Review bombing was something I used to oppose, but Warcraft 3: Reforged has changed my mind. I’m glad it was bombed, and the bombing should continue. This is our expression of discontent in a medium that gets heard by the decision-makers of the gaming world. A point needs to be made and driven home until the powers that be listen. The same goes for other games pushed out the door by publishers that want to exploit our good-will. Good-will earned, mind you, by dedicated developers - not the boards, executives, or shareholders who foist these foot-in-mouth, palm-in-face decisions on the world.
As a rule, I don’t like innocent people getting caught in the cross-fire. There are good people at Blizzard, as there are at all game studios, who pour their hearts and souls into the games they make. They sacrifice time with their own families so their best work can shine forth in the games we play. I love them for that, the same way I love teachers who stay after-hours preparing lessons for needy students. These are the people always caught in the cross-fire.
But we didn’t put them there, Activision did. C-level executives looking for quick and easy bonuses did. A whole bunch of people eye-balling the bottom line who have the general opinion that we’re a bunch of suckers did.
Let me tell you something: I dislike dishonesty. I dislike when people go and review a game they’ve never played just because Joe Schmoe did. Until now, I was pretty adamantly against review bombing, at least in part because it makes it harder to find good, useful information from other players. But do you know what Activision-Blizzard has taught me? It’s that review bombing is a pretty damn useful tool. If you don’t care about the game and are piling on just to pile on, you’re part of the problem of review bombing. If you do care and are joining in as part of a movement because you care, you’re part of the solution of review bombing.
Here’s the thing: over and over again, we’re told to vote with our wallets. That doesn’t always work with video games because the same people hearing that message are the ones reading websites like this one, watching reviews, and making gaming a core hobby. We’re the minority. You can’t rely on the majority to get the memo, and they’ll happily go out to be unwittingly fleeced by companies with big marketing campaigns. Most gamers are buying one or two games a year. The argument can be made that the media needs to do a better job. As a member of that media, I agree. Game reviews should not universally fall between 6-10. At the same time, these people aren’t reading more than one review if we’re lucky. You could also lay it at their feet and say they should have done more research when they get bit. Well, that’s right. But the publisher still has their money and is very likely already thinking of the next way they can get them to open their coin purse.
They’ll buy based on marketing, hype, and nostalgia. They’ll buy something like Warcraft 3: Reforged because it’s the exact kind of game that should be good. That it’s so bad is absolutely baffling and that’s from someone who does follow the industry closely.
Sorry, but we can’t count on these people and leave off with measured, milquetoast responses. They’re not paying attention well enough to hear us down in the comments section or official message boards. They probably scroll to the score, read the pros and cons, and see if it validates their original hope before moving on with their day. They often don’t know there’s any problem at all unless we get so loud we can’t be ignored and the big-budget media begrudgingly covers us (and hopefully in the proper light, which is far from a guarantee).
To these people, we may as well not exist, but do you know what they might just check? Metacritic, an aggregate so ubiquitous even “normies” know to give it a glance. Or maybe they’ll stumble across a headline about how angry we are one of PC gaming’s most beloved studios managed to churn out a botched, misleading farce of a game, and our response was to make it the worst-rated AAA game of all time. Maybe, just maybe, that will get their attention.
This is our form of nonviolent protest, and if Activision et al doesn’t like it, maybe they can shape up and do better. Or go out of business after their games develop a reputation for being undercooked and misrepresented to earn pre-orders. Shareholders are important, but gamers coming back time and again are the lifeblood of any publisher. They would be wise to remember that.
Old me might have been annoyed that I had trouble finding an honest review. In fact, I still feel rather sad about that. As a game reviewer and editor here at the site, I believe having good, accurate information out there is extremely important. But taking to the user review sections of big sites is one of the few ways gamers can make sure that their discontent is heard above the djinn of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. I’m a member of this press, and good information is important, but I’m also a consumer advocate and people need a way to be heard. Make no mistake, review bombing happens for the same reason people protest in the streets: people feel like they have no voice; they're used to being ignored, unheard, and swept to the side in the face of "shareholder profits."
The overarching message people will hear about Warcraft 3: Reforged when they visit Metacritic is simply this: THERE IS A PROBLEM HERE. You don’t even need to read the words of actual user reviews. The bright red circle, dismal score, and thousands-deep review count make that painfully clear. Upset gamers have turned Warcraft 3’s Metacritic entry into a flashing caution sign. BUYER BEWARE.
Image Credit: Gameplay World
Old me might have annoyed, but new me is just happy we have a way to raise our fists. Simply not buying is not message enough when there is a more vulnerable audience out there ripe for the milking.
And to those developers caught in the middle, I hope things change. There is no doubt in my mind that the people making the game knew that this would be the reaction. There is no doubt in my mind that this wasn’t their choice. Warcraft 3 is the kind of event that is handed down to people that know better by people that don’t.
Today, it’s Warcraft. Next week, next month, and next year, there will be other games until greedy publishers wake up and actually start listening to customers - gamers - ahead of shareholders who don’t even know what they’ve bought into.
In the meantime, let’s all hope that Blizzard pulls a Bungie and is able to buy themselves out from Activision’s drooling maw. That may well be impossible, but what’s a protest without a dream?