Report: 'Bad design' is the No.1 complaint of Steam user review authors

Report: 'Bad design' is the No.1 complaint of Steam user review authors

A recent study of Steam user reviews shows that bad design is the No.1 annoyance for their authors.

That's according to a study from the Empirical Software Engineering journal - as reported by GamaSutra - which examined reviews for 6,224 games on Steam. In total 34 per cent of reviews made reference to bad game design, while eight per cent mentioned bugs.

57 per cent of negative reviews mentioned game design, with 17 per cent mentioning bugs. A smaller 29 per cent of positive reviews referenced bad game design, while just seven mentioned bugs, showing that a game featuring bugs do not necessarily lead to negative reviews.

The study doesn't define what 'bad game design' means, but it does seem to be a broad term for reviews that mention problems with the gameplay.

Despite this, negative reviews actually contain more valuable feedback than positive ones. 71 per cent of positive reviews are not helpful, compared to just 55 per cent of negative reviews.

Additionally, reviews on Early Access games are longer than non-Early Access titles. This is likely due to consumers being invested in projects that are not complete and wanting to provide more detailed feedback to what needs changing. In addition, reviews have a median "readability level" that stands at grade 8. In the American school system, that's between 13 and 14 years old. A median of 36 per cent of reviews have non-English authors.

Gamers also play a median a 13.5 hours before posting a review, with negative reviews being posted after less play time. Positive reviews are left after a median of 15.5 hours, while negative reviews are left after 6.6 hours.

You can read the full study here.

Valve has been making a number of changes to Steam user reviews in the last year. The PC giant added graphs so that users can see how reviews have tracked over time; this is one way of combating review bombing, where people intentionally leave negative reviews on games but is also a means of tracking how a game has improved over time. 

Since then, Valve has changed the ratio of positive to negative reviews that appear alongside a game

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.