Sections

Steam's turned toxic, and Valve doesn't care

PC gaming's most important storefront is all too often an unmoderated playground for harassers and trolls, damaging developers and gamers alike

Steam saved PC gaming. As retailers aggressively reduced the shelf space afforded to PC titles - blaming piracy, but equally motivated, no doubt, by the proliferation of MMO and other online titles which had little or no resale value - Valve took matters into its own hands and delivered on the long-empty promises of digital distribution. It was a bumpy ride at first, but the service Valve created ushered in a new and exciting era for games on the PC. Freed from the shackles of traditional publishing and retail, it's become a thriving platform that teems with creativity and experimentation. Steam still isn't all things to all people, but it saved PC gaming.

Sometimes, though, you look at Steam and wonder if PC gaming was worth saving. All too often, browsing through Steam to look for interesting things to try out leaves you feeling not so much that you want to close the application in disgust, but that you'd like to set the whole damned thing on fire. The reason isn't usability, or bugginess, or anything like that - Steam has its issues, but by and large it's a solid piece of technology - but rather the "community" that Valve has allowed to thrive on its platform. On a platform that aims to expose and promote great games from newcomers and relatively unknown indies, community feedback, reviews and recommendations are vital components, but a legacy of poor and deeply misguided decision making from Valve has meant that engaging with those aspects of Steam can all too often feel like swimming through hot sewerage.

"Steam is almost entirely unmoderated, and Valve makes pretty much zero effort to reign in any behaviour on its platform that isn't outright illegal"

The problem is this; Steam is almost entirely unmoderated, and Valve makes pretty much zero effort to reign in any behaviour on its platform that isn't outright illegal. As a consequence, it's open season for the worst behaviours and tactics of the Internet's reactionary malcontents - the weapon of choice being brigading, whereby huge numbers of users from one of the Internet's cesspits are sent to downvote, post terrible reviews or simply fill content pages with bile. Targets are chosen for daring to include content that doesn't please the reactionary hordes, or for being made by a developer who once said a vaguely liberal thing on Twitter, or - of course - for being made by a woman, or for whatever other thing simply doesn't please the trolls on any given day. The reviews on almost any game on Steam will often contain some pretty choice language and viewpoints, but hitting upon a game that's been targeted for brigading is like running headlong into a wall of pure, frothing hatred.

Of course, Steam's not the worst of it in most regards; the places that spawn these brigades in the first place, places like Reddit and 4chan, are far, far worse, and concoct many other malicious ways to hurt and harass their targets. That Steam permits this behaviour on an ongoing basis is, however, a huge problem - not least because Steam is a commercial platform, and provides harassers and trolls with an opportunity to directly damage the income of the developers they target.

It's not that Valve doesn't care about the quality of its platform. Just this week, it implemented a new feature allowing customers to see scores from recent reviews, rather than overall scores, so you can get a sense of how a game has changed since its original launch. It's a good, pretty well considered feature. Yet its arrival really just highlights how little Valve seems to care that its storefront is being used as a tool by harassers, and filled up on a regular basis with vicious, abusive reviews and comments that no customer wants to be confronted with when browsing. Sure, traditional retail may have been hanging PC gaming out to dry all those years ago, but at least I'm reasonably sure that most traditional retail stores would have kicked out anyone who ran into their store and started screaming obscenities in the face of the first girl they saw.

"traditional retail may have been hanging PC gaming out to dry all those years ago, but at least I'm reasonably sure that most traditional retail stores would have kicked out anyone who ran into their store and started screaming obscenities in the face of the first girl they saw"

And look - I get that community moderation is hard. It's really hard. Much harder than throwing in a quick algorithm to compute review scores from recent reviews only, which is why that got tackled first; but harassment and brigading isn't a new problem on Steam, or on the Internet in general, and there are only so many times that you can claim to simply be picking low-hanging fruit before someone points out that you haven't even brought a ladder to the orchard. You're not even trying. You don't even want to try. I stated earlier on that Steam ended up this way because of bad decision making down the years, and this is what I meant; there has never been a sense that Valve wants to tackle this problem. Rather, they've given the impression that they hope they can fix it with some clever engineering tweak, some genius little bit of code that'll somehow balance the need for community feedback to expose good games against the need to stop harassers and trolls from treating the platform as a 24 hour public toilet.

That's not how community moderation works. It's a fundamental, obtuse misunderstanding of how any sort of system designed to manage, build and support a community works - from statecraft right on down to housemate meetings to discuss unwashed dishes. You need people; you need actual people doing actual moderation jobs, granted the training and the authority to step in and put the community back on the rails when it falls off. It's hard, and it's actually pretty expensive, and it takes a lot of care and attention - but it's not impossible. Look at the progress Riot Games has made in turning around the community of League of Legends, which was formerly one of the most grossly toxic communities in gaming. It's still by no means perfect, but Riot has shown that it cares, and that it's willing to fight to improve things, and LoL is by far a better, more welcoming and more fun game for it. Some of that was achieved with tweaks to systems and protocols; but in the end, it takes a real, breathing, thinking human to counteract attempts by other humans to be unpleasant to one another, because if there's one thing our species has demonstrated extraordinary affinity for over the centuries, it's finding creative ways to skirt around rules in pursuit of being unpleasant to other people.

"Riot's done a good job of this because, I believe, Riot genuinely believes that it's the right thing to do. Therein lies the rub; I don't think Valve caresRiot's done a good job of this because, I believe, Riot genuinely believes that it's the right thing to do. Therein lies the rub; I don't think Valve cares"

Riot's done a good job of this because, I believe, Riot genuinely believes that it's the right thing to do. Therein lies the rub; I don't think Valve cares. It should care. It has a damn-near monopoly on PC game distribution through its storefront, and that gives it responsibilities - if it doesn't like or want those responsibilities, that's sad in and of itself, but I'm sure a quick dip in the swimming pools they're filling with money from Steam might take the edge off the pain. It should also care, though, because there's a hard limit on how much a business can grow if it permits abusive behaviour towards whole classes of customers or clients. Anyone making a game that tackles a tough subject, or aims at a non-traditional audience, or who is themselves a member of a minority group; well, they'd probably love to be on Steam, but they're thinking twice about whether it's a good move. That's not conjecture - it's something I hear almost every week from developers in that position, developers whose starry-eyed view of Steam from only a few years ago has been replaced with absolute trepidation or even outright rejection of the idea of exposing themselves to the storefront's warped excuse for a "community".

Today, that might just mean Steam is losing out on a few bucks here and there from creators and customers who have had enough of the toxic environment it permits; but markets diversify as they grow. Steam took over when retailers failed to serve customers with an appetite for PC games. What, then, will happen to Steam if new waves of customers - younger and more diverse - find that games and creators they like are treated abysmally by the service? Valve shouldn't need a commercial incentive to fix this problem; they should fix it because it's the right thing to do, because tacitly enabling and permitting abuse is really little better than engaging in harassment yourself. If that's not enough, though, there absolutely is a commercial incentive too; Steam may be dominant, but it's not the only option for either consumers or creators. There are far more sales to be lost from permitting abuse than from telling harassers they're no longer welcome. Valve should give the latter a try.

Latest comments (35)

Alan Blighe Research Associate A year ago
Well said, I completely agree with you. Valve's stand-offish impression is and has always been really striking. I don't know when or if it'll have negative financial implications for them, but as a micro-example I can relate that many of my friends and I have completely abandoned certain games websites due to the unpleasant "communities" they attract. Assuming lots of people do the same, that will definitely affect their bottom line.
8Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A year ago
I can't help but notice how community in the context of this article is seemingly supposed to mean "group of self-organized people boosting sales and decreasing drop off rates."

