Steam Looks To Suppress Game Reviews From Anyone Who Didn't Buy The Game From Them
from the heard-of-kickstarter? dept
When it comes to the digital distribtion of video games, there are many animals in the ecosystem but only one real eight-hundred-pound gorilla. That, of course, is Steam, Valve’s platform for a digital games marketplace. The fact that some insane percentage of online game purchases go through Steam is great news for Valve, of course, but it comes with challenges as well. There’s a balancing act Steam must do, as it must ingratiate itself to both buyers of games and those who develop the games.
One recent attempt to, according to Valve, make Steam game reviews more useful to the gaming community has developers concerned, however. And, even if we take Steam’s claims to its reasoning for the change, the concern by game developers is entirely understandable and warranted. This whole thing has to do with how Steam is prioritizing game reviews that come from reviewers who bought the game directly from Steam, as opposed to applying download keys acquired elsewhere.
Valve have again shaken up how the Steam store presents player reviews, this time adding new filtering options which, by default, don’t include reviews from people who got the game by activating a Steam key rather than buying direct from Steam. Valve say this is to prevent score inflation from devs throwing out free keys in exchange for reviews. That’s a noble goal, but the change also means discounting reviews from players who backed Kickstarters or bought the game direct from devs – groups likely to have genuine strong opinions – not to mention from other stores like Humble and Itch. Some devs are not best pleased.
Now, Valve’s claim that there is a problem with reviews that come from these other sources isn’t completely wrong. Particularly in talking about reviews of games bought straight from a developer. Some in the games industry have brought this kind of skepticism on themselves by engaging in practices such as requiring positive game reviews from YouTubers to get access to the game, or having employees within a developer astroturf game reviews themselves. It’s not particularly far-fetched to think that there are game developers out there handing out Steam keys to their games in exchange for positive reviews, whereas a purchase directly from Steam doesn’t carry that kind of suspicion.
But the problem with Steam’s plan to tackle all of this is that the way gamers buy games is changing. Sources like Kickstarter and HumbleBundle can make up significant portions of a game’s marketplace, and those buying through those sources are likely to have strong opinions on the games they backed. That’s exactly the kind of review you want on a game’s Steam page, but the new filters default to ignoring them.
The new Steam Review policy will hurt. As a kickstarter dev, your most passionate fans are now silenced.
— Kieron Kelly (@Kurnster) September 13, 2016
In the indie games industry, discounting reviews from the backers of Kickstarter projects has a significant impact.
Hey look, half the reviews of TSWCE no longer count. And none of the people who backed The Council of Crows will be able to support it.
— Jonas Kyratzes (@JonasKyratzes) September 13, 2016
And, of course, some are already claiming that Valve has instituted all of this in order to encourage more people to buy games directly from Steam if they ever want their reviews to be noticed. Or for more developers to push people to buy from Steam for the same reason. I doubt that’s the case, actually, because a game that shows fewer reviews utlimately looks less popular and may turn off potential buyers, which would be the opposite of what Steam wants. Still, this look like another case of Valve taking a heavy-handed approach where more deft touch is required.