Last week, Epic finally added a user review system to its PC Game Store, nearly 3.5 years after the service’s initial launch. The first set of public ratings produced by that system is now live for hundreds of titles on the Epic Games Store (skip to the end of this article for a handy breakdown of some of the best-reviewed EGS games thus far).
After sifting through those ratings a bit, some pros and cons of Epic’s unique user review approach come to the forefront. While EGS’s user review system brings some interesting ideas to online game stores, it still feels a little half-baked, even after years of apparent work on Epic’s part.
The main difference in the Epic Games Store rating system is that it’s not just open to any player with an opinion. On platforms like Steam, anyone who has “recorded playtime” on a title can submit a user review. On EGS, by contrast, Epic explains that the “ratings system will ask random players, who have played a game for more than two hours, to give a rating on a five point scale.”
Those quick surveys—which are supplemented by polls that ask more specific questions about a game’s contents—appear to players randomly after individual play sessions. Epic promises that “we won’t spam our players, and we probably won’t ask about every game or app used.”
Senior Product Manager Patrick Hallenbeck tells Ars that “user engagement with the new system has exceeded expectations in terms of the number of users and the frequency of answers provided. The quality and quantity of engagement are encouraging enough that we’re looking at increasing the opportunity for users to participate, and are monitoring for users who are attempting to abuse the system.”
On the plus side, the EGS user review system seems well-designed to “protect games from review bombing and ensure people assigning scores are actual players of the games,” as Epic explains its goals.
That’s not an insignificant improvement either. On Steam, Valve has gone to great lengths to combat a common issue where floods of “off-topic” reviews (i.e., those focused on issues “outside of the game.”) mess with their user recommendation engine. Valve’s efforts, which mix automated detection algorithms with decisions by “a team of people at Valve,” have had mixed results.
On the other hand, Epic will likely never have to worry about detecting its own EGS review bombs. Limiting reviewers to a small, random sampling of active players means it would be difficult if not impossible for those players to organize any such review bombing campaign.
Everything is awesome!
On the downside, Epic’s system also seems to lead to significant score inflation. Of the 480 or so EGS games for which we could find a public user rating thus far, only four had an overall rating of less than 4 out of 5 stars. Osiris: New Dawn, the absolute worst-rated game we could find on the store, currently has a rating of 3.8/5.
To be fair, the majority of EGS’s nearly 1,450 listed games do not have public ratings listed yet. Epic spokesperson Nick Chester said EGS titles “have to receive a minimum threshold of reviews before we begin to show ratings publicly” and that Epic “fully expect[s] all products to have these ratings displayed eventually.”
It’s possible the EGS games with current public ratings are those that players are most enthusiastic about, and currently unrated EGS games will eventually fill out the lower end of the scale if and when they reach a critical mass of player ratings.
On the other hand, limiting reviews to active and consistent players could be skewing those reviews toward the higher end of the scale. That’s not necessarily a problem, so long as EGS users realize the nature of that skew and keep it in mind when comparing scores on a relative basis.
“We’re continuously evaluating how players interact with our ratings and polls,” Chester said. “We have already made and will continue to make adjustments to the system to provide the best information for each game.
A bit generic
The other main problem with the Epic Games Store’s user reviews is their lack of specificity. On Steam, users can add text to their thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviews, highlighting which specific elements they did or didn’t like. That can help both customers and the developers, who can learn what to focus on in future updates.
With EGS, on the other hand, player-reviewers answer pre-populated survey questions about specific elements of the game, which are then distilled into descriptors that are listed alongside the user review score. Those descriptors are (so far) limited to extremely generic (and universally positive) sentiments about the game: “amazing storytelling”; “diverse characters”; “obsessive gameplay”; “great boss battles”; etc.
Those are nice things to know for people browsing the store. But those kinds of descriptors lack the granularity you can get from skimming through a random sample of Steam reviews for most games.
And even if you want a quick list of highly rated EGS games with “diverse characters,” for example, EGS can’t help you. Currently, there’s no way to search the store (or filter results) based on review scores or descriptors (though clever Googling can help a bit).
As a service, we’ve combed through EGS to pick out the 90 or so games that have rated a 4.9 or 4.8 “overall rating” on the store’s five-star scale (scores may have changed slightly since this data was initially gathered). You can find that listing broken out on the next page, alongside breakouts of some common content descriptors users have provided for those games.