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The Ultimate Guide – How to Respond to Negative Reviews on Steam and why Customer Relations is Important.


Introduction

I know some debate is swirling around whether you should reply to a negative review or not. Although no one answer is necessarily right or wrong here, in my years of customer relations, game development, marketing, and PR, I’ve come to believe that you can realize certain benefits if you respond the right way. Whatever your role in game development is, perhaps this blog may offer a deeper insight into the nature of responding to negative reviews.

Before becoming a full-time game developer and finding my passion for video games marketing and PR, I was a professional painter and decorator in the UK for over 10 years. I had a reputable business that was known for quality and high-end customer service. Over the years, I met some wonderful customers and of course some not-so-pleasant ones. I learned a lot about people management and overall customer relations. One of the lessons I learned was that in life, no matter how amazing the service or product you provide is, you simply can’t please everyone.

With that said, the most important thing I learned from customers is that we can’t control what they say or feel, but we can control how we react. A big advantage I had back then when dealing with customers was that our interactions were all in person, meaning I could physically see the customers’ faces and hear their tones, so I could gauge how upset, angry, happy, or frustrated they were. I’d get a deeper understanding of how I should react to such emotion(s). Now, however, I deal with customers online, and it's a vastly different world out there in Cyberland. In this blog, I hope my experience, combined with my current profession, can give you a deeper insight into how to best respond to Steam reviews. Let's get stuck in!


Contents
1. Customers and developers are people
2. How do you respond to a negative review?
3. Why should I respond to a negative review?
4. What are the benefits of responding to a negative review?
5. What are the disadvantages of responding to a negative review?
6. How many negative reviews should I respond to?
7. Who sees my response?
8. Reviews serve customers
9. Tips
10. Conclusion

1. Customers and developers are people

The biggest advantage we have when responding online rather than in person is that we have more time to plan our response. However, what makes responding to online criticism difficult is that you can’t see the person’s face or hear their tone, which can tempt you to forget that behind the keyboard is an actual person. A lot of emotions are in play that could be taken out of context. For example, let’s say a customer writes a negative review that's constructive about your game. Very possibly, this customer may have brought up some valid criticism that would be helpful for other Steam customers and your game. However, because you can’t hear their tone and see their expression, you take what they say personally and inappropriately respond in the heat of the moment. I find reminding myself that customers are people helps me construct my response on a more personable level. After all, we’re all human! This being said, I would like to note that developers are also people, and the above go hand in hand. Developers have actual feelings, too. And just because they are the customer, doesn’t mean they should throw a tantrum and shout absurd profanities at you. It’s not cool. By all means, they should let you know about bugs and their overall experience about why they didn’t like your product, but do so politely. If you should face toxic and abusive reviews, my advice is to report them to Steam, or ignore them. They don’t deserve your time. This blog is primarily about focussing your energy towards negative reviews that are constructive, so that you and your game might benefit from them.


2. How do you respond to a negative review?

Customers will perceive your game in different ways. Remember, you’ve spent countless hours learning your game’s every mechanic and know it from top to bottom, but for someone playing it for the first time, it’s a brand new experience. They’re likely to find new bugs and have ideas about certain features that you may have never considered. Take a step back and try to look at their feedback objectively (the valuable ones). Believe me; I know some reviews are extremely harsh, unhelpful, and off-topic. I get it.

