The big gaming controversy of the week (so far) kicked off in a big way on Sunday when YouTuber PewDiePie dropped an ugly racial slur in an angry outburst during a PUBG livestream. That prompted Firewatch developer Campo Santo to disassociate itself with the streamer by filing a DMCA takedown notice against all of his Firewatch content. And as day follows night, that in turn has resulted in a thorough and ongoing review-bombing campaign against the game on Steam.
Firewatch was released in early 2016 and its overall rating, across well over 25,000 Steam user reviews, is "very positive." (And so it should be, I would add.) But recent reviews are "mixed"—industry parlance for "bad"—and it's not hard to figure out why.
- "Terrible story, too short, and social justice warrior developers. Forgettable game."
- "At least one of the game devs seems to be a DMCA abusing SJW crybaby who is using copyright laws to wrongfully take down videos if the reviewer uses a word he doesn't like."
- "Some SJW dev. so yeah♥♥♥♥♥"
- "The developers seem to support censorship which I will not."
- "The fact that the creator of this game seriously went after pewdiepie is ♥♥♥♥ing pathetic. Instead of complaining, he should ♥♥♥♥ing fix his game. Worst storyline ever"
- "This is one of the most beautiful games. Short, but amazing. Pulls you in and keeps you intrigued from start to finish. However, negative review cause the developer is a whiny baby, filing DMCA takedowns over hurtful words."
In case there was any doubt about the motivation behind all of this, I poked at the most recent 50 negative user reviews and 43 of them show zero hours played in the past two weeks; of those that do have recent time on the clock, five of them are for less than an hour.
The negative reviews will probably have little practical impact on Campo Santo's fortunes. Firewatch has been out for well over a year and has already enjoyed a great deal of success, breaking one million copies sold late last year. But as we explained in June, Steam review bombing works: Its effectiveness is blunted against older games, but as we saw when Valve quickly pulled the plug on its initial attempt to introduce paid mods to Steam, it's not just angry screaming into the void. Even in support of dubious (or outright odious) causes, organized campaigns like this can give an impactful voice to large groups of angry consumers.
As for the act that lit the fuse, Campo Santo boss Sean Vanaman later expressed "regret" over using a DMCA takedown notice, telling Buzzfeed that "censorship is not the best thing for speech and if I had a way to contact PewDiePie and take the video down, I probably would." That said, we asked some lawyers about it and they told us he was perfectly within his rights to do so.