Is there anybody who is basing his purchasing decision on a randomly pulled user review? Who believes in aggregated numbers? What does 86% approval rate mean? The laws of statistic demand half the people you meet are below average intelligence, meaning half of those 86% might not be the smartest of opinions.

If I go to a car dealership, it takes little time for the car salesman to measure me and then present me with arguments for the car he is showing me. He does not show me a written review from the guy down the street, he does not show me a video on Youtube. I do not lie down on a couch and the car salesman is reading me a bed time story from a car magazine either. But here is this guy, who does not need to have attended car sales university, but instead needs to look nice, talk nice and present good arguments. Stripping away the layer of what the car company wants him to tell me, the car salesman can honestly tell me what other customers have liked about the car, or what he thinks I will respond to but haven't noticed by just looking at the car.

It might be a tough truth, but Steam as a sales platform might not be as awesome as we think it is. It cannot even compete with a car salesman. I can pull a random game off Steam. Will I like it? I do not know. Can Steam nudge me into the right direction based on their tag system. Well, to a small degree. Can Steam tell me short and concise what other players liked about the game and let me decide if that triggers my purchasing decision. No.

Because of that, customers dig deeper in the forums and meet the last people you want to meet when making a decision; fanboys and haters.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
I can't help but notice how community in the context of this article is seemingly supposed to mean "group of self-organized people boosting sales and decreasing drop off rates."
Yeah, visit the Discussion boards for a true look at the Steam Community, with both how toxic discussion can be, and (occasionally) how awesome (the Dark Souls games being the best of both).

Yes, Valve really needs to clean-up. No question. But I wonder how much can be done without an absolute sea-change in the perspective of "gamers". Because you know the kind of people who brigade games they don't like? Privileged consumers who think the industry should cater to them, and them alone. The people who complain on IGN about Uncharted 4 getting an 8.8. The people who don't think Visual Novels or Walking Simulators are games. The people furious about Mika's buttslap being censored. The people who don't understand what the word "censored" means. :p

What can Valve do about this group? They can tightly control what reviews are allowed, sure. Great. It cleans-up the store, which is good. No doubt about that.

But it's a superficial fix. I would argue the article's problem lies not with Steam, but with the attitude that this industry (generally speaking) has allowed to fester - an attitude that sees games being given negative reviews for being 30fps, not 60fps. An attitude that says something shouldn't be ported to Steam because it's a mobile game. An attitude that specifically fosters antagonism, from Console Wars to disregarding gender equality because "female models are too costly".

Yes, Steam is toxic. But I think that's because the majority of consumers who really care to complain about games are themselves toxic. (Edit: And I use the word complain here to differentiate between petulant consumers complaining/insulting/trolling and consumers who write actual well-formed criticism. Which does happen on Steam.)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 6th May 2016 12:05pm

8Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (35)
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation LtdA year ago
Agree with all of this. (The same goes for the community moderation on this site which seems to only take any action when things start to stink so badly that it threatens to become a PR embarrassment.)

Morville makes some good points too, though I think that Valve could at the very least do a bit more to lead by example, for instance making curators and reviewers who are providing useful commentary more visible than the empty vessels. There should certainly be a requirement for curators to be using the system in the spirit it was intended, purging antagonistic nonsense like 'the framerate police' et al.
6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Oh, don't get me started on curators! *rolls eyes*

Regarding the article again...
Therein lies the rub; I don't think Valve cares. It should care.
Thing is, I think they do care about how toxic it is. Their attitude towards cheating - that it creates an atmosphere that devalues the product for other people - would suggest they care about the toxicity of the Steam reviews and discussions areas. I think they just don't know how to approach the toxicity, since it's something out of their control. They can't make people care about gender, or force people to accept Walking Simulators. By contrast, some TF2 cheaters recently lost thousands of dollars of items, which makes other people less likely to cheat in the future.

I also think they're approaching the issue in Valve-Time, and that's not useful at all.

Late Edit @ Rob: This seems like something which Gabe Newell would actually reply to. Have you emailed him requesting a response?

Also 2nd Late Edit: Does this need to be said?
Sometimes, though, you look at Steam and wonder if PC gaming was worth saving.
That's... I'm not a dev, but if I were, and if PC gaming saved my company, I would not think much of any article that said that. It's a pretty, well... toxic comment to make, that doesn't really add anything. I was hoping it would've been edited out by now, but... No.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 6th May 2016 3:14pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer A year ago
The problem with a lot of public access platforms now is basically spam. You see it on Amazon too - now that anyone can upload a "book" they "wrote". Kindle Unlimited is full of "books" that are basically someone's google-translated high school essays. There are copy-pastes of wikipedia articles in random collections. And they're all backed-up by positive reviews from the creator's friends and bots that say it's the most essential text ever.

But at least Amazon remove the most overt hate speech when it gets reported to them.

Steam seems to lack this facility - you can't tamper with reviews, even to report those that are clearly based on something other than the game itself. They did take some steps to thin out the crap by adding the "helpful" and "unhelpful" features and, more recently, by adding the "funny" button to help people separate out reviews they like because they made them laugh from reviews that say something about the game in question. I am soooo sick of seeing "10/10 Would blah blah blah again" now.

Remember that period - many, many years ago now - when Google became practically useless as a search engine? You couldn't find actual facts on a subject because of the sheer number of blogs expressing an opinion on it, and falsely-tagged pages trying to hook you in to porn and advertising. Google had to change their algorithm to become useful again.

Everybody's got an opinion. It doesn't matter to them whether they actually know something about the subject. It doesn't matter to them whether their opinion is motivated by factors another consumer may not share. And increasingly on the net, there's a showboating factor of those looking for adulation from their peers and recognition of how edgy and humourous they are - and acceptance of certain behaviours is backed up with the social equivalent of a good jackboot kicking.

"You WILL laugh at this hate screed because it is TROLLING and I and some of my mates will bully you until you agree that TROLLING IS FUNNY. We are the loudest voices in this environ and if you want to fit in, you will accept our rules on what is and is not acceptable or you will be classed as GAY. WHICH IS BAD. BOW DOWN TO US, WE ARE VERY IMPORTANT."

Sad part is that it worked, and now the culture of "Anger acceptable, no negative consequences for being an unmitigated douche" is firmly entrenched.

Er, I got sidetracked. The point I was originally aiming for is that there is such a thing as TMI. There is a shedload of stuff I really don't need to know as a consumer, including people's opinions on who a developer slept with and why, or opinions based on bad reading comprehension opposing things no-one actually said or wants, or opinions of people who don't actually know anything about a subject. And I don't need to see people copying arguments they've seen used elsewhere that they don't understand. (Every time I see someone object to a study because "there wasn't a control group" when THERE'S ONLY ONE FLIPPING VARIABLE I want to drown myself). All that stuff is just noise. It's spam.

More than that, it's effectively censorship of useful material by dint of flood-fill.
15Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Berg Games User Researcher, EA CanadaA year ago
This is something I've literally never seen in reviews, but I'm not doubting it's existence at all - can someone provide a few good examples? (Don't care about the Community pages, those are cesspits even for good games :p)
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Casey Anderson Game Data Analyst, Big Fish GamesA year ago
It would be great to include some examples/evidence along with the assertions that Steam is driving toxic behavior.

