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Getting a bunch of negative user reviews is not automatically a 'review bomb'

(Image credit: Mediatonic/Devolver Digital)

After a couple beta weekends with hearty Twitch viewer numbers, Fall Guys released on Steam (opens in new tab) this morning. With high demand came server issues, and many buyers haven't been able to play, or haven't been able to play as much as they wanted.

Same old! We could pre-write a news story about every somewhat anticipated online game's launch day server issues and it'd be accurate 90 percent of the time. What's a bit different is how the developer spun the situation. In a tweet that has been shared more than 4,000 times, Mediatonic wrote that Fall Guys was being "review-bombed on Steam."

It was not being review bombed.

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I looked at the 'mixed' Steam user reviews at around the time of that tweet, and it's easy to see why Mediatonic would've felt upset by dismissive reviews like "alot of server issues atm" or "potato server." Watching your overall Steam rating plummet due to a temporary technical problem has to be heartbreaking.

However, I read many other negative reviews from players who didn't think the game was fun, or were put off by the presence of microtransactions after paying $20. There were some throwaway comments, but I would not characterize the majority of the negative reviews that way. And even if all of the negative reviews had been about the servers (they definitely were not), Fall Guys still wouldn't have been experiencing a "review bomb."

A "review bomb" is a semi-coordinated effort to tank a game's user rating as a form of protest. It begins when a group is united by shared anger over some element of a game or something a developer said. It can develop more-or-less organically, snowballing from a few negative reviews into hundreds, but it has to be about making a group statement, not just a bunch people individually saying, "I tried the game but it isn't working right now" or "I don't think this game is fun." Someone participating in a review bomb probably heard about the reason for the review bomb outside of the game

Here are some reasons games have been review bombed:

  • Metro Exodus: It became a year-long Epic Store exclusive weeks before launch.
  • Total War: Rome 2: Women generals, and the false claim that their spawn rate had increased.
  • Firewatch: The developer filed a DMCA takedown notice against PewDiePie.
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider: A 34 percent discount that came soon after launch.

Not among those reasons is "the servers aren't working." Being frustrated by a technical problem with the game and leaving a negative review, even if just for catharsis, is not the same as being angry about a developer's politics, worldview, or business practices and rallying strangers to help lower a game's average score.

For some, review bombing becomes a game in itself: Often the bombing group coordinates on social media and in forums, sharing images of how low it has pushed the Steam or Metacritic averages, with some individuals making fake accounts to leave multiple reviews.

I haven't found any evidence of a coordinated effort to lower the Fall Guys user review average. The game's subreddit (opens in new tab) contains complaints about the server downtime, but it isn't hostile as far as I can see. A Twitter search for "Fall Guys review bomb" is mainly people complaining that it's being review bombed, but no one coordinating an actual review bomb. 

A little while after Mediatonic's tweet about being review bombed, the Fall Guys Steam review average flipped back to "mostly positive." Mediatonic then tweeted that (opens in new tab) Fall Guys had been "positive-bombed" by sympathetic community members. "I didn't know that was a thing?" wrote the developer.

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I mean, come on. Earlier in the day they asked their 174,000 Twitter followers not to post negative reviews until they fixed the servers. That's not quite the same as coordinating positive user reviews, but it's pretty close. I don't buy the "I didn't know that was a thing." It's like telling your friends not to get you anything for your birthday because all you want is some kind of spongy, frosted dessert, and then declaring through a mouthful of sugar that you had never heard of cake.

Maybe the positive review average would've come back whether or not Mediatonic had tweeted. Lots of people were excited for the game and played it in beta or got some rounds in today, and they can leave positive reviews if they want to. As for the negative reviews, I personally don't think that writing "server bad" a few hours after launch is very helpful to other Steam users. Mediatonic has now posted a prominent message on the Steam store page (opens in new tab) that warns potential buyers about the current server issues, and that feels to me like a better solution than a ton of two-word thumbs downs.

But whether or not the negative reviews are fair or helpful, Fall Guys wasn't review bombed. In fact, the only widely disseminated request regarding user reviews today came from the developer.

My curmudgeonly point is that if "review bombing" comes to mean simply that a game has gotten a bunch of negative reviews in a short amount of time, then like so many other terms it will be emptied of its content and become a stupid persuasive bludgeon. ("Help us out, we're being review bombed!") Maybe that's inevitable, but it'll be a pain in the ass to come up with a new term for what "review bombing" originally was, so I'd rather it didn't.

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.