A review bomb is usually associated with displeasure as customers bombard a game's review page on Steam with negative scores to lower the overall average. Usually in response to some problem with the developer or publisher's actions more than the game's problems. But what happens when a game's review score is bombarded with positive scores instead? That's the problem Valve is facing right now with what it calls a "positive review bomb."
The game in question is Assassin's Creed: Unity, a so-so to not good Assassin's Creed game set in revolutionary Paris, France. Recently, the middling Assassin's Creed entry has seen an influx of positive reviews, potentially caused by Ubisoft's decision to offer the game for free in the wake of the fire that burned down the Notre Dame cathedral. And we can't forget about the company's 500,000 euro donation for restoring the church.
The problem for Valve is deciding whether or not this too qualifies as a review bomb, and if it is would it be considered off-topic and removed same as a negative review bomb?
Valve's blog post on the matter is inconclusive. In fact, the blog reads more like an open monologue on Valve's end that we're allowed to listen in on.
"A few weeks ago, in response to the Notre Dame tragedy, Ubisoft did something great for their fans by making Assassin's Creed: Unity available for free on Uplay, and committing funds towards rebuilding the monument," Valve writes. "This led to a significant spike in players of AC: Unity on Steam and a large number of positive reviews for the game. This led us, and members of the community, to wonder if this was finally a positive review bomb, and whether it should be considered off-topic."
Prior to Assassin's Creed: Unity review bombing has almost always been negative. And the problems review bombing caused developers forced Valve to address the issue. First Valve released ratio system which showcased both good and bad review scores. Then Valve announced it would block "off-topic" reviews, or reviews that cited anything but the game itself for reasons they scored a game poorly.
However, if a company did something players agreed with and they rewarded said company with positive reviews unrelated to the game in question, wouldn't those reviews still be off-topic? If only it were that simple.
"Without reading the actual reviews, the data here all looks very much like a game that's gone on sale, or received an update," writes Valve. "But we also went and read a large chunk of the reviews. Some reference Notre Dame or the giveaway. But most just look like standard reviews of a new player, or a player that's returning to a product they bought a while ago."
Valve mostly spends the time talking in circles. On the one hand Valve argues that news of the Notre Dame tragedy and Ubisoft's actions in response to it could be considered as divorced from the game as when a game is negatively review bombed over a developers' politics. On the other, Unity now has the best virtual representation of the Notre Dame and that's "a context that could be increasing the value players are getting from the game, so perhaps the game really is better than it was before?"
In the end, Valve concludes it doesn't know what to do, so it will do nothing. Instead, Valve opens the floor to commenters looking for their input. The reactions have devolved into criticism of Valve's entire review bombing policy, with calls to unblock negative review bombings for reasons pertaining to censorship. But regardless of how the ongoing debate over review bombing unfolds, it's clear that Valve still doesn't have a system in place to make everyone, or anyone, happy.