I use steam nearly every day and, aside from a proliferation of low end games, I don't see much in the way of toxicity. Sure, some reviews are unfair, but that isn't steam specific and I've found them to be better indicator of how fun a game will be than traditional game reviews.
5Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
I'm sick of reading about this 'toxicity of steam forums' - it goes hand in hand with the current fashion of blaming all the ills on the industry square and centre on gamers. This may not be a popular opinion on a game dev site but I feel it needs to be said.

Look around on Steam, particularly on Early Access and you will see a not insignificant amount of developers pulling some really shady stuff with impunity, not finishing their games, nickle and diming, gaming reviews, manipulating prices and sales in dishonest ways, even gaming the 'upcoming releases' by changing their release date constantly to give their games more front page time. Except in cases of extremely low hanging fruit, I almost never see them held to account for any of this by the media. At the same time it feels, at least to read the media, like the entire industry is pretty unified in blanket generalizations of the entire Steam audience being toxic, the automatic assumption that our customers are out to a) abuse refunds, b) pirate our games, c) troll and harass with rarely a consideration that Steam users may have legitimate frustrations that are spilling onto the forums in perhaps untactful and extreme ways or as splash damage on devs that don't deserve it.

Communities don't like being generalized, or assumed from the outset to being dishonest or abusive. We learnt this some 4 years ago when we were victims of an extremely high profile stories about being burgled and losing code, and were on the recieving end of BRUTAL and persistent trolling, and extremely 'toxic' forums for months, We were nowhere NEAR Steam at the time, but I'll warrant we had more toxicity than a great deal of the people RTing this article. We too at the time generalized reddit and 4chan of being evil and horrible people responsible for all our illls. In the time since we've learnt a lot about dealing with communities, that communities can never be adequately described in general terms and should be treated as a diverse and disparate group of all manners of sensibilities, views, educational, political and sociological backgrounds, with good and bad elements, and guess what: Our steam forums are actually pretty nice and friendly, and while we occasionally have to moderate we have to do very little compared to some other Steam forums. This shows that good will and a positive atmosphere is possible on Steam and that alone demolishes this view that Steam is inherently toxic and abusive. Our game has 600k sales, it's not in some undiscovered pocket of the internet, and while we have angry people saying some gross things from time to time, we have a pretty good time of it and that's down to a very specific primary focus we have on keeping our customers content and promote trust, honesty, understanding, accepting blame for our failings and being open to heart-felt and sincere apologies for them, maintaining a positive atmosphere--crucially one where toxicity in our supporters against trolls is treated equally to those attacking us. Despite some extremely heavy delays in much anticipated features, with a lot of work and experience, our Steam forums are frequently commented on for their friendliness by visitors to them. Everyone's quick to write articles about how horrible the Steam forums are, not one person has ever approached us for our opinion, or to ask why our community is not like that. Maybe developers overly simplified premise that the steam community is at fault and is inherently toxic, the blame being put 100% on our customers, is perhaps underlying these developers inability to turn the tide in the first place?

I'm not saying that devs don't get trolled and abused for stuff that's not their fault. This sadly happens, but it's down to the same cynical generalizations, that devs are out to steal their money and are lazy or whatever else, as this generalization about the Steam community.

The best possible way to keep this happening is to continue to demonize gamers and the Steam community as trolls and monsters to be dealt with, instead of perhaps owning up to the fact that while we personally may be nice moral people, gamers have just as much reason to be cynical and suspicious, and assume the worst, considering they have been on the receiving end of countless cases of incapable or worse morally questionable developers, publishers and journalists, as we have nasty trolls saying mean things. While it's wrong for them to then generalize these opinions of the games industry at large, it's also wrong for us to generalize gamers based on the actions of the minority that are the worst of them. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The difference is its their money that's going into our pockets, not the other way around. There's a lot of talk of 'entitled gamers' but surely the fact that we're the ones making the money and they are the ones spending it entitles them to something?

It should be noted that I've seen devs in particular whose past behaviour, performance and treatment of their customers on Steam would very much legitimately warrant angry people on their forums, of which that is no surprise to me whatsoever, who have tweeted this article with a 'told you!', as if its vindication that it's not their fault whatsoever. Well in their cases it was their fault, and the more the industry excuses them by pretending that devs do no wrong and Steam user's angry posts are universally unwarranted and unfair is harmful to the reputation of the platform in general and just serves to radicalize more gamers against those of us who don't deserve it. I would warrant a fair few of the distrustful and rude people who have come at us, and a lot of the more vulgar frustrations at delays we have, are probably down to those people having being previously being badly burnt on another game within our genre, a game being cancelled without fulfilling its promises after a pretty terrible and I'm sorry to say incompetent tenure on Steam from start to finish, the developer is one of whom RTed this very article and to this day accepted no culpability or self-reflection for what happened, nor a single article of criticism from the press. Whether we deserve that treatment or not, the general suspicion and anger in that case is completely justified in my book, unfortunately, especially in the young, without much disposable income, who feel they are being taken for a ride by the industry, this can come out in vulgar, hurtful and unfair ways against the wrong targets. This is wrong but it's not rooted in 'toxicity of steam users' its rooted in a dissatisfied audience and it's our prerogative to collectively fix that not to just find new ways to keep those discontent people out of our eye line.

Maybe accepting that sometimes the industry itself has some culpability for gamers being angry on forums, and trying to address the reasons for this general spreading malcontent, instead of just focusing on the manner and hostility of their posts and demonizing them all with extreme prejudice, may go to actually address this toxicity in a way that doesn't require extreme moderation from Valve's side?

Oh and finally:
"traditional retail may have been hanging PC gaming out to dry all those years ago, but at least I'm reasonably sure that most traditional retail stores would have kicked out anyone who ran into their store and started screaming obscenities in the face of the first girl they saw
My fiance worked in a call centre at a energy company and the horror stories she's told me of regular abusive people on the phone (I guess electricity users are misogynists?) make me thankful I'm just dealing with some text with bad grammar and blatant tells of being young dumb kids venting. This is nothing unique to gaming whatsoever, and the people subjected to that, arguably much more visceral verbal abuse dwarfs the amount of developers getting similar text based abuse by a probable factor of 1000000. People in all manner of professions need to deal with hostile and unpleasant customers regularly, where the reason for the customer's frustrations are in no way your fault, and are powerless to give them what they want, and many of these incidences that people in this thread would categorize as abusive, those dealing with them in other industries would still be expected to deal with their complaints.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/violence/verbal-abuse/

Stop the implication that gaming, or even more specifically PC gaming, is any way unique. No one would deny that blatant abusive or personal attacks warrant being 'kicked out of the store', but from what I've seen harsh criticism and angry complaint are often conflated as abuse and sorry there are plenty of people in much less privileged professions, with infinitely less prospects or opportunities and much less to gain, who have to deal with it too and would have their job in jeopardy if they decided someone was being a bit too angry or rude and didn't deserve their service. I'm not saying this doesn't make the abuse we get any less upsetting or distressing, or that it's any less unfair, but I'm sick of abusive customers in gaming being pointed out as something specifically endemic of gaming, used to condemn gaming communities and those in them of being uniquely awful, when toxic people exist in practically every walk of life online or offline and they are only so frequent on Steam due to the extra anonymity and detachment of online communication, the fact that a lot of our customers are often young (it's like everyone's forgotten what overly emotional, over reacting idiots they were when they were going through puberty - if you think young males are so uniquely awful, look at how young girls treat each other in YouTube comments for boy bands and how frequently they tell eachother to go kill themselves), that they are generally disenfranchised and mistrustful with us as an industry, along with the fact that Steam has 100 million people walking its virtual corridors. And those 100 million people are the reason we are on Steam. If you want fewer toxic people go where there are fewer people.