Still, it’s helpful not to get into a heated argument with a customer who shares constructive feedback. Remember, the customer isn’t the only one reading your response. Be kind, and most of all, don’t be passive-aggressive. It doesn’t look good and doesn’t help anyone. Customers will see right through it, and it will only make you look like the bad guy. Finally, make sure you’re calm and clearheaded. If you can’t reply without being overly defensive or rude, it’s best not to reply at all. With that said, here are some made-up examples of negative reviews similar to those you may sometimes come across and how I choose to respond to them:

    • Customer Example 1 (Likes the game, leaves some constructive feedback)
    • Customer Example 2 (Doesn’t like the game, leaves no info why)
    • Customer Example 3 (Aggressive and unhelpful)

Customer Example 1

“The game is too hard. I couldn’t even get past the second level, mainly because the tutorial doesn’t explain that you can double jump and power slam at the same time. I wasted so much time trying to figure this out. The giant slayers don’t even take critical damage from my sword. It would also be neat if your character had some sort of dash move to help avoid some attacks. One big thing that bugs me is the way weapons just swing, but that could just be me. Also, the movement needs to be more responsive; it's quite sluggish. Oh, and if you’re a swordsman, you can’t block with your sword; you have to be a completely different class. Let all classes have a blocking move. Overall, the game is fun but could do with a few tweaks."

Response:

Hi Customer Example 1,

Thank you for purchasing the game and taking the time to write a review.

"The tutorial doesn’t explain that you can double jump and power slam at the same time!"

I’ve just checked the tutorial and you’re right. It doesn’t mention the double-jump power-slam. I’m really sorry we missed that. We’ll do our best to implement it in the next update.

"The giant slayers don’t even take critical damage from my sword."

So, any sword deals critical damage to every enemy type. You just have to make sure you hit their weak spot, which is highlighted after your first attack.

"It would be neat if your character had some sort of dash move to help avoid some attacks."

I love this idea! The team and I have actually discussed it in the past and hope to add something similar in the future.

"One big thing that bugs me is the way weapons just swing."

Sorry, I don’t quite understand what you mean. Is it possible to explain in a bit more detail?

"Also, the movement needs to be more responsive; it's quite sluggish"

I agree that the movement could be improved. We’re looking into that and hope to find the right balance by continuing to listen to player feedback.

"If you’re a swordsman, you can’t block with your sword; you have to be a completely different class. Let all classes have a blocking move."

I can see why you would want this. However, it’s a design choice we feel adds more spice and uniqueness to each class. If you have further ideas about how we can improve this system, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, you’re welcome to join our Discord server. We have an active community full of users who would be more than happy to help you defeat those giant-slayers!

Cheers again for your review/feedback, I hope I answered each of your critiques.

All the best,

Joe


Customer Example 2

"Didn't enjoy the mechanics, not really for me."

Response:

Hello Customer Example 2

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the game, but I appreciate that you gave it a chance in the first place, so thank you.

If you decide to revisit it in the future, I’d love to hear more about why you didn’t like it. I’m sure we can find stuff to expand/improve upon.

Best regards,

Joe


Customer Example 3

This game is crap. The characters are crap. The weapons are crap, the developers are crap, and if you play it, you are crap. COMPLETE SH*t TRASH GAME! F**K YOU ALL FOR MAKING IT!

Response:

Honestly, stay away from such reviews. They don't deserve a response or your time.


If reviews contain a lot of feedback, I prefer to dissect each point and break them down into pieces. I find it makes replying to such reviews less daunting for myself, and it’s easier for the customer to read. It also shows that you have actually read each point of feedback, as opposed to replying with an indirect/broad response. This image perfectly shows what this kind of response looks like.. (I'm not saying you should copy this method, it's more of a personal preference that I use from time to when responding to "walls of text" type reviews)

As you can see, my responses were kind and helpful. Not only did I recognize the customers’ criticism, but I also politely cleared up some misconceptions the reviewer had about the game. I also concede that the game might not be everyone's cup of tea. With this approach, at least I know that other customers reading my reply can see a developer actively and graciously communicating with players. If someone wants to stir up drama after you reply, other users will notice and will likely come to your aid because of your courteous response.

To break it down:

  • Be kind
  • Be helpful
  • Recognize criticism.
  • Kindly clear up misconceptions.
  • Accept that not every customer will like your game.
  • Remember: The reviewer isn’t the only customer reading your response.
  • Invest more time in constructive reviews.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying you should agree with every customer's concern and implement their feedback. The above examples are to show ways in which you can respond to certain types of reviews. I should also note that I’m not suggesting your response should copy mine word-for-word, or that my structure is the only way. I found this approach worked for me, and it’s something I constantly tweak as times goes on.

