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As a publisher, one of the biggest things we at Armor Games Studios impress on the developers we work with is how they handle criticism, and if there’s one place where criticism runs rampant, it’s in Steam reviews. While not every person can be swayed, it’s amazing what a few earnest words from a developer can do to turn a negative review into a positive one.** It’s something we coach all the developers we work with in doing; you being the voice of your game, and the visible human behind it, is such a powerful tool.
When you reply to a review on Steam from the account associated with the game as its developer, the original reviewer gets a notification, so they’re sure to see it. Additionally, comments from the developer are clearly labeled as such and given top priority in replies, so people will see your response first.
The goal here is not to suck up to people, or to lie to them, but to get them to pause and see the game, you, and their review in a different light. If you’re lucky, they may come back and update their review with a different rating. Even if they don’t, however, an added bonus is that the people who click through to read the comments on these reviews see your gracious response, making you and your game look a lot better as a result. So let’s get cracking!
First, make sure you’re responding as the developer. You’ll see a button to “write a developer response” when you click on the review if you’re logged into the appropriate account. Use that to reply, rather than just posting a comment.
Second, make sure you’re responding with a clear head. If you’re angry or otherwise upset, give yourself a while to cool down, whether that’s a few hours or literally sleeping on it. Replying in a snarky, defensive, or passive-aggressive tone isn’t going to help anything, and in fact could hurt you in the long run. (Yes, even if the reviewer is being snarky themselves.) If you can’t reply without being combative or rude, you shouldn’t reply at all.
Finally, it’s also important to note that you are not directly, or even indirectly, asking people to change their reviews from bad to good. You are simply replying to them with a different perspective and information, and leaving it up to them to decide what to do with that.â€‹
So what sorts of responses should you give? Well, for example…
Acknowledge Criticism: Even if it’s framed in a way you might not like, take the time to honestly think about the criticisms being written. Could your tutorial have used more work? Is the last boss fight woefully unbalanced? Even if you might not be able to do anything about it now (because post-launch updates aren’t feasible in every case!), both taking the time to digest it for future work, and letting the reviewer know you hear them, is extremely valuable to you and your community.
Example: “Hello! Thank you for taking the time to review my game. It sounds like the final boss fight could have used a few more balance passes and external beta runs to make it less of an uphill battle. I’m sorry it ruined the experience for you, but I appreciate you playing my game and passing along your feedback so I can continue to grow as a developer.”
Offer Help: If someone got suck on a bug or a gameplay mechanic like a puzzle or a boss fight, take this opportunity to step in and offer assistance! It may be frustrating that they chose to publicly ding your game before giving you the opportunity to make it right, but you should still take the time to extend the olive branch of support and see if you can’t make them change their mind, even if it’s a known issue.
Example: “Hi there! I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble. Do you mind shooting me an email at [email protected] and we can see if we can get this sorted out for you. Thank you for taking the time to let us know!”
Clarify Misconceptions, But Nicely: One of the most annoying things in the world is reading a statement about your game that is just factually inaccurate, especially since these can negatively impact a potential buyer’s impression. It can be easy to want to make a knee-jerk reply accusing someone of being a liar, but the best path is to give the benefit of the doubt and reply as if it’s a misunderstanding. Who knows, it might very well be, and the person could update their review!
Example: “Hey! Thank you for your review of my game. I noticed you mentioned that you felt like the game was just grinding the attack stat over and over again. I wanted to ask if you had experimented at all with the system I developed to manipulate and junction your stats and abilities on the fly? I designed it to make the combat more strategic and puzzle-like than power-centric, but it doesn’t sound like you felt that worked. Regardless, thank you for your comments and feedback!”
Accept a Negative: One of the hardest things to do is accept that some people just aren’t going to like your game. It could be for a valid reason, and it could be for something as simple as personal taste; maybe they just don’t like the writing style, or they hated the mandatory crafting, or thought the combat was too grindy. While these may sting to read, they are often valid, and having the ability to respond to that in a gracious, respectful way can go a long way towards making someone rethink their words from “I didn’t like this,” to “I didn’t like this, but…”
Example: “Thanks for taking the time to try my game. While I’m sorry you wound up not enjoying it, I still appreciate you taking the time to tell me why. I’ll keep your feedback in mind for the future, and I hope one day you’re playing something I made that you love.”
These are just a few ways you can leverage clear-headedness and earnest, human connection to try and change a rating on your game. It won’t always work, but learning how to interact with every aspect of your community is important.
I hope you’ve find some of this article useful, or at least that I’ve given you something to think about. Working with your community and wading into negative Steam reviews can be scary at first, but it’s worth the attempt when it comes to trying to build a better bridge between your game and the people who play it.
**Of course, trolling/bad faith reviews do not need a response. “This game is SJW propaganda.” “More RPG trash.” “Pineapple is a garbage pizza topping for garbage people.” These types of reviews aren’t being written by people who want to have a respectful dialogue. When in doubt, remember the wise words of Steam’s community moderation guide.