The Review Bomb as Editing

When I think of editing, I’m immediately struck by the complexity of such an activity in online spaces. In 2019 I witnessed an incident in gaming that presented an interesting form of digital editing. What I’ll address here involves gaming communities, the branding of a product (in this case, a video game), and the effect that community editing, in the form of ‘review bombing,’ can have on public perceptions of products and brands.

Metro: Exodus, released on Feb. 15th of 2019, is a first-person shooter (fps) game, developed by 4A and published by Deep Silver. Metro: Exodus is part of the Metro series which is based on a series of novels. The games are relatively popular, though not garnering as much attention as other fps franchises. Games in the franchise have released on both console and PC.

Originally, the PC version of Metro: Exodus was available for preorder on Steam. Steam is a digital distribution platform specializing in video games. Users create Steam accounts to purchase video games, but the platform also offers matchmaking services (so users can play together with ease) and social media services such as messaging and the ability to add ‘friends.’ Steam is the largest digital distribution platform but does have some competitors such as Uplay and Origin. At the time, one of the newer digital distribution platforms was the Epic Games Store. Epic Games is known most for developing the Unreal Engine and for the wildly popular game Fortnite. The Epic Games Store is what brings me to writing about Metro: Exodus.

While Metro: Exodus could be purchased for consoles, it was pulled from Steam and made available for PC exclusively on the Epic Games Store. This move, though smart for Epic Games as such a title was anticipated to bring revenue and attention to their new digital distribution platform, caused an outcry among gamers. I believe the outcry was a result of at least a few things:

  • Some people like using Steam and prefer having all their PC games available in one space, in one catalog. This makes sense from an ease of access standpoint. Having to use multiple digital distribution platforms can seem unnecessary.
  • People didn’t want to support a new digital distribution platform that was in direct competition with Steam (a favorite platform for many).
  • People felt that removing the game from Steam constituted a broken promise. Previous Metro titles released on Steam. Originally, the game’s publisher had every intention, seemingly, of releasing Metro: Exodus on Steam, and it was available on the platform for a time. Pulling the game from Steam read like a false advertisement to some and shook fan faith in 4A and Deep Silver.

Regardless of the reasons, people were notably upset about the PC version of Metro: Exodus only being available for purchase on the Epic Games Store, and they expressed their discontent through acts of editing. Disgruntled gamers turned to Steam, accessing the pages for previous games in the Metro franchise and review bombing them. Review bombing generally involves flooding a game or other product with negative reviews in an attempt to hurt sales, change consumer perspective, and/or to ‘teach’ video game companies a lesson.

The following images demonstrate the extent of the review bombing by showing data on the most recent reviews at the time. A clear trend is seen here where, starting at the very end of January and into early February, the bad reviews started right after the announcement that Metro: Exodus would be an Epic Games Store exclusive for a year.
Metro 2033 Review Stats – 2/11/19
Metro: Last Light Redux Review Stats – 2/11/19

The negative reviews emphasized Metro: Exodus’ removal from Steam and transfer to the Epic Games Store, with reviewers bashing the decision and placing blame on both Epic Games Store and 4A.
Example of Negative Reviews

But then something interesting happened. Fans of the game who thought the reactions and review bombing were ridiculous set about altering the review narrative yet again. They flooded game pages with positive reviews. Many of them acknowledged that the shift to Epic’s platform was unfortunate, but they defended the Metro franchise while placing blame on the publisher. Some of these positive reviews begged potential buyers to give the games a chance and to ignore the negative reviews. A few even helped contextualize the situation, letting potential buyers know what was happening with the review bombing.
Positive Review

Positive reviewers also remixed the messages posted by the negative crowd. The first image below is an example of one of the messages repeatedly posted by the initial review bombers. The image beneath it demonstrates attempts to take over the negative rhetoric from the original review bombers, redirecting the message away from the Epic Games Store and toward the developer or publisher while acknowledging that the Metro games still had value.

Positive posters also took over and played with the language used by the review bombers, as evidenced below with the use of the word “epic” to describe the game under review. They turned what was a negative word associated with Epic Games Store into a positive by describing the game as epic. These players who loved the franchise chose to actively reclaim it.
Example of Reshaping Language

Review bombing is an intriguing rhetorical act and one that falls under the general umbrella of editing. It is perhaps an unexpected form of editing that often involves many voices working in unison without any clear leadership. Despite the lack of direct leadership, review bombing is a powerful editing force that can shape the narrative of a product or service. And this same tactic can be used to reclaim that narrative when reviewers band together to fight negativity.

Have you encountered any interesting incidents of review bombing? Please share in the comments below!

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