Funcom CEO Rui Casais believes that Steam's user reviews should be gated by region, to better protect developers from the commercial impact of "review bombs" related to country-specific problems.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz recently, Casais admitted there are several areas in which Funcom was "not too happy with how the Steam system works," but Valve's global approach to tallying user reviews had caused the company problems with its Early Access hit, Conan Exiles.
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On almost every major storefront, Casais said, the visible review score is based on ratings from that user's region. Xbox, PlayStation, iOS, Android; each operates in a similar way, but Steam is different.
"On Steam, the ratings are global," he continued. "For multiplayer games - and I think this is true for all multiplayer games, all games that have servers... Let's say that I'm in New Zealand, and I have a terrible connection to the servers because they are just too far away. I would give the game a thumbs down, because it just doesn't work for me. And that's fair.
"For multiplayer games, which is what Funcom does, I think this is extremely relevant"
"But if I live in Germany, and I'm sitting next to the servers, I'll have a great experience and I'll give the game a thumbs up. [In Germany] I shouldn't be influenced by the negative opinion of the person who happens to be far away from the servers.
"For multiplayer games, which is what Funcom does, I think this is extremely relevant."
It had been particularly relevant in the month preceding our interview, when Conan Exiles had been "review bombed" by Chinese players. According to Casais, the game's "recent" rating from Chinese players on Steam was around 7%, which had a big impact on the score visible to players in other regions.
"In the last 30 days the revenue from Chinese players - the sales that we've made - was around 2% of the total sales. But the number of negative reviews made in the last 30 days, 40% were from China. There is a huge disconnect between the money we get from that territory and the amount of feedback. It makes it extremely difficult to manage.
Casais continued: "In the case of our Chinese review bomb, the problems are exactly because of servers. That shouldn't affect our Western players, because they don't have those specific problems."
Funcom is particularly attuned to the way the technical stability of its games is perceived at this point in time. When the Oslo-based developer rebranded at the end of August, it was in part to break free from negative associations created by unpolished products from its past.
"Funcom games have always been rough diamonds," Casais said at the time. "Fantastic potential, great ideas, innovative gameplay and systems, but they weren't always polished to the utmost shine... It is something that we're taking very seriously, that we want to address. We want to have more games being made and to keep pushing innovation, but quality cannot be sacrificed."
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"There are several changes that we believe the Steam system could have, but that would be the first and the easiest"
On Steam, though, the issues players have in one country can have an impact on how a game is viewed in another, where those issues don't necessarily exist. And the impact goes beyond mere perception; Casais was as certain as it is possible to be that "review bombs" undermine commercial performance.
"It absolutely has an impact on sales. There is no doubt about it," he said. "Conan Exiles recent ratings dipped to 'Mostly Negative' for a day or two because of the review bomb, and we saw an immediate impact. I mean, you can never say 100%, right? Correlation doesn't always mean causation, but the correlation is very, very strong there."
With review bombs an increasingly familiar occurrence, Casais believes region gating would have a swift and positive impact on the store. Indeed, Valve's policies can mean "life or death" for a large number of developers, particularly smaller companies that may get the majority of their revenue from Steam.
"They [Valve] have a lot of responsibility, and they feel it; that's why they are very careful and take a careful approach to changes," Casais said. "While I would like them to just fix it quickly, I also respect that they need to take their time to try to understand the impact.
"It is difficult for them. But I wish they would move a tiny bit faster on some of the issues that I don't see how they could make things worse - especially the region gating of reviews.
"There are several changes that we believe the system could have, but that would be the first and the easiest. And it's a standard change - all the other stores already do it."