Understanding why gamers do what they do

A look at how review bombing affects entertainment products

By Author  |  Published: 27th Jun 2020  4:53 pm

The role of reviews in the way audiences and users perceive and think about products and services is fundamental. In the entertainment industry, reviews help us decide what to listen to, what to view and, at times, where to find solace in. From the mop you wish to buy on Amazon to the movie you are going to watch tonight, the number of tiny golden stars often decide which way life is headed.

Thus, it is only natural that we turn to them when we must decide where to spend the next 30-100 hours engaged in virtual worlds. Their importance can’t be overstated as they can determine the livelihoods and career growths of entire teams that work on a creative product.

The job of a reviewer is thus a delicate one; one that needs utmost fairness and balance where the expertise of an area is expected to keep the love and unbridled enthusiasm in check. However, times have changed and reviews are more crowd sourced. IMDB, Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and Google Reviews all prefer a broader public perception and this practice can, at times, be flawed. As games, movies and other entertainment products receive overwhelmingly bad reviews even before they are launched, it is important for us to examine why this happens.

If the spate of negative reviews that surrounded the release of the Last of Us II are to be considered, then, a major plot point early in the game caused irate fans to leave bad reviews. Similarly, the announcement that Metro Exodus would be an Epic store exclusive resulted in fans from the Steam platform to leave several bad reviews. In mainstream media, Star Wars – The Last Jedi from 2017 was panned for having social justice warrior (SJW) themes and for being inclusive of race and gender.

Thus, it indicates to us that the disparity between critics’ reviews and those of consumers/users can be for several reasons, to show not merely dissatisfaction but also to voice disagreement with factors that often have nothing to do with the way a product is designed. As numerous negative, low reviews are rated by bots, spurious accounts and hacks, the aggregated scores can plummet in a matter of seconds.

The general assumption (both academic and industrial) with user generated reviews is, reviews are written when users/consumers are impressed or disappointed. Often leaving no room for the mediocre and the mundane. However, there is a lot of value in things that do exactly as advertised and it is the job of a reviewer to point that out. Aggregated scores and the polarised nature of online interactions often leave little room for necessary compromises.

In the era of the hyperbole and echo-chambers, the review bomb is a cultural practice that on the surface might come across as democratic but underneath is just the illusion of a cultivated majority.

Sometimes, it is just easier to call a spade a spade; the spade might be thankful for it.

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