Now, let’s say you’re hot-headed and you take a negative review that's constructive personally. You're not thinking about formatting your post professionally; all you care about is trying to prove the customer wrong. Here’s an example of how not to reply.

Customer Example 4

"The game is too hard. I couldn’t even get past the second level, mainly because the tutorial doesn’t explain that you can double jump and power slam at the same time. I wasted so much time trying to figure this out. The giant slayers don’t even take critical damage from my sword. It would also be neat if your character had some sort of dash move to help avoid some attacks. One big thing that bugs me is the way weapons just swing, but that could just be me. Also, the movement needs to be more responsive; it's quite sluggish. Oh, and if you’re a swordsman, you can’t block with your sword; you have to be a completely different class. Let all classes have a blocking move. Overall, the game is fun but could do with a few tweaks."

Not-So-Friendly Response:

You do realise that a tooltip is located on the first level in the bottom right of your HUD that shows the player how to use the double-jump power-slam? It's your fault if you missed it. We didn’t include it in the tutorial because it would be redundant when it’s already so obvious in-game. Critical hits automatically apply to your weapon, too. It sounds like you aren't used to this genre of gameplay. Anyway, thanks for playing.

You can clearly see the difference in tone and structure. Believe me; I’ve seen many replies from developers much worse than this. Such a response will likely encourage the customer to become combative and defensive and could draw a crowd if the comments are enabled. It’s a vicious circle that will only damage your reputation and push customers further away.


3. Why should I respond to a negative review?

You are the voice of your game. Communicating with your customers shows you care about them and your product, especially in an age where games come and go in an instant. The primary goal of responding to a negative review isn’t to butter up customers or mislead them—you're not asking them to change their review. You’re simply responding in a friendly manner, helping them to see you, your product, and perhaps their review in a different light. At that point, it’s up to the customer to decide what to do next, based on how you replied.


4. What are the benefits of responding to a negative review?

From a consumer’s point of view, it feels good to be heard, period. Depending on how you respond, you can increase/decrease the chance of whether you will gain, sustain, or lose a customer. For example, a friendly reply to a review might earn you a sale (gain) from a new customer because they appreciated your response. It instils a great deal of confidence. Or, at the very least, your response might inspire a customer to keep (sustain) you on their radar and even wishlist your game. In fact, here's a perfect example of how my response resonated with the reviewer. (Unfortunately, my original reply got deleted by mistake, but his reply should provide enough context.)

However, an unpleasant response can completely push away (lose) customers from ever entertaining your product again. If you feel your responses didn’t impact the reviewers themselves, don’t worry. Other customers are still reading your friendly responses, which makes your game and your brand (you) look a lot better in the end. It’s a win-win situation. For example, check out the comments from this negative review.

To give you another example of the above, let’s roll back the clock to 2020. A customer browsing reviews for a game for which I was doing PR stumbled across my response to one of many reviews. Shocked by how polite and transparent my reply was to this particular review, he felt the need to share it. Not only did the post unintentionally go viral and make the front page of Reddit, but he also purchased the game, even though his decision was based on a negative review.

Last, you may find the customers' review contains valuable feedback that could help improve certain mechanics in your game.


5. What are the disadvantages of responding to a negative review?

The only downside to replying to a negative review is you. If you feel you’re the type of person who can’t take criticism well, then I highly recommend staying away from negative reviews. The last thing you want to do is leave a poor impression of your game/brand. A popular saying goes something like this: “It takes 20 years to build a good reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” If someone on your team is better suited for this type of communication, I suggest handing it over to them.