The expectation that a company who seemingly hasn't got the resources to vet the GAMES that are being submitted to them would be able to effectively moderate every community hub, every post and every review on every game on their service seems to be wishful thinking at best. The entire point is that it's our space they have given us to manage our games, and we're meant to deal with it. We have our own forums outside Steam, and have to deal with our own moderation there too. This isn't new. It's part of the job, as unpleasant as it can be. Part of the Steam service to developers is we have our own community hub, that we have admin control of. If we don't want to deal with the abuse ourselves, then we need to get someone built of sterner stuff without as much emotional investment to get rid of the worst before we see it. The assertion that this responsibility should automatically fall to Valve to make sure we never see anything that hurts our feelings or upsets us is kind of bizarre to be honest.

Valve are a company providing a specific service to us for a percentage cut of our game's profits. They are not our employers, they are not our parents.

Edited 58 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 9th May 2016 3:59am

13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris, the point is that it's an awful noise from a small amount of people in videogames that often -self identify- as gamers and often gatekeep the term too.

It's not a catch all, cover all, for everyone ever who's played a videogame.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Fearon on 6th May 2016 8:32pm

13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Lucija Pilic Journalist A year ago
@Morville
"They can't make people care about gender, or force people to accept Walking Simulators. "
Yes, but why should they allow people who don't care about gender and don't accept Walking Simulators to be toxic on pages of those games?

I remember when Her Story came out and a certain amount of users' comments were deleted. Those were users who don't give a **** about those kind of games and probably didn't buy it, but nevertheless felt entitled to explain to others how that isn't a real game.

One of the problems of niche and/or innovative indie games is that they're relatively cheap or free and frequently discounted so haters and trolls have much lower barrier entry to write Steam "review" and bash them in forums. You'll rarely see someone trolling/hating big blockbuster 60$ game. It's usually done when something goes really wrong, like bugs and frame-rate issues that render game unplayable.

I would never dream of going to a page of some popular game, let alone buy that game, just to spew venom on developers because cover art irritates me. Or I think mainstream titles are all derivative. Or some other stupid prejudice I might have. If anything, I wouldn't want to brag with my biased, narrow-minded view. Because in the real world that kind of immature reasoning is looked down upon, laughed at. But of course, internet is in some ways opposite of real world, for better or worse. Reluctantly, I'd argue that most of the largest gamer communities count for worse.
13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
Rob - Well it seems this may be going into slightly different territory here. While I understand the distinction as you see it, it's a distinction that doesn't automatically extend to audiences of late night mainstream talk-shows for example, and I see no reason why anyone who identifies as such, aka the majority of people who play lots of games in the entire world, shouldn't take it as an assault on their identity and pastime.

Edit removed contentious comparison that would detract from point made.

I'm sorry it just seems like a whiff of hypocrisy to me. Generalizations made either intentionally, or through nebulous terms such as 'gamer' that expect the reader or viewer to understand 'we only mean a tiny minority of gamers, that the world at large understands as 'plays games' without it ever being clarified, doesn't seem defensible to me and frankly as someone who has been a gamer most of my entire life upsets me greatly. I see no reason why it shouldn't upset many others.

Edited 8 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 7th May 2016 12:43am

2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation LtdA year ago
@Chris Simpson

I don't think there are any developers that intentionally try to upset their audiences. I think there's a risk of a false equivalency there.

Developers should of course try to communicate the circumstances of their decisions as openly and honestly as they can. If we keep in mind that the typical Steam customer is pretty much oblivious to how games are made (and frequently ascribe to laziness/malice what is actually just a result of making games being really, really difficult) there are probably a lot of situations that can be defused early, you're right.

But this isn't a solution that can be reached by developers acting on their own, if Valve through inaction are still letting their community be like the Wild West.

Mobs can decide to pile on to a developer for completely arbitrary reasons. Some critics/commentators with loud voices aren't above acting in bad faith to create conspiracy theory narratives, and while large companies with battle-scarred dedicated PR and community people can shrug this off, for smaller self-publishing indies it can be overwhelming.

Maybe we should be calling on Valve to provide better mechanisms for customers with genuine grievances to seek redress, as well as clamping down on the worst excesses? Educate new users that while they have a voice, they don't get to impose their tastes and whims on everyone by shouting in chorus.
9Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Prendergast Research Chemist A year ago
I'm sorry, but this opinion piece is at least eight years too late.

"You're not even trying. You don't even want to try."

This was brought up during the early years of steam, regarding their customer service. Valve has spent less than the absolute minimal on customer service support from the very beginning - and it shows. They're the google search algorithm of customer service: It's just a piece of code, you can't "control" it.

@ Klaus.

"The laws of statistic demand half the people you meet are below average intelligence, meaning half of those 86% might not be the smartest of opinions."

I mean, sure, if you're a completely unscientific person. First of all, ignoring your socio-economic background and current locality along with the understanding that intelligence can be measured in many different ways, each contradicting each other.... and that the average person is an ephemeral being who only exists at certain stable points in their psychological and social-economic lives - you can say that half the people you meet are below average intelligence.. which is a 96 value as to an average of 100. You'd be surprised as to how little "intelligence" separates most humans compared to knowledge and motivation.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
-Robin- I agree with what your saying. I'm fully aware there are plenty of developers who have a horrid time on Steam that is in no way their fault, as I say we got bit with the exact same thing and this was on our OWN forums, as well as reddit. I'm not speaking out of ignorance as to how horribly unfair it can feel when you're on the receiving end of it. There are many devs I know who I have a lot of respect for who have had a real nasty time of it. Even that said, as much as our own experiences 'weren't our own fault' in some regards, there was a reason for the trolling. It wasn't truly out of the blue as unfair as it felt, we had screwed up.

My point is that it's automatically assumed that the reason for these problems is just 'urgh Steam people are nasty'. I venture the hypothesis that a lot of people who play games are becoming increasingly disenfranchised and frustrated and upset at how much money they are getting bled for, how they are buying games they are disappointed or dissatisfied with, how many Early Access games they have bought and have been let down by, preordered games that bit them, how many reviews they read and felt after the fact that they didn't represent the truth as they see it, and so on. Many time young people with rare money going in their steam wallet that may mean a great deal to them, and into the bargain the message going out day in day out that they are the bad guys by merit of being an active part of the Steam community, irrespective of whether they have personally posted anything you could describe as 'toxic'. A lot of Steam users put a lot of effort into their steam profiles, and wear them like a badge of honour. They are part of the Steam community, and almost certainly have never senselessly trolled developers for no reason, but because trolls exist they are automatically grouped in that group of hateful toxic people by blanket community generalizations. This gets them angry, and their angriness is met with blockings and their voices not being heard, and this just radicalizes them and makes the trolling and toxicity worse. Same for gamer, same for reddit. Same even for 4chan the boogeyman of the internet to many. Understand this diversity in every community, extend an olive branch and you'd be surprised how many will grab it if they are not being slapped round the face whenever someone else from that community they have likely never interacted with behaves horribly.

Maybe those of us who are doing it right need to be a little less sheepish and uncomfortable about calling foul on those who blatantly betray trust of gamers, and try and meet them halfway into building a bit more trust and respect across this great black and white divide that's formed in the past couple of years, instead of just defaulting to a 'urgh these people are toxic, Valve should do better at silencing them'

I just think this entire mindset is helping perpetuate this toxicity and 'us vs theming'. In my experience, for the majority. if a troll on a forum calls a dev 'lazy' it's likely because they have gained that perception from previous experiences on other games, of which there HAVE been lazy devs, and there have been incompetent devs, and there have been dishonest devs. It's a case of 'there's no smoke without fire'. However sadly the smoke is getting in the neighbours gardens who don't deserve it. It doesn't automatically invalidate our customer's grievances though and I think a lot of the mistrust and hostility has been earned collectively if not individually.

