Pixel Titans just released their crowdfunded, low-polygon FPS 90’s nostalgia trip, Strafe. The game promised to be “the fastest, bloodiest, deadliest, most adjective-abusing, action-packed first-person shooter of 1996” pulling in over $200,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. Unfortunately, amidst the usual bug-filled chaos of launch, the developers have also been dealing with accusations of shill posting. A problem which they claim has been hurting their reviews.
For the uninitiated, shilling is when someone with a (usually) monetary interest in a project attempts to create hype in online communities by sharing information about it. Since shills don’t reveal that they’ve been compensated for their marketing efforts, gamers consider this a pretty shady practice. Of course it can be difficult to determine if an anonymous internet commentator is just really passionate about a game or if they’ve been planted to drum up excitement. Since this is the internet, most people choose to err on the side of caution and assume the worst.
When online message boards started receiving visits from enthusiastic Strafe fans ahead of the game’s release they were quick to dismiss the posts as someone from Pixel Titans trying to promote the game. When confronted, Pixel Titans denied this accusations and really didn’t seem overly concerned. Since they were about to release their game they had more pressing concerns. Particularly once players began sending in their bug reports.
It’s Not A Proper Release Until You Break Something
Regardless, they had a strong start when reviews started rolling in and were holding a positive Steam rating. Then, just as suddenly, the wave of enthusiasm for Strafe seemed to shift. In a recent Kickstarter update, Pixel Titans blamed the earlier accusations of shilling for the downturn in reviews.
“We started receiving comments on YouTube and Twitter accusing us of shilling the game and antagonizing people on websites and forums we don’t use. Some people are impersonating us and trolling around with the intent to generally just make us look bad it seems.”
But they seem so trustworthy.While the devs had become aware of the accusations during the beta release for Strafe, they didn’t realize the problem had continued. Presumably, these posts were enough to draw the ire of gamers who in turn flooded the Steam page with negative reviews.
“For a few hours we got hit with a surge of negative reviews before they died down they all got recommended to the top and are now the only reviews visible on our front page even though we currently have more positive ratings than negative by a third.”
This certainly wouldn’t be the first time internet vigilantes rallied to punish a developer over a perceived slight. But, it’s hard to tell if that’s what’s really going on here. Reading through the negative reviews, most of the complaints actually sound perfectly valid. Many of the mentioned bugs are addressed directly by the recent and upcoming patches.
Even the positive reviews highlighted in the Kickstarter update from Destructoid (8.5) and Gamespot (8) bring up similar design issues. Since scores are based on each reviewer’s opinion it’s entirely possible some people were just more forgiving of Strafe’s problems. In that case, the influx of negative Steam reviews isn’t a method of retaliation, but honest criticism of Pixel Titan’s product.
Patching Past The Negativity
Considering the devs have already released their first patch to address the most common bugs players have encountered, they know the game is far from perfect. Even so, it might not be nearly as bad as the Steam reviews would lead you to believe. If nothing else, the marketing is stupidly good.
Many developers see their game’s release as the end of a long arduous process, but as we’ve seen with Strafe, sometimes it’s only the beginning. Pixel Titans remains committed to their product. Hopefully future updates will bring reviews back in line with their expectations.