Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 14, 2014
 
The foolishness of the crowd

Steam introduced a new system which lets gamers "tag" Steam games. So you could for example tag games as being "trading-card" or "tactical shooter" or whatever else you think would be a helpful description of the game, enabling other people to find the games they like more easily. Alternatively you could tag a game with spoilers, insults, or racist remarks. Guess which one actually happened.

Of course much of that can be explained by the G.I.F.T.. If somebody is anonymous and doesn't need to fear any consequences, then he can express even a mild annoyance he might have with a game in the most extreme terms. And if a big company decides to give him a big audience for even his vilest thoughts, that actively encourages him to write all sorts of offensive stuff. The more offensive, the better, because it attracts an even bigger audience.

Part of the problem is that the internet is full of opportunities to express your opinion. And most people don't want to spend all day writing what they think about a product on dozens of different sites. So while a game might sell a million copies, only a few hundred people will bother giving it a review score or tag on any given site. That makes those "user reviews" and tag systems extremely vulnerable to attacks by small groups. A single person with good writing skills on a popular gaming forum can organize a review attack on a game for any minor perceived failing or just for fun.

Now Valve probably imagined that by allowing users to tag games on Steam, they had found a cheaper solution than to hire some people to give tags to games. I think they are wrong. Sooner or later they will be forced to introduce a system of reporting for inappropriate tags and tag moderation. Which in the end probably takes up more man-hours than coming up with their own tagging system. The internet is an evil place full of jerks and idiots. You just can't give them uncontrolled freedom of expression.

Comments:
Aaah, I also tagged some of my games not so politely. Reason being I thought tagging was a way to sort my own library in self made categories. (Kinda like steam friendslist)
 
That makes those "user reviews" and tag systems extremely vulnerable to attacks by small groups.

Which is why paying for people to write positive reviews is a known and approach....
Unfortunately you cannot have both, if you want "honest" reviews (= user's) you expose yourself to the problem you mention, if you don't.... well, it's like censoring anything you don't like, so it's like not having reviews at all.
Because, quote me on this, as soon as you have moderation you have censoring of anything the publisher dislikes and a nice growth of groupthink.
 
I don't think it's an example of GIFT, it's rather the "Great Internet Penis Theory" that says: if users are allowed to create content in any form, it will be of offensive nature, typically picturing a penis.

The solution is to never-ever let user-created content reach your audience before the site owner seen and OK-ed it.
 
Because, quote me on this, as soon as you have moderation you have censoring of anything the publisher dislikes and a nice growth of groupthink.

I do not think that is true. Things are simply never that black and white. It is a false dichotomy to say that you can only ever have either complete freedom of expression or total censorship.

Just think of what happens if you talk to somebody face-to-face. In most cases you will feel free to say what you think. But you will voluntarily restrict your expression so as not to be deliberately insulting and cause the guy in front of you to punch you, or to retaliate in another way. Because face-to-face you aren't anonymous, and you will consider the consequences of your actions.

I wouldn't consider something like "bad game" or "too easy" an offensive tag that Steam should censor. Most of the things that people complain about can be expressed in tags that are negative without being inappropriate.
 
This is why we can't have nice things.

If they wanted a low moderation option then they could use a set of standard tags that get shared and custom tags created by and visible to just the single user.
 
> Now Valve probably imagined that
> by allowing users to tag games on
> Steam, they had found a cheaper
> solution

I don't think that was the intent. At least not the only one. They gave users a handy tool, a very useful one, in my opinion. And someone abused, as always happens when you give freedom to internet anon people.


> hire some people
> to give tags to games

Hired-man tags are the opposite of "free for everyone" tags. It's liek fre comments versus moderated ones.

My soluton: permanent Steam ban (account) when someone goes too far. Easy. Sure you will need some human control, at least in the beginning. Then... it should just work.
 
@ Gevlon

> The solution is to never-ever let
> user-created content reach your
> audience before the site owner
> seen and OK-ed it.

That would add moderation "at will" by the same people who try to promote and sell the game. I can't see how that could be a good thing.
 
> I wouldn't consider something like
> "bad game" or "too easy" an
> offensive tag that Steam should
> censor

Not Steam, of course. But if Steam decides to give the moderation hammer to the game owners (developers)... I can't see this system working at all.
 
Just think of what happens if you talk to somebody face-to-face.

The problem is that it's a completely different context. Or, to frame it differently: since the publisher know that he can act censor without any consequence, why should he refrain from simply deleting anything which may affect its bottom line, be it insults or an excellent (but negative) review?

As for not being deliberately insulting in face-to-face, it's not just a matter of consequences, it's also a matter of it being of any use. If for some reason I need to speak clearly and be insulting then I will be.
Personally, I'm not sure that removing anonymity would make the internet a nice place, of the people I know the ones who are assholes on the internet are assholes also in RL, so I guess they would just continue even if the message has their name on it....
 
I know! Tag the tags...

 
Steam already provides me the only tag I need: "Early Access," which is an odd euphemism for "stay the hell away from this unfinished and potentially never completed project."

I kid! A little. But seriously, I'm at least impressed enough with Valve's willingness to do this, despite the obvious consequences. I like Rugus's suggestion of a permanent Steam ban as a means of resolution, too. It wouldn't happen (banning a customer?) but it woudl lend gravity and consequence to the GIFTed's innate ability to sink to the lowest of the low.
 
Actually, in defense of the tag system, I was perusing known "problem" games on Steam to see what sort of tags people were applying (i.e Infestation, formerly WarZ for example) and truth to tell, all the tag system seems to do is distill the forum posts down to single keywords. You go into the forums and you'll get the same information, but with lots of awkward grammar and spelling errors, and more vitriole. So....seems like a time saver to me?
 
Apparently the system is meant to work hand-in-hand with the recommendation system, so that Steam can figure out the games that you've tagged as, "Balls-to-the-walls-awesome" and recommend other games that other users have tagged the same way. Which, of course, relies on other users being so kickass cool as to use that same tag. At the moment, the most common tag seems to be ‘garbage’, followed by ‘pretentious’, ‘buggy’, and ‘unfinished’.

The big problem with this system at the moment is that it just shows you all the games on your wishlist. “You might like these games!”
No shit, Sherlock, that’s why I put them on my wishlist. If I wanted to look at my wishlist, I’d click the wishlist button. Recommend some games that AREN’T on that. The other thing wrong with that system is that games which are on my wishlist are only there because they weren’t good enough to buy immediately. I OWN the games that were good enough to buy immediately – the wishlist is just there in case someone wants to give a gift that I didn’t want enough to get for myself immediately, or things which look OK, but not at THAT price and I’m waiting for a sale.

In a kind of almost irony, people actually tagging a bunch of games they don’t like probably aren’t going to be getting much use out of the recommendation list the tags are meant to serve. Because if they tag every game they own as ‘garbage’, Steam’s pretty likely to recommend other ‘garbage’-tagged games to them. Which, at the moment, is the entire fucking Steam library.

‘Almost’ irony, because we all know these people aren’t actually using the tag system for its intended purpose of helping Steam understand their preferences. It’s just graffiti. Drawing penises on things, as man has been doing for all of recorded history.
 
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