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Review games on Steam that you love. Results are determined by those who show up

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Original: http://arcengames.com/review-games-on-steam-that-you-love-or-hate-results-are-determined-by-those-who-show-up/

Well, the new steam storefront is very interesting, and I think it's a breath of fresh air.  For a lot of reasons.  It gives a lot more power to recommendations and peers and even news outlets.  This new curators thing is going to be awesome, I've wanted them to add something like this for years.

Still -- it's a brave new world, in other respects.  We've been on Steam for 5 years now, and (as tends to happen pretty much continuously) a lot of our past experience on how to be successful is out the window.  One of the things that I noticed immediately was the new way that user reviews are highlighted in terms of the number of positive and negative ones, basically like rotten tomatoes.  I think that's an awesome thing to do, and way more useful than showing metascores.  Hooray!

I also do think, though, that not showing them weighted by how many people find a given review useful is a bit less helpful, though.  If there are 20 negative reviews that almost nobody finds helpful, and then 40 positive reviews that are found to be generally very helpful, you still come out with a 66% overall user score, which shows up as a mixed reception.  And that's what has happened with The Last Federation, to my surprise.  Interestingly, most of the rest of our games kind of mimic their general reception, although Bionic Dues is higher-scored than I would have expected based on its sales numbers.

Given the sales numbers of TLF, though, and the general really positive reception to it, I find it a bit strange how the game shows up as mixed.  At the moment there are two negative reviews in the top FIVE pages of most-helpful user reviews for the game.

If your curious, this is the listing for Arcen as a publisher on Steam, where you can see the breakdowns for everything.

And So We Come To The Point
Much as with democratic elections, referendums, and primaries, you now have a voice on Steam.  This is very exciting!  But also as with voting in real elections, the results are determined by those people who show up.

You should never go astroturfing for anyone, and you should never go on a smear campaign against someone, either.  But I think that it's now really important to give reviews, more than ever, to help light the way for those who come after you and wonder if they should spend their money.  Do you like a game?  Review it and give it at least a brief explanation.  Don't like a game?  Review it and hopefully say more than "this is boring" or "this sucks."  A sentence or two of articulation in a negative review (or a positive one, for that matter) really goes a long way.  Not everything has to be a novel.

I really feel like this is getting to be like Amazon.com.  I absolutely rely on the user reviews on Amazon, because they are so helpful -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The point is, for a lot of indies, there are either very few reviews, or no reviews at all.  And yet the games are selling, sometimes really well, and the experiences of those people just aren't being shared at all.  That's a bit of a shame, and I think makes it harder for people to find (and trust) the niche sorts of products that people around here like.  And I'm not just talking about Arcen's products, either.  I know so many indie developers who struggle a lot more than we do -- if anything, we manage to get far more press than the average indie developer, even if we aren't in the upper echelon.

What This Means For Niche Games In Particular

I think that the more niche a game is, the more the reviews of that audience are important.  When you get a game that is, say, a super-hardcore historical strategy game (a genre that Arcen has never dabbled in, so I'm free to use that as an example), you can wind up with situations where the reviews are skewed.

Some people jump in and try it just because they like strategy games.  But boy, that game is too hardcore and the learning curve is steep and it's not what they are looking for.  Those people SHOULD write negative reviews, with at least a short explanation saying why it was negative for them.  This can warn off other generalized strategy gamers who might make the same mistake.  But it's not going to deter someone who thinks "you didn't like the complexity?   That makes me MORE interested!"

Even so, you wind up with a skew towards the negative -- and we see this on Amazon all the time with all sorts of products -- because generally people with an axe to grind are the ones most likely to do a review.  Which really sucks, particularly if you're a fan of a niche genre and you want to see more games in that genre.  If you DO like super-hardcore historical strategy games, and you want to see more good ones, then you frankly owe it to yourself to write a review.  If you find one you love, write about it.  Find one that is okay, but not stellar, write about that, too.  Find one that is in the genre you like, but that just doesn't pull it off, write about THAT, too.

That way the people who are actually interested in the same sorts of things you are can learn from you -- and if they reciprocate, then you from them.