Edited 10 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 7th May 2016 10:20pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I think it's worth stepping back, if we're going to start talking about 'gamers' as radicalised or marginalised, to look at exactly what they have - which is all games, give or take one or two games. Even allowing for the occasional bad actor in selling or making videogames, they have thousands of other games and opportunities that all cater directly to them.

They are not a marginal group and I refuse to treat them as such.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Robert Fearon on 6th May 2016 9:47pm

6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
Wait when did I call gamers a marginalized group? I'm making the very simple point that millions upon millions of people who identify as 'gamer' don't deserve nor more crucially appreciate being attributed with the actions of probably 0.0001% of them and that your nebulous and undefined distinction between the term 'gamer' and the term.... 'gamer' does nothing to differentiate who is being accused of what to people who care about the reputation our hobby or industry has to those who do not share it and do not understand the distinction between two identical words. Being marginalized or no doesn't make this any less unpleasant treatment of a huge amount of people. See this is what I mean it's impossible to talk about this stuff without being dragged into a whole quagmire of unrelated things, or being attributed with views you've never expressed by proxy.

The comparison I made was pretty clear. RIP allegory I guess. I think its best I step out of this now I've made my point and already unwholesome connections are starting to be made. This is the fate of anyone who ever takes gamers side in this industry, and that's the most worrying thing of all.

Edited 11 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 6th May 2016 10:13pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
"This is the fate of anyone who ever takes gamers side in this industry, and that's the most worrying thing of all. "

Except it isn't, really. Is it? I mean I've spent the last five years pretty much fighting against awful developer and industry practices both for the people who make games and the people who buy them. I don't just sit on my bum either, I take it to the companies who shape these things. I've advocated on behalf of developers and people who buy games (and often, met with a bunch of people going 'I know, I know' at that). I'm not unique or special in this, there's barely a day that goes by on the Twitters where people aren't going "Oh gosh, this is disgusting or terrible" or something at something the industry is up to. Loads of developers and journalists, every single day.

True story, August 2014, I wrote a piece with similar ideas to what you're saying here. I deleted it. I deleted it because in the end, 'gamer' isn't what most people who play games identify as. Videogames are bigger than that. Much bigger. The millions upon millions of people who play games *just play games*, they are not being oppressed, they are not being abused. For the most part, they are absolutely being catered to unequivocally. They don't get blocked by people because they just play games and if they don't like something, get a refund or mumble under their breath about it. They do not and cannot get radicalised, right? They do not and are not tainted in anyway because they have the capacity to understand that no-one is talking about them. Because they're not wedded at the hip to videogames as an identity.

And when we talk about 'gamer' in the terms you're discussing, we are intentionally or not, asking them to be treated as a marginalised and put upon group. I will forever argue against so many of our industry practices, I can see the lines from the birth of games to where we are now, how marketing works and all that jazz. I can see the part the industry plays in all this and I will forever talk about it openly because I play games, it effects me. It brings us all down to accept some of it.

But when you can even sit there and write a paragraph about a bunch of people with a hobby that is playing videogames being radicalised and not step back and think "eh, that's really weird" it's difficult to discuss it, yeah? Not because you're being some sort of martyr to the gaming cause but because there's something so obviously wrong just under your nose that you're not spotting.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Fearon on 6th May 2016 10:30pm

4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
verb (used with object), radicalized, radicalizing.
1.
to make radical or more radical, especially in politics.
verb (used without object), radicalized, radicalizing.
2.
to become radical or more radical, especially in politics.
Radicalization (or radicalisation) is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.

You're saying this couldn't possibly relate to an ongoing and depressing game industry conflict of the past couple of years? I've been sitting on the sidelines watching it all unfold and I cannot possibly think of a more apt or applicable term to use. I see constant blocking of dialogue, attributions of gross views and prejudices by association, I see a lot of reasons for people who identify as gamer to get more and more hostile and frustrated at our industry and the way they are portrayed to those without it.

I find it remarkable you'd say the majority of people who play games regularly don't refer to themselves as 'gamers'. I suppose people who hike don't consider themselves as 'hikers', people who climb don't consider themselves 'climbers' and people who run don't consider themselves 'runners'? Obviously there are many who play games who don't identify as such, but if you think it's only the 13 year old hardcore Call of Duty players with a penchant for foul language then I think you're vastly underestimating it. If I were to say that 'cyclists' are disgusting human beings who have no consideration for drivers, then should I be surprised if people who enjoy cycling as a serious hobby might get very annoyed with me? that if I say 'well actually I only mean the aggressive subgroup of cyclists who actively try and ride into traffic to cause accidents and anyone who knows cycling should know this distinction' that means my statement is not a gross generalization against all people who cycle on public roads?

I have a feeling we agree on stuff as you say, I just feel very different about this habit of generalization and condemnation via labels that's causing so much conflict in the industry on all sides.

Edited 12 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 7th May 2016 1:20am

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Bell Head of Studio, Slightly Mad StudiosA year ago
Couldn't agree more. Steam really should consider some proper moderation. My team have stopped reading the user posts on there.
I had the dubious honour of clicking on a user link on Steam to 'A picture of Ian Bell' to see a freshly dropped and very large turd in a toilet bowl.
It makes for a difficult customer service interaction.
8Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Fun fact: With regards to Steam Reviews, you can only write one if you own the game on Steam. Related to that: anyone can post in the Discussion section, regardless of whether they own the game or not. This will account for the disparity of the reviews not being especially bad (and why brigading is actually pretty obvious when it occurs) but the wider community being pretty awful. Which is not to say that it's acceptable, but more to say that reviews are the lesser problem, I think.

Edit: Interesting thing I just noticed - click on a review and you're given the option of reporting it for "Violating the Steam Terms of Service or Online Conduct Rules." One of those rules is to not "Defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others." I wonder how many people actually know about this option? I use Steam everyday and have never noticed it - why would I click on a review that is obviously hate-filled?

@Lucija
You'll rarely see someone trolling/hating big blockbuster 60$ game. It's usually done when something goes really wrong, like bugs and frame-rate issues that render game unplayable.
I would say more that trolling/hating in review occurs when there's a swell of anger: Skyrim got brigaded due to paid-mods, Darksiders 2 Deathinitive got brigaded because of problems with the loyalty discount. Elite got brigaded because the Kickstarter didn't mention a Steam release, and Frontier didn't want to give Steam keys to current owners. And, yes, Her Story got brigaded because the "not a game" contingent wibbled. No, this shouldn't happen. But like I say, this is a problem that starts with sections of the consumer population (helped along by parts of the industry), not the platform. Anything that Valve does in providing tools and support simply hides the issue, not solves it... Which is great, but also short-sighted.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th May 2016 12:15pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris, most people who ride bikes are only cyclists for the moments where they're on the bike and they're only likely to be addressed as such if they're done by the police or have an accident that gets reported in the newspaper. Amongst those many people are a bunch of people who tread cycling as a lifestyle and they self identify as 'cyclists'. That's the sort of difference here.

If I say 'all cyclists are monsters', that's a message that might reach the more fervant self identifying cyclists but most people who ride bikes aren't even going to hear that or care because they don't really follow the ins and outs of cycling, don't consider their bike anything more than a means of getting from A to B or just use it as something to exercise with or nip out for a bit because why not.

