In an extended blog post that reads like a first year philosophy student essay, Valve has been debating what counts as a Steam review bomb. With itself.
The company's confusion was prompted by the recent surge in positive reviews for Assassin's Creed: Unity, which Ubisoft made available for free on Uplay in the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire (along with donating €500,000 to help with restoration efforts). Naturally, the move was incredibly popular with players, and despite its free release on a different platform prompted a spike in player reviews on Steam.
But does this count as a review bomb, and if so, should Valve prohibit it as it has in the past?
According to Valve's post, the company had considered the possibility of positive review bombs when designing its system, but this appears to be the first real-life example. Or is it? Valve's not sure.
"Back in 2017, we defined a review bomb as an event where players post a large number of reviews in a very compressed time frame, aimed at lowering the Review Score of a game," Valve explained.
"Data-wise, it doesn't quite fit the pattern of negative review bombs: in the case of AC:Unity there was a significant increase in actual players alongside the increase in reviews," Valve mused, before immediately adding "[but] we have seen some negative review bombs with that characteristic".
Valve says the raw data for Unity resembles what would happen if a game had gone on sale or received an update, and while a few of the written reviews mention Notre Dame, most "just look like standard reviews of a new player, or a player that's returning to a product they bought a while ago".
Does it count as a review bomb, then? Valve says it's not sure, as the incident doesn't fit its negative definition - and it's going to leave it up to the community to decide whether to change the terminology. Alright then.
Surprisingly, the post didn't end there, and continued in a brain-melting ramble debating whether it counts as an off-topic review bomb. In short, Valve doesn't know, as the context around Unity changed rather than the game itself, and the company can't decide whether this is useful information for users. It also managed to add in a line about separating art from artists.
"Some context changes are largely divorced from the game itself, such as news about the political convictions of the developer," Valve stated, adding that while the information is important to some customers it's "unlikely to be something [Valve] would feel confident should be included by default for all users".
Specifically on the Notre Dame incident, Valve said the context change is noteworthy as "Unity happens to now include the world's best virtual recreation of the undamaged monument". Just kidding - Valve doesn't know on this topic either.
"Maybe that's unrelated, and it's actually players feeling good about Ubisoft's significant donation to rebuilding the monument? Irrespective of the reason, perhaps this is a short-term temporal effect? Should temporal effects even be included in Review Scores?"
"So, we're not really sure what to do here," Valve finally concluded. "It doesn't actually seem to be a review bomb in the way we've previously defined them, but maybe that's just our definition being wrong. But even if we define it as one, we're not sure whether it should be off-topic or not.
"As a result, we've decided we're just going to leave it alone. But hopefully, this post has helped you understand that thinking behind why we've ended up there."
Unfortunately, the decision to not do anything isn't going down well in the Steam community. Along with the usual cacophony of complaints over censorship regarding negative review bombing, many Steam users are calling Valve hypocritical for removing negative review bombs and allowing positive ones (which could presumably boost sales). Seems like Valve's just made a rod for its own back.