Steam Yanks Another Developer's Games Over Fake Reviews Posted By Employee

from the when-will-they-learn? dept

Astro-turfing and fake reviews continue to be plagues upon the online marketplace, creating a wave of distrust with the public when it comes to properly assessing any business via online means. It's impossible to know how big or small a problem this is, which only adds to the distrust in the public, forcing them to assume the worst. All that being said, Valve has actually been pretty good about policing reviews on its gaming platform, Steam, and also making a big public stink about instances in which it has had to take action against developers for trying to game the review system. Studios have had their games pulled from the store entirely, such as when Digital Homicide and Insel Games each had their respective titles pulled. Given that Valve made sure the volume was turned up when it took such actions, one would think that game studios ought to have gotten the message by now.

And, yet, not all of them have. Acram Digital, a developer that makes digital versions of board games, just had all of its titles disappeared by Steam when it was discovered that an Acram employee was creating fake Steam accounts and posting fake positive reviews. As it did so, Valve released the following statement.

We’ve received a number of reports for Steam review manipulation on the titles Steam: Rails to Riches and Eight-Minute Empire, from Acram Digital. After investigating these reports we have found that the developer, Grzegorz Kubas, has been trying to inflate the user review score for his titles. This is against our policy, and something we take very seriously.

Because of Grzegorz's actions, we have removed all games/DLC developed by Acram from our store, and will no longer be doing business with him. Existing owners will be able to keep their titles.

Say what you will about Steam, but the platform has had a steady stream of consumer-friendly practices rolled out to gamers everywhere. These types of actions, particularly when accompanied by a public statement like this, are fantastic ways to preserve the trust gamers have in the platform and its review system. It's also a good way to demonstrate that, despite Steam wanting as many games as