This Is Incredibly Better Than The Apple App Store

This whole thing really democratizes the process, and I am so absolutely thrilled to see how this is happening.  Apple curates a few titles, and beyond that it's mostly the top lists for things that are already popular.  That means you get a lot of derivative games, and a lot of games featuring birds because people do a lot of searching for the word bird by now.  Despite the plethora of games on the Apple App Store, far more than on Steam, the variety is incredibly more anemic there.

The awesome thing about the new Steam system is that it doesn't fall prey to any of those problems.  And so I'm hopeful that we'll see more niche games that actually find the audience they were seeking.  Not people who buy it by mistake and then hate it, and not titles that languish in obscurity despite overwhelmingly positive user reviews (ahem, Bionic Dues).

And hey, when the public generally doesn't like a game by a developer (ahem, Shattered Haven), then that's good for the developer to know, too.  And good for players.  We still get people who buy Shattered Haven and love it, but they go in eyes open thanks to user reviews.  They understand that by the market's opinion is that it's a rough gem at best, and something that only will appeal to a certain set of players (of which I am a member, incidentally -- I in no way feel it's a bad game, but I understand why some others do).  I would rather sell 100 copies of Shattered Haven to people who will actually enjoy it rather than 1000 copies to people who never load it up or who get angry when they try it because it's not what they thought.

Reviews, reviews, reviews!  You don't have to write long articles, and you don't have to review games you haven't really played enough to form an opinion on.  But if you've played a game and have an opinion -- goodness, certainly if you've put a few dozen hours into it -- you really ought to write a review.  It's good for developers, and it's good for players, and it's what will make the Steam store the sort of environment that we all hope it will become.

I'm really optimistic about this new storefront, and it's something that we've known was coming for quite some time.  I didn't realize it would be today, or anywhere near this soon, but I knew that Valve was planning these changes and I just absolutely could not wait for them.  All change is scary, so I'm a bit nervous about this even though I believe it will be a good thing.  But the only thing that really scares me, honestly, is that people won't take the time to do reviews for niche games.  If nobody does, or if only the people who aren't really into that niche do, then those niches are only going to get smaller.

All right, that's my sermon. ;)  I hope you find lots of new and exciting games with the new Steam store!

I'm going to be interested to see the overall effects of this on Steam as a whole.

In all honesty, my thoughts on this are rather mixed.  It's no secret that I dont like Metacritic one bit and find it useless, but I'm not so sure of this new system either.  On one hand, yes, it's not Metacritic, and it's not JUST a number.   On the other hand, it has the potential for the same sorts of problems. 

The people writing the reviews, for instance.  There's times when I read those, and I think they must either be high when writing those, or REALLY high when writing those.  Or for some games you'll get "reviews" that arent really reviews at all.  Like, I was looking at some of them for Five Nights at Freddy's, and a whole pile of them are just "I wasnt ready 4 Freddy" or some variation of that line.  Granted that's fitting for the game, but it's not exactly helpful.... though I bought it anyway, because I do that.

And I get the idea that alot of potential buyers still are going to have the same basic approach to this as before.  Maybe they're not JUST looking at the metascore, but they may still take a similar approach with the other bits, avoiding a game if it says "mixed" reviews or whatever, or sliding the page down and seeing how many thumbs-ups there are VS thumbs-down.  Without actually reading any of them.

So wether or not it'll have much effect.... yeah, it'll be interesting to see.   It is at least good to see some changes along that line though.

EDIT:  The new interface, however, can go jump off a cliff.  Ugh.  I had to search just to find the option to see ALL new releases today instead of JUST "popular" ones.   Among other issues. 

It didn't take long for someone to start bombing it ;)


As with most new Steam store features (like tags) it'll probably take a month or two before they iron out the issues and figure out how to keep out most of the griefers, spammers, and trolls.

I like the direction, though, both as consumer and developer. I'm glad that as Valve relaxes their restrictions and makes it easier for developers (particularly indies) to get on they're keeping in mind ways to improve the store and avoid the App Store hellhole.

In terms of user reviews, seeing things boiled down to a popularity contest is indeed dangerous.  And I have to say, even as a developer, when I am looking for games to play as a player I pay way too much attention to the damn metascore.  It's just something that fixates in my mind.

