero sympathy for Campo Santo. They got what they deserved for their twitter drama post.

    Am I really being supportive of review bombs here? No, that is a stupid, destructive act in itself. But lets be real here. The audience is not the problem. The players are not the most toxic community on this planet. Don't act like an ***, and they will generally stick to talking badly about your game in forums because you have created a walking simulator, a casual game or some virtue signalling artsy award winning game. As much as the gamer community can be toxic, few people will be so openly hostile that the mere existence of something they don't like will make them go ballistic.

    But what Campo Santo did was, in my eyes, baiting. They wanted to be attacked, they wanted to be victims. Now they are riding the victim train. Good luck on your journey.


    In the end, we have 3 bad guys, and no real victim here. PewDiePie deserved what was coming his way for not being careful, Campo Santo got exactly what they wanted if they were baiting or what they deserved if they were stupid enough to type on twitter before thinking about it, and as for the review bombers... they are also no heros. Consumer activism should be done through voting with their wallets. Newer ever buy anything from Campo Santo again... that in my eyes is the only acceptable reaction to twitter stupidity. Everything else makes them victims, like this and many similar articles have proven.


    EDIT: And if you are not a customer of campo santo... well tough luck. You have no say in it anyway then. If you cannot vote with your wallet because you didn't buy Firewatch, or any future Campo Santo product in the first place... maybe just calm down, and ignore the Twitter trolls instead of review bombing and firing back on Twitter or youtube, feeding the online hate train.


    As to not just review bombing this article, lets give a constructive review:

    1. You are trying to make an opinion piece look like a neutral article. I think that is doing the actual factual discussion, the review bombing, a disservice. By bringing up Campo Santos twitter drama and PewDiePies racial slur incident, you are not really discussing the actual topic at hand. There are like 100 other incidents of review bombing you could have used. 95% of those probably are unusable because the game in question deserves the vitriol. Even so, I guess there must be some artsy game somewhere that got review bombed just for existing without any shady AAA anti-consumer stunt, or a terrible game justifying the anger, if not the act. The Campo Santo incident on the other hand has some very justified anger behind it, in the aftermath of the 2013 incidents that shall not be named.

    2. You are feeding into anti-gamer rethoric. That is a very, very unhealthy development sadly now also picked up by the AAA industry after their anti-consumer business got bad enough for the general gaming community to wake up to it.

    While I do think voting with their wallet is what consumers should do... in the end, the consumer is always right. I do support clamping down on frivolous review bombing, but lets be real here. Some people in the AAA industry and some Indies will ALWAYS put the blame on consumers, because else they cannot accept they are to blame themselves. Supporting that kind of stance is only going to increase animosity coming from the other side.

    3. You try to put pressure on Steam when Steam seems to have the most healthy stance when it comes to such online drama compared to most of the industry... to simply ignore it.

    Because at the end of the day, if virtue signallers like Campo Santo and some media wouldn't keep it alive for months, the original mess around Felix would have died down quickly. Maybe (hopefully) he would have apologized either way. The gamer side of the internet wouldn't be up in arms about another incident of what made them go mad years back in the first place. Review bombing wouldn't have happened.


    Gave you 3 stars because the article is less about the topic in the title, and more about your opinion.


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    · Edited by FRex

       0 of 1 member found this review helpful 0 / 1 member

    The single positive here is mentioning the frivolous DMCA, reviews, Nintendo, etc. and that's why there is not 1 but 2 stars.

    Other than that most of the text is outright applauding the developer, never criticizing him for using DMCA for a non-copyright reasons, saying PDP is the "big bad guy" and thus abusing DMCA against him is OK, saying only his fans review bombed to try belittle the community's response (I hate PDP but I'd give a negative review still, because this is not an okay thing to do, especially after an explicit blanket permission for Let's Players), acting as if the backlash against DMCA is surprising (it's not, DMCA is widely hated by YouTube communities).

    It also doesn't mentioning about how the developer himself announced the DMCA takedown proudly on Twitter while calling out PDP as a horrible person and citing that as his reason AND how the Firewatch website even now says Let's Plays are welcome, both of which are two big reasons for why the backlash happened in the first place (in addition to using DMCA against a Let's Play which is widely hated), since they both show how this is not about any sort of copyright protection but about sticking it to PDP himself because of what he said.

    It also doesn't point out the huge double standards the developer is applying in his Steam blog entry when he says how negative reviews for something unrelated that he said online are wrong and bad, while he just issued a borderline valid DMCA against a Let's Player for exactly the same thing: something unrelated that he said online. I'd even say that connection between PDP's crass language in another video and his Firewatch Let's Play is weaker than connection between developer being review bombed and his attitude/attack using his game for a DMCA on a YouTuber he personally dislikes. To many people information about developer's attitude towards YouTubers is important, people vote with their wallets.

    If using DMCA on Let's Plays by devs becomes a standard then soon we will possibly have homophobic and racist developers silently or openly issue DMCA to damage ("disassociate themselves from") openly gay or black YouTubers and such DMCA requests will be as valid as this one here.

    People offline boycott companies all the time for what is unrelated to their product, for things like human rights abuses in third world countries, low wages, comments by the company leadership about various groups or issues, etc. but here when the same happened in gaming it's instantly "toxicity". No one sane has cried "toxicity" when United Airlines was being attacked for beating a passenger up and then the CEO attacked for saying the crew reacted correctly when he refused to leave and called him belligerent, with many people proclaiming that they will avoid that airline now.

    This reads absolutely like a hitpiece or opinionpiece and not a neutral or critical one at all, thus only 2 stars.

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