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.

In the indie games industry, discounting reviews from the backers of Kickstarter projects has a significant impact.

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.

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Comments on “Steam Looks To Suppress Game Reviews From Anyone Who Didn't Buy The Game From Them”

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Skeeter says:

Re: Amazon


When you open up that camp stove link, or the new shoes link, before you got there, you chose that item based on the price and number of stars you saw first. How was that ‘rating’ determined? On Amazon, that total ‘star-rating’ is based on ALL reviews, not just ‘verified purchase’.

Likewise, I have used a certain type of hiking boot for years. Can tell you everything about them through the past 10-generations, and just bought the latest pair – only got them from my local shoe store, not the ad. You’re about to spend $240 on the same boots – do you want to discount what I have to say, or do you value my words enough to ignore the fact I didn’t buy it at this one specific store?

If you only want to hear Steam Comments about a game (they didn’t write) because it’s ‘their site’, then why don’t you feel the same way about movie critics? Same deal, but you ignore the ‘expert critics’ all the time. What will happen, is that astroturfers will start buying into Steam to fluff their products there – it’s obvious.

Anonymous Coward says:

A much better approach maybe would have been to allow all reviews and then for the people that purchased through Steam and then reviewed the game to have a label under the reviewers name saying something like verified steam purchase like Newegg and I’m sure many others do on their sites. Then people can place their own weight on the “verified purchase” reviews over the others if they choose to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Or

That probably won’t happen. Gamers have welcomed and embraced their abusers repeatedly, because they’re stupid people who don’t know any better and lack the self-control to simply boycott them. Steam could personally punch each one of them in the face and they’d come back for more, because that’s what gamers do.

So I don’t see the problem here: gamers deserve to be punished and silenced because they’re begging for it. And they’ll continue to do exactly the same thing ad infinitum, because they’re simply not good enough to do any better. And Steam will continue to profit from their boundless stupidity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree completely with eaving. I rely heavily on the steam ratings. As it stands now, you have to dig in and read them to get a real sense of the game. If Steam wanted to have the review system truly be useful it should be its own system. One where the user had parameter controls. Some like what eaving described and others like; show me all reviews with 40+ hours of play, etc.. so we could really drill down. As it is now, I will spend a good 20+ min. weeding through reviews before buying a game.

Starke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s actually what they do now. You can actually configure and filter the reviews you’re seeing a lot more coherently now.

What the author is going off on is the default settings. The config panel is prominently displayed over the reviews themselves. So you can absolutely tweak around the reviews to see if it looks like something shady is going on with the scores.

Anonymous Coward says:

I'm surprised it took this long

I was one of the vendors caught up in the banning waves, they mention 160 games were involved but I think those were just the worst offenders. I know my 260+ alt accounts had touched over 500 games, many of those were AA titles too. It wasn’t just indie devs and it isn’t something new. It was a simple system setup using the various APIs that people sniffed out of the steam client, app sandboxes to run multiple instances (around 6-10 per vps) and I’d rotate them to play the games they’ve installed on one PC. It’s amazing they didn’t catch on sooner, a blind idiot could have noticed 260 accounts playing CD-key games on the same computer on a rotated schedule.

I wasn’t running a huge system either, not in the top 10. Automation and no questions asked made it stupid simple to abuse. Being just another option seemed to bring good traffic, didn’t get rich off it but did get paypal to freeze my account a couple of times. You’d have thought bitcoin would be more popular as a payment method for this but I guess if you’re having someone do fake reviews for you might not be smart enough for bitcoin..

It all started from trying to run an item trading bot…

Nellius (profile) says:

The first tweet in the article accidentally hits the nail on the head. Kickstarter backers who get a game key in exchange for early backing of a game ARE the most passionate fans… but that doesn’t mean they’re the best suited to reviewing a game, because they already have a stake in how it’s perceived.

Regardless of this, how do you prevent people giving away keys in exchange for a good review, but still allow keys from kickstarter or humble bundles (which can still be given away to just anyone) to have reviews “count”?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Kickstarter backers who get a game key in exchange for early backing of a game ARE the most passionate fans… but that doesn’t mean they’re the best suited to reviewing a game, because they already have a stake in how it’s perceived.

Also, people (not picking on gamers, this is a human thing) tend to justify decisions after the fact. If I spent money on something, I will subconsciously find ways to believe that it was a good idea to do so. Someone who spent a lot of money before the game even came out might be even more motivated to do that.

Starke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I actually just checked a couple kickstarter games. As near as I can tell, while they’re the most passionate members of the fandom, their scores don’t actually seem to skew the results in the real world. I’d guess they’re passionate for, and against, in roughly equal proportions to the general population.

I mean, I get the concern, but, your key activations and steam purchased copies should roughly match each other for reviews. If they don’t, then that’s a huge sign that something’s gone wrong.

The new system certainly isn’t foolproof, but it seems more resistant to tampering than the previous one, where free keys for reviews did happen, and skewed some games’ scores.

Anonymous Coward says:

They really should

The changes are good for most customers due to developers like derek smart that astroturf, and ask for positive reviews for game features. Our give away game keys for positive reviews. It does stuck for humble bundle, and kick starter but I hope valve fleshs it out with a source criteria so people can see where a key was bought (Kickstart, humble, dev, another store, etc)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They really should

Astroturfing really is not a problem. The only thing a review is really useful for is whether or not the product lives up to hype, promises, features, and stability.