6. How many negative reviews should I respond to?

It’s not possible to respond to every review your game receives, nor should you have to. But you can choose to respond to some of the most helpful ones. The main reason is because this specific section features reviews with the highest engagement; therefore, such reviews are prioritised for the customer. For that reason, if you reply to some of them, you increase the chance that a customer will see your response, which gives you an opportunity to stand in the spotlight and show customers you care about them and your game.

As for the amount of reviews to which you respond, that’s ultimately up to you. However, I highly recommend delegating a set time for doing so; otherwise, responding may drive you mad and take up too much time. For example, every week or so, for one hour only, you could set aside time to respond to some recent and most helpful reviews. If your game receives too many or few reviews, I still believe it’s worth responding to some because of how it can positively build your reputation.


7. Who sees my response?

Assuming you reply as a developer via the blue button (which you should do), the original reviewer receives a notification. It’s also visible for all to see from the get-go. However, if the reviewer has enabled comments and you respond via the comments only, people browsing the reviews won’t know a developer has replied unless they click on the review itself. I don’t recommend this method because you’ll make it harder for other customers browsing the reviews to see your response. If, for whatever reason, you must reply this way, then your comment will still have priority with a developer tag attached to it.


8. Reviews serve customers

It’s wise to remember that Steam’s review system is designed to help the customer, not the developer. (We could delve into the semantics about the entirety of Steam’s review system and whether it’s ultimately fair or not, but we won’t. This blog is about how to improve your response.) I realise some reviews are completely off-topic, trollish, and clearly violate Steam’s rules and guidelines. However, controls are in place that allow you to report such reviews to Steam's attention. Use them where deemed necessary. If a review is extremely unhelpful, Steam users have the option to thumbs down it, which makes it appear less in the algorithm.


9. Tips
  • If you resolved an issue that was affecting many players in the past, reach out to older reviews and let them know it’s since been fixed. Reference
  • Respond to some positive reviews, too. Remember, it feels good to be heard, and it’s also a motivation booster! Reference
  • Don’t get too disheartened or fixated on negative reviews. Even the best-received games on Steam receive many negative reviews. Check out Portal 2’s recent negative reviews, for example. Reference
  • If the review allows it, be creative and have fun with your reply. Reference
  • Do not copy and paste your replies. It's impersonal, and customers will soon catch on to it.
  • From time to time, revisit your past replies and see if they could be improved for future reference. Self-development goes a long way.
  • Realise that you won't get each response 100% right every time, and that's okay. We're all works-in-progress.
  • Do not underestimate the amount of customers who browse reviews. They may not post, but they’re watching.
  • Realise that marketing, PR, customer relations, and all things related are an important part of your game's development process.
  • Focus your energy towards constructive reviews. Stay away from the toxic ones.
  • Leave a call to action on reviews you respond to—your Discord, for example.

10. Conclusion

Nobody likes to receive a negative review. It's painful to read comments from customers who totally tear down something on which you’ve spent years working. Their review may be valid or completely off-topic, but whatever their reason, it’s always a bitter pill to swallow. However, I believe a lot comes down to your frame of mind and how you pragmatically react to these reviews. Try to view negative reviews (the valuable ones) as an opportunity to not only showcase your customer relations skills, but also to help you better understand your audience and your game. Whether you're a huge or small development team, I still believe in the untapped value and potential of communicating with players.

Next time you’re browsing reviews on Steam, put yourself in the position of a customer and ask yourself what impression it would leave on you to see a developer respond to reviews in a friendly way. If the answer is ‘positive,’ then apply that same logic to your own game. You may or may not be the type of person who responds to negative reviews, but I hope my blog inspires or slightly changes your perception of them. If you use some of my advice from this blog, I believe you’re already halfway to better responses!

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your responses. You’ve got this!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or drop me a tweet.

@IndieGameJoe

One response to “The Ultimate Guide – How to Respond to Negative Reviews on Steam and why Customer Relations is Important.”

  1. Thank you for writing such a beautiful article. We should coordinate all the game developers and gamers and make a report.

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