I really liked the user reviews system the way it was before here, because it didn't really give overall numbers.  There was the most helpful section, and I would look through the top few pages of those, and see what the overall sentiment was.  If they were overwhelmingly positive or negative, then I'd flip to Only Positive or Only Negative to see what the dissenting opinions were -- if everyone hates this, why do some people like it?  If everyone hates it, why do some people like it?  And then decide from there.

All that flies out the window with an unweighted rollup right on the store listings.  Which is a shame.

As for the new releases only showing popular ones... I think that's somewhat inevitable, given the pace of new releases now.  Frankly it used to be that some of the train simulator stuff would bomb the store with two pages of new-releases DLC, so they added that DLC filter.  But then legitimate expansion packs would get caught up in that filter the same as a new $5 train engine would.  That sucked.

Then there was more recently the problem with some indies only spending a few hours at most on the front page of the new releases, and with new releases being such a prominent thing, that was absolutely devastating to sales.  What I think Valve is trying to get away from -- actually, they've explicitly stated this -- is a reliance on discoverability being driven by the new releases page.  That and steam sales were about the only thing driving discoverability for a long while now; front page or die.  Which incidentally would mean that top sellers would keep being top sellers partly because they were top sellers (not in all cases -- we would get in the top 10 sellers briefly during sales or releases, then fall off within a day or two, and that is something that happened with many other developers, too; but Terrarria and Goat Simulator I think kind of snowballed partly off the Top Sellers list itself).

It's hard to be sure of anything, because it's all so bloody complicated.  I like what they are trying to emphasize, though, and what they are trying to de-emphasize.  How much time do you spend on the home page of Amazon?  Personally, I don't even look at it.  I shop on amazon more than at any other store, digital or otherwise.  The reviews system in general works well, the search and categories and filters work great, and overall I can find what I want really well.  I'm a transformers collector, and it is hard to find specific lines of transformers and compare items and prices within that line, though; but the tags feature in steam might help with that.  And on Amazon, the "people who bought this also bought that" and the "people who looked at this ultimately bought that" also help a lot.

I think Steam doesn't need to just copy Amazon, and they aren't at all.  But I think that the general mindset of what they are trying to do is in the same overall ballpark.  They've got a data cube, and they're letting customers mine it.  Other storefronts have something that feels more like a 2D table, and they just kind of list stuff, with a few separate lists to try to get extra most-common queries handled.  Until today, that's how Steam was, too.  And it's not a horrible way to be, certainly, but it doesn't scale at all.  So once you start hitting scale, you have to shift approach, and I think this overall approach is really smart.

The curators in particular: that lets people essentially have micro-stores that are scaled-back.  Just the stuff that TotalBiscuit recommends.  Just the stuff that is currently on discount promotion out of what he recommends.  Suddenly there are multiple front pages.  There isn't software clogging up his page, and if he puts DLC on there it's because it matters, not because it's a train car that happened to come out with 20 other individual train cars.  So that's pretty awesome.  And on the other hand, if there are train enthusiast sites, then they cover the train car stuff and the aficionado of train cars doesn't have the sort of trouble finding all the cars that I might have trying to find all the kinds of transformers on Amazon.  So that's win-win... so long as I find TotalBiscuit and train guy finds the train curator.  That part remains to be seen.

And of course, that's what all this user review stuff and Netflix-style "we're betting you'll like this because people like you (based on metrics we have on other things you like) liked it."  So that's really useful.  But only if people actually write reviews.  And only so long as the trolls don't get to rule.  Which is where that whole helpful-reviews thing has always been a golden idea that steam executed perfectly... and are currently ignoring.

I'm not ranting at all.  The problem they face is a bloody complicated one, and for their day 1 crack at it, it seems to be going marvelously.  Relative to what would happen with most stores.  Mysterial, I'm afraid, I don't understand what exactly is happening with the bombing that you're referring about there.  I clicked the link, but I still don't follow what is happening. ;)

Anyhow, agreed on the happiness about avoiding becoming an app store hellhole. :)

The bombing bit he refers to is basically that group wandering around and dropping "I do not recommend this game" on completely random titles for no reason.

Actually, just go look at your page for Betrayed Hope.... you'll see it. 

The internet, I swear.... it took, how long for this sort of trolling to start?  Hardly any time at all.  Bloody amazing, sometimes.  It'll get worse before it gets better.


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