But a larger problem is, when you're defending gamers here, you're stripping away the context of remarks. No-one in this piece is blaming all gamers - they are saying that games have a problem. And they do. We have a large and vocal contingent of people in games who are courted by actual fascists, the alt right and more. There is a substantial overlap with certain groups there and that should concern everyone. There is a substantial enough amount of people in games who are waging a war against feminism and using games as one front on that war. This leads to people being scared out of games, ran out of games, their families and friends harassed also. This is a problem. We have a large enough amount of people in games who are willing to, one one hand, defend the rights of corporations to tread all over people and do as they see fit whilst on the other, crying whenever an indie dev charges five pounds for a game. This is a problem.

So, fundamentally, we can either sit here and defend the honour of gamers and say 'well, it's not all of us' and the harassment continues, the problems continue. Or we can say 'well, you know, that doesn't really matter right now, what matters is that people are safe in Videogames. You might find that distasteful but as a simple matter of priorities, defending the honour of gamers will always come at the bottom of my list compared to the rest because, like I say, most people aren't even going to hear a woman on Twitter saying she's fed up of gamers (whilst being harassed by people who self identify as gamers) or care in the slightest. But everyone should care that people are afraid right now, that people are leaving games because of this. That people feel unsafe on Steam. This is our problem. Because one day, it'll be our friends or relatives because we spent more time worrying what people might think of gamers than acting.

And unlike for the women, men and anyone else who is on the end of harassment, the worst thing that happens from someone saying 'I'm fed up of gamers' is absolutely nothing. Nothing happens. So why worry about that anyway?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Fearon on 7th May 2016 3:10pm

7Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
Sorry you are wrong. I've got lots of friends who identify specifically as gamers. I identify specifically as a gamer. Andy does too. A ton of people hold gaming as integral to their life and identity. We got into this industry BECAUSE we are gamers. As a child I played games almost exclusively back when I was mocked and teased for doing so. They were my life and escapism. Gamers play games. This is what the world associates with the word gamer (or USED to) Your definition or trolls definition means nothing to the wider world who doesn't keep up on Twitter and Polygon.

If you want a term to collectively label all misogynists attacking women in the games industry, why the hell are you deciding on the term 'gamer'? I must have missed that meeting. No thank you, we had the term 'gamer' long before, I've had it near my entire life since I was like 10 year old, why should it be taken off us and applied to horrible people attacking women? What in the hell as the term 'gamer' got to do with anything but gaming and games? Why not use the term 'sexist trolls' or 'misogynist abusers' if you want to point at the actual people you are fighting against? 'We have a problem with misogynistic trolls on game forums and twitter at the moment and would like to fix it' WHY gamers? Isn't it kind of obvious why this rubs people up the wrong way? Why should I have to distance myself from a label I've embraced my entire life, because in the last couple of years someone else has decided to change the meaning of to something gross, when the entire word is completely inescapably a noun that describes partaking in my favourite hobby and also my profession?

You shout to the world that gamers are evil and you are talking about me and my friends whether you think you are or mean us or not. You say 'stripping away the context' but this is the POINT. This is what is so upsetting about it. That context is lost as soon as these generalizations get out of our industry and to people who know nothing of gaming culture or the problems or who is responsible. Who don't even know what a troll is. To the sweet old lady in the shop that saw that news story about horrible 'gamers' attacking women, you mean YOU too, whether you personally identify as a 'gamer' or not, and I can't understand why you can't see that. The term isn't 'fraggers' or 'spawners' or something ambiguous and specific, it's a noun that contains 'games' and has existed for a long time, that is decodable from the etymology alone. Do we make and play games? Then its impossible to disassociate the word from them and the damage to gaming's general reputation is explicit and immutable.

Next time you say you play games you are a gamer to everyone who knows you put an r at the end of a word to turn it into a noun, and to identify a person regularly does that thing. This conversation is pointless the longer you refuse to accept this as it's impossible for you to appreciate how insulting the narrative is to a lot who don't deserve it and who have every right to feel their identity under attack and being associated with the worst labels by blanket statements about 'gamers'. There's something under your nose too. No point in continuing this discussion with you.

While very much related to this recent habit of blanket generalizations this seems like it's getting off the point somewhat anyway.

Edited 28 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 7th May 2016 4:51pm

6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
While very much related to this recent habit of blanket generalizations this seems like it's getting off the point somewhat anyway.
I would argue this is pretty on-point, but not in the way you imagine. See, this here:
Gamers play games.
You know who else plays games? The French Teacher who plays Candy Crush. The Maths Teacher who plays Tetris. The guy in the local grocery store who plays Destiny. The elitist attitude that you display in your entire comment is staggering. Yes, you play games, and you self-identify as gamers, because games are a part of who you are. But. You. Are. Not. The. Only. Ones. Gaming is not just about you, so stop making it all about you, and recognise there's an attitudinal problem with some "gamers".

You say, so as to not tar all gamers with the same brush, we should use some other term. But here, look at this and this. Do you not think the people who wrote those reviews also self-identify as gamers? Do you not think that, just like you, games are part of their identity? Do you not think they'd scream and shout that they aren't sexist or misogynist?

I don't mean to be harsh, sincerely I don't. But you've illustrated exactly what the problem is with some parts of gaming culture by defending (all) "gamers".
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Simpson Programmer / MD A year ago
Elitist attitude? What? I'm saying that EVERYONE who plays games is a gamer by virtue that its a noun made from the word 'game'. I say this at length and the fact that 'gamer' applies to ALL of us is the entire core of my concerns about its definition being hijacked. Amazing.

And you give me a link to two reviews on steam as if this proves anything about the word 'gamer' being applicable for use as a synonym for 'misogynistic troll'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy

You may not identify as a gamer, but I can see you certainly identify as a blogger. Let's try the shoe on the other foot here. With a few minutes on google, I could easily share with you ten links to white supremacist blogs, at which point I could proudly declare that bloggers are white supremacists:
You say, so as to not tar all bloggers with the same brush, we should use some other term. But here, look at this and this. Do you not think the people who wrote those blogs also self-identify as bloggers? Do you not think that, just like you, blogging is part of their identity? Do you not think they'd scream and shout that they aren't racist?
I could find examples of critics who have made sexist comments, and do the same. Blogging and criticism has nothing to do with white supremacy or sexism at all, they are about 'blog'ging and 'critic'ising, as their name suggests and you've told people you were a blogger and critic for a long time and probably have some pride in that. But we cannot deny that there are white supremacists and sexists who identify as bloggers, and that these people are a problem, a concern and undesirable thing that does harm to people, so that gives me just cause to hijack that name and blast from all the megaphones in the world that bloggers are monsters, that's cool right?

At that point does it become acceptable of me to state that bloggers are white supremacists, and find it unreasonable how you may take exception to that? That by defending bloggers or saying 'not all bloggers', you are defending white supremacists, or worse are one yourself. Or that you should come up with a new term to describe your profession on this site because I and my friends decided 'blogger' and 'critic' means white supremacist sexist without you having any say in the matter. Then you start getting upset about it on behalf of everyone who blogs and criticizes, and I accuse you of 'making it all about you' and you being elitist because
You know who else blogs? The French Teacher who posts a picture food diary to aid weight loss. The Maths Teacher who posts pictures of her skiing holidays. The guy in the local grocery store who writes book reviews.
Yeah, exactly. This is my point. They all blog. Ipso facto, by the grammatical rules of the language we're speaking in, they are bloggers. They have nothing to do with white supremacy and how dare I or anyone else make that implicit connection through misleading language in the first place? Right?

