Valve have posted another piece about their efforts to get people to use Steam user reviews in the way they intend. This latest change, currently in beta form (though I’d anticipate it being the norm soon), addresses ‘helpfulness’ ratings.

There’s a fair bit of preamble in the article before Valve get to the point. Their definition of what constitutes a ‘helpful’ review on Steam is basically as follows: “one that includes enough information to aid in your understanding of whether you are likely to find the game fun, or whether you should avoid the game.” That seems pretty fine for a storefront philosophy.

They then explain how ‘helpful’ user reviews get highlighted. The old method was a simple calculation: user reviews with the highest percentage of ‘yep, this is helpful’ votes went to the top. Newer reviews were given priority, as a reflection that games can change pretty dramatically over time.

If everybody is using the system in good faith, then that should work fine. But this is the internet, so obviously that’s not happening. Valve say they have noticed a sub-set of people who rate “more than 10,000” reviews on a single game as helpful/unhelpful. That volume suggests it’s not really a human doing the work, but either way Valve deem it to be gaming the system.

The changes, then, are twofold. First, if you’re somebody who is somehow rating thousands upon thousands of reviews, your votes will carry less weight going forward. I don’t think you need to worry if you’re a diligent voter who’s rating a few hundred, this sounds like it’s only for the real ‘you’re just a bot, aren’t you?’ outliers. Valve isn’t clear (surprise) what the cut off point for ‘too many review ratings’ is, however.

The second change will be to reflect the overall review rating for a given game in which user reviews are highlighted. If a game is on a 70% positive rating, then seven positive reviews and three negative will be highlighted. So you won’t have a situation where, say, a 90% positive rated game has eight negative reviews pushed to the top by a concerted campaign. Instead, only one will be shown. This will work the other way too; nobody will be able to force positive reviews to the top ten on a game that has only a 30% overall rating from users.

This shouldn’t prevent legitimate grievances like this years GTA V modding situation getting an airing. That was a groundswell of good faith negative ratings, which tipped the overall user review score to ‘Mixed’. In that instance, it would still be clear to people browsing Steam that something had happened recently to turn people sour on the game.

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