Last month, during the tragic Notre-Dame fire, Ubisoft gave away copies of Assassin’s Creed Unity for free on Uplay, as we reported. One of the unforeseen consequences of this giveaway was that players who already owned the game on Steam decided to leave positive reviews for the game, not just in memory of the fire, but also as a show of gratitude toward Ubisoft for giving the game away to other players. The higher visibility also caused some players to buy the game on Steam. And so the world's first "positive review bombing" occurred, which Valve took the time to properly evaluate in their latest blog post.
Valve goes into detail about the unusual event of a positive review bomb, with the spike of activity and players that it included, and they had to debate whether or not to consider the reviews off-topic since they primarily referred to the Notre-Dame fire and the giveaway, rather than the contents of the game itself. In terms of data, it didn't quite fit the pattern, as the people who left the reviews and bought the game were also playing the game, which rarely happens with negative review bombs (though it does happen on some occasions).
Since it doesn't fit the original definition of a review bomb, which is generally "aimed at lowering the Review Score," the internal debate at Valve took more time than usual, and it broadened the view to look at other possible cases where this could occur, and the questions that consideration brings are worth asking:
It's not uncommon for us to see context changes around a game that then result in changes to the game's popularity. But are those games actually better, or worse, after those context changes? Should that be reflected in the Review Score?
It shows a commitment to keep the Steam review system as neutral as possible, though you could argue that the majority of Steam reviewers really don't take the system very seriously. Valve goes into great detail about the anti-review-bombing system and its nuances without considering that its inexorably binary system will always leave some margin for this kind of score manipulation. Although the Valve team decided to leave the case of the positive review bomb of Assassin’s Creed Unity alone, since it doesn't fit the usual pattern, you can see they took their time thinking about it. Hopefully, they will keep thinking about the system and its prevention measures to finally allow more nuance rather than a basic Recommended or Not Recommended.
What do you think about Valve's attitude toward positive review bombing? Does the whole system need an overhaul, or is it fine the way it is now? Let us know in the comments below!