So your neighbours who you've told you're a 'blogger' can watch a news story or interview about how these 'bloggers' on the internet are causing so much grief and upset with their white supremacist views, with interviews of people who have horribly been victimized by white supremacist bloggers, real tear jerking and emotional stuff that makes any compassionate and decent viewer recoil in horror at what these 'bloggers' are doing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_emotion

And your neighbours whisper to each other 'oh dear, Morville next door told me he was a blogger, I didn't realize he was into this kind of stuff. How could he treat these people so horribly?!!'. No problem with that, right? We can point clearly at very real victims of abuse and distasteful views from these racist monsters can we not? They are bloggers aren't they? Because when I use the term 'blogger' I obviously only mean specifically this tiny subset of people within the blogging community who hold these white supremacist views, and a few of us in this little tiny bubble of the internet know this fluffy vague distinction and have stop identifying as 'bloggers' personally. So what's the possible unfair harm it could do to any innocent people's reputations or the reputation of the profession or hobby of blogging in general, or for that matter of wordpress, tumblr and blogspot who are clearly responsible for fostering this white supremacist blogging culture?

It's literally impossible to get through to any of you on any of this, I give up. Just burn it all down.

Edited 39 times. Last edit by Chris Simpson on 7th May 2016 11:07pm

13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Steam, like most social media, needs better tools for enforcing rules of basic courtesy on their service and for encouraging said conduct. That much is obvious.

Whether or not 'all gamers are being tarred with the same brush' is a completely irrelevant distraction - there are enough gamers behaving in grossly antisocial ways on Steam that using the community functions or even just reading reviews can be a very unpleasant experience for too many people, and this behaviour is only going to get worse if it isn't tackled in a proactive way. It ruins what should be a fun, social community, it damages the quality of the service Valve is offering and it hurts the income and reputations of developers who get brigaded by sad sacks who cannot deal with the existence of games and developers they personally dislike.

There is zero excuse for this kind of behaviour, and it's sad that Valve with all of their money and free reign to decide on the direction they take their service seem to care so little for the quality of the community it fosters.
14Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA A year ago
Whereas I agree that interpersonal interactions between users and other users and users, and users and creators could definitely use moderation (and I will revisit this issue later in my post) I have to take issue with anyone complaining about the content of, views contained within or quality of reviews.

--------------
On reviews: Those are the sovereign of the author. You might not like what they say, you might not even like how they are used but ultimately you just have to bite your tongue and bear it. The author defines the purpose and content of a review. And I'll remind journalists that it was only a short few months ago that people on this very site they were the ones arguing they should have the right to do the same beyond criticism or reprimand for the same reasons.

On Brigading: It's also crass (and somewhat historically ignorant) to take issue with brigading as it is an inalienable part of PC gaming that is almost as old as it is. It has been the case for decades that PC gamers have gathered themselves into pro-active groups for the betterment of games on the platform. This form of popular protest isn't just part of Steam, it's in PC gaming's blood. It's what created its communities in the first place. It's way PC gamers aren't paying for multiplayer -- the spoke in unison and the idea was prevented from catching on.

Again, you might not feel it is appropriate for them to bomb a review page and make a collective splash for reasons x, y or z. But, as with reviews, it's beyond both criticism and debate.
--------------

What matters is (going back to my first paragraph) how users interact with one another and how that is moderated or can be improved. For reviews this doesn't matter since reviews aren't interpersonal exchange. For brigading it really depends on whether it's interpersonal or not (review bombing is not). But here's where I want to start throwing out some practical ideas instead of just getting up on a high horse an waving a team flag:

0. Draw up moderation rules that actually address user behaviour and codes of civil conduct. This new code needs to spell out that all users will be moderated against, including progressives. And yes, they must be named/given as an example so the point is unequivocal. People won't complain if its clear it will be applied with equal zeal to everyone, regardless of who they are or what their beliefs are: breaking the code is breaking the code. I think many of us have already jumped to moderation, but I think this is where we really need to start. The foundation of moderation itself needs a shake up.

1. Give moderation control over to the players as its logistically impossible for Steam to regulate something of its size. Using players instead of developers keeps developers from making power plays/censoring dissent. It also stands to reason that a player moderator is going to frequent the boards of the games/franchises they like.

2. Foster culture by example: I want to draw a parallel to tech sites here. Take WCCFTech (please don't actually visit it, take my word for this) and PCPer. Both report on the same things. The difference between them is that WCCFTech actively posts articles designed to fragment their userbase along the lines of corporate loyalty ('divisions of 'fanboys') whereas PCPer is run by chilled out men who are both older and wiser than many of their counterparts. The former has rampant moderation issues and just a load of people treating each other poorly, whereas the latter is largely civil by comparison (taking after the site's staff).

I believe this position is actually the one developers and publishers can actively fulfill. PR shouldn't just be on the company site's forum or Twitter, they should be on Steam and GOG too, and actively.

That is, gaining traction within the community by their contributions which can include their personality, (off the cuff) information and so on. The point here is these people can not rely on their authority to moderate or people won't want to follow whatever example they set. If anything, they'll resent them.
Whether or not 'all gamers are being tarred with the same brush' is a completely irrelevant distraction
Speaking of leading by example, the above is neither irrelevant nor accidental: This article has framed things in a way that has actually distracted from the issue at hand intentionally to get users to click and stimulate debate. It's why it comes across as dishonest about its intentions. If it really wanted to have a debate about Steam moderation and what should be done about it, that would have been the crux of the article.

The result is the comments section burns with 'irrelevant distractions'. And the authors that instigated the rift in their comments sections by design? They are rubbing their hands gleefully at the web traction. Think about it: Steam's poor moderation is nothing new, so why only bring it up now? Simple: Because the author can use the divisive politics that have become wrapped in that poor moderation over the last couple years to create to create an equally divisive debate. Design, meet intent.

Which brings me to point 3.

3. The users need to rise above the poor example set by the existing (or lacking) moderation. If you have respect within a community people will follow your example. What are the people here doing to foster a better culture? I suspect responding in kind and them being surprised at the volatile response.

I don't believe moderation can work (with or without Valve's involvement) unless the other pieces are in place. The scale of the issue is too big and Valve's involvement alone would invite hostility.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 7th May 2016 10:40pm

4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation LtdA year ago
Steam is Valve's house and they let users publish reviews there at their (Valve's) discretion. Every store that allows user reviews reserves the right to remove ones that violate their T&Cs. Don't let the terminology cloud the issue - typing a load of abuse into a box isn't a 'review'.

Mob harrassment has never been any sort of 'tradition' that you can appeal to having special status, what a weird thing to assert.*

Community moderation is not a bad suggestion though. There are lots of MMOs and online communities (Newgrounds for one - even Reddit or Wikipedia, arguably) that successfully offload some of the work on trusted volunteers. The range of stuff on Steam these days is so broad that it borders with lots of different games subcultures, so perhaps this would work better than a one size fits all approach.

There would still be the problem of persuading Valve that this would be worth their time to implement.



*PC online multiplayer standardised on free because 1. it was an outgrowth of LAN multiplayer, so anyone could run their own servers, and 2. it became practical and marketable before any sort of infrastructure to pay for things online existed. No collective action had to be taken because nobody was really pushing against that prevailing convention. There have been more local instances of developers/publishers overstepping their bounds and sparking mass fan protest though: SimCity, various invasive DRM schemes, Xbox One always on requirement, etc. These are a bit away from what the article is talking about though.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A year ago
'Toxic"

What it means to the developer: "Remove it, I do not like his opinion"
What is means to PR: "Remove it, this might hurt sales"
What it means to a community moderator: "you are entitled to that opinion, but please paraphrase with fewer direct insults sprinkled in".