It’s pretty fucking impossible to hide a lot of people complaining about shit crashing with astroturfing.

The least useful thing about a review is if the reviewer liked the game or not… that is always in the eye of the beholder.

AJ says:

This decision is about keeping the game reviews about the game itself, and not about the dumb ass decisions by the Developers trying to stay above water because of stupid business decisions. Including Developers offering deals and making promises to customers, then when they sell to the Steam platform are no longer able/willing to keep those promises, and the reviews that follow trashing the game costing Steam money.

Ark is a perfect example; They promised when they first launched to use the money they got from supporters to finish the game. Now they released a paid DLC while the game still is in early access. So they took the money that was supposed to be used to finish the game, and made a $20 DLC. Now they are paying the price.

The original supporters destroyed the games rating on Steam. So badly in fact that the Developer had to make a statement (link below) to try and stem the flow of hate. The fan base was completely betrayed, it got emotional.. very emotional. Damage control on the forums by the Developers just made it worse. During all this, very few stopped and thought about why they did what they did and just hopped on board the hate train.

I’m guessing this was an attempt to save the studio. I think they are in big financial trouble right now. They just settled a big lawsuit (link below) and I’m guessing they were running out of money. If that’s the case, then perhaps being honest would have been the best policy?

Regardless of the reason. Steam takes on a bunch of baggage when they bring on a studio/Developer. They try to be the platform, not the political arena, but with people involved, it’s hard to do.

These new rules are about trying to keep the politics, emotion, and business decision ratings out of the game reviews, and keep the reviews about the game itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Informative Post! But, the fans have a right to interject their politics into these things! Any attempt to “control” how fans rate games will only end badly. It will never be worth the effort.

Regarding Trendy, they have become a bastard Developer in my book. They rose to fame on DD1 and then got stuck up as fuck over it. DD2 is but a shadow of their past success in my opinion.

ed271 (profile) says:

Clever implementation

When you’re looking at reviews there’s a handy set of controls on the top to tell Steam which reviews you want to see. So click all reviews and it’s back the way it was.

Well that was easy, let’s have a look at another game. And they’re back on the original default, so we have to click all again.

It’s like my toaster, it has a button that you push to toast bagels and you have to press this button for every bagel. Of course the only things I toast are bagels, so my choices are go insane or just rewire it.

If you make people do a tiny bit of work often enough they get tired and stop doing it. This is clever, because in the long run people stop hitting the all control but still believe they have the option.

I suppose it’s also possible that the Steam developers are completely inept.

I.T. Guy says:

I am an avid gamer and not once have I read a Steam review. Thats what gaming sites and YouTube are for.

Additionally… I’m no I.T. guy… wait. LOL. But couldn’t you just give devs keys that were exempt from review?

Question: Will this have the same effect if I buy a Steam gift card from Walmart?

I personally do not give Microsoft(XboxOne) or Steam my credit card info. Hell, they don’t even have my real name.

CrushU (profile) says:

User Control

Shrug. I dunno, it seems to offer greater User Control than it did before. I was actually looking at a game earlier today and noticed that new bar of options. (Halcyon 6. Looks interesting and the reviews were Pretty Good. I’d wager it was a Kickstarter game due to about 50% of the reviews being from Steam Key Users instead of purchases off Steam directly. The ‘negative’ review said that after 25 hours playing the game he was done playing it forever. … I’d call that Worth It? Anyway…)

Waiiiit a minute… a post on Techdirt that has a flawed premise? … Yep. Geigner. 😛 (Not all of yours are like this, but the posts here that have a flawed premise are more likely to be yours. Or, at the very least, a very Subjective premise.)

So yeah. This isn’t about ‘silencing’ reviewers. It’s about making sure that you know where the review is coming from. Sure, the fact that each page resets to the default ‘Only Steam Purchases’ setting is a little odd, but in most cases I only care that there are reviews, period. If there’s a bunch of negative reviews, then I’m likely to check ‘All’ to see if it changes.

Basically, on the list of things that Steam does that are actually Not Good, this is… pretty far down the list. If this somehow convinced you to not use Steam, I’ll be amazed. (Note that the others here who don’t use Steam for purchasing have said they didn’t prior, either.)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Much like Rotten Tomatoes...

…Steam ratings are best served by looking over some useful reviews. Ones written with shorter play-time tend to focus on the production values and initial fun while the game is still novel. If I want examination of the depth, I have to look for reviews that consider depth.

But it is something like RT in that a bunch of people who kinda-sorta thought the game was okay can escalate the final score better than people split between loving it or hating it.

And it some cases, the hate is those for whom the game doesn’t work on their system. Because we don’t have special categories for technical integrity (or in the case of No Man’s Sky, interface integrity.)

Craig Borysowich says:

I mostly agree with this policy - if only...

So, I can totally see what drives a policy like this in that the reviews and other comment discussion areas get polluted with either extremely positive or extremely negative posts from the lovers and the haters and can get skewed by individuals or groups of individuals that may be trying (rightly or wrongly) to skew the overall view of a game.

Where this would make more sense, is that all services followed the same model but then allowed those reviews to be aggregated across all purchasing platforms. That way reviews that are posted to the microsoft store and to steam and to amazon by only known purchasers of the product are aggregated across all of the sales venues (including kickstarter) so that you always get a balanced cross section of the reviews made and you know that they are being posted by owners of the product and not ardent boosters or detractors of a product or company.

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