There is no shortage of PC games with forums, where moderation means deleting or burying any form of dissent or criticism. Toxic is just a buzzword for when communities does not behave the way developers expect it to. Rarely do developers realize that community behavior is a direct response to the game.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Guy Technologies, PlariumA year ago
Valve actually cares a lot, only thing is that they care first and foremost about their customers: the people who actually pay for their service.
Implementing methods to shut down customer reviews just because some not-so-stellar game developers cry foul instead of fixing their broken games, or because some shoddy journalists are not happy about not being the gatekeepers of this hobby (not to mention how amateurish customer reviews pick up on things that they didn't in their paid reviews)? That would be nothing more than a betrayal of the audience and customer trust - not the smartest business decision, and definitely not in line with Valve's Gabe Newell's own words:
You have to stop thinking that you're in charge and start thinking that you're having a dance. We used to think we're smart [...] but nobody is smarter than the internet. [...] One of the things we learned pretty early on is 'Don't ever, ever try to lie to the internet - because they will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.
You can see really old school companies really struggle with that. They think they can still be in control of the message. [...] So yeah, the internet (in aggregate) is scary smart. The sooner people accept that and start to trust that that's the case, the better they're gonna be in interacting with them.
Steams customer review system is the understanding of that fact of life, and probably the best implementation of customer review aggregation when compared to all other storefronts (from Xbox and Amazon to Google Play and the Appstore): they only allow people who own the game to review it, they let others comment on and rate the review itself, they present the customers review alongside professional review scores from Metacritic, and they provide visibility into the reviewers time with the game. Steam is practically the only place where you know for certain that for the most part reviews are by customers who actually paid for the products.
In the end, it's up for the customer to make an informed and calculated decision and it's Valve's role to bring them all the information available: If for example I see that the new Hitman got a sway of negative reviews just because of it's always-online mode and the rest is all good, then depending on the quality of internet connectivity in my area I can choose to ignore the customer reviews altogether.

The new feature to present recent review score averages *alongside* all the review scores (and not *rather than* as the article implies) is once again another tool that promotes better games, especially since the dawn of games-as-a-service: developers that released a broken game but remedied the situation since now have a second chance to persuade new players in the rising quality of their product, while developers who made an initial good offering but then decided to milk their customer base dry (for example by throwing pay 2 win mechanics on a premium priced competitive game) should expect repercussions. This is again useful information for the customer that is not being reflected in traditional review aggregations like Metacritic.

In the meantime I see is some very bad excuses and generalizations that are not backed by any factual evidence: complaints like toxic-gamers-that-hate-walking-simulators-because-they-are-different don't hold any water when we see that some of the most successful and highly reviewed games in steam are games like The Stanley Parable, Ethan Carter and Firewatch. But on the other front of this issue we see some devs trying to shut down criticism and discussion, throw DMCA takedowns on negative Youtube reviews and do practically anything but learning from said criticism. But by giving power to the customers, Valve encourages developers to do some self reflections and evaluate how they can better their product instead.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Maciej Sobocinski Assistant (teacher/researcher), Czestochowa University of TechnologyA year ago
So, the elephant really is in the room now, is it?
Great article.
Firstof all, @Klaus Preisinger and Bonnie Patterson:
All things aside, I think average user score IS important, although it has its faults. Just check any top game/movie/whatever on metacritic - nowadays the "proffesional critics" forgot that a 10 point scale actually has other scores than >7, so there's a significant difference in what the "critics" say and what the users say. Of course, half of them are morons. Of course, the other half will flame everything which is not Almodovar and hate a stupid comedy for being a stupid comedy. But hell, it's always nice to see a different opinion than "ooh, Assasins of Duty XII, 500M $ budget, pretty, 9/10!" and "boo, a small (but not indie!) developer's strategy/rpg that doesn't need nVidia 90000 to run, boo, 3/10!". And yeah, I do some research before I buy a game (sue me), even if I buy used, spending several bucks on a overadvertised title that plays like homework is a big waste for me - so, yes, there are people that pay attention to user reviews and scores, not only "please take my money and give me a car mr. salesperson" type of customers.

Second thing, back to the article: I'm doing my dissertation on the role of communities in brand building in the video games industry. Due to several reasons, it's been 3 years since I started it. The bottom line of the paper is sth like "the communities are important and can be very helpfull (duh)". Maybe not very ambitious, but there are many folks in the "managent science" field here in Poland that don't know that yet. I am perfectly aware that the steam community is one of the biggest out there, so I definitely *should* write something about it. BUT... watching it from time to time, seeing what happens there and having that bottom line in mind, I really, really don't know what to write. Maybe sth like "there are many cool communities out there that can boost a title, make your sales better, your products better known, and give you valuable feedback (etc.). Oh, and there's Steam, too".

Once again, grat article, someone finally sees that, I'm not so crazy as I thought.

(Sorry for my English, in a bit of a rush today, no time to proofread:D )
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Guys. No-one is talking about trying to clamp down or remove bad reviews or reviews that go against the predominant (published) opinion around games so can we not try and draw an equivalence between that and matters of abuse and hate speech?
11Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
No, man. I think you'll find comments suggesting that people should be shot, killed, deported, sexually assaulted or whatever, use racial slurs, sexual slurs and on are definitely neither things people just happen to disagree with or are folks exposing uncomfortable truths. I'm not sure why you want to try and bring this issue down to 'well, bad reviews...' because that's patently not what the piece in question is talking about or any of the people who are saying this needs addressing.

And if you've never been exposed to any of these things or had any of your friends in the business exposed to these things then you should consider yourself incredibly lucky indeed. However, it does not invalidate the fact that this is happening right now in games and Valve allow Steam to be used as one vector of attack for hate mobs.

Because the thing about freedom of speech, right, is that it doesn't come with the explicit right to force someone to listen to it. Especially when it's abusive. And right now, videogames have an abuse problem, Steam is a vector for that abuse problem and like many other tech companies is slow to act and respond to it.

At the moment, it's like sitting in a smashed up cafe in Spain just after a match in 1986 and someone going "yeah, but not all football fans and there's nothing we can do about it anyway because..."

When we've got people literally scared to put their work on Steam, when we've got people being chased out of games - a space that should be somewhere people can come to work in without fear of abuse, trying to minimise this and waffling about free speech just means that we're happy to retain a space where this is seen as normal. I'm sorry but I cannot and will not do that. This is not normal and it's not right.

"Gabe has made clear time after time where he stands on this issue. "

Yep. He has. Valve banned a developer from Steam who threatened Gabe's life on Twitter. That was a pretty strong message sent loud and clear.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Robert Fearon on 9th May 2016 1:55am

13Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Worth reading this, actually, from a year ago. A less hyperbolic, more nuanced version of the above article, that touches on many of the same points. With examples, too, of abusive/pointlessly ranty reviews.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 9th May 2016 8:56am

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Eyal Teler Programmer A year ago
Ah, good debate bait here.

I'm with the others here who believe that this issue exists but haven't seen it, and I regularly read Steam user reviews. So I assume that it's pretty rare. Doesn't make it okay, but it does mean that few people would ever encounter it and is therefore down on the list of problems Steam users face.

The general problem is simply Steam support, or lack of it. If Steam support worked, that particular issue would likely work too, but Valve can't handle the volume of support, and apparently doesn't want a 10:1 support to developer ratio (which I think it would minimally need), so would continue to look for smart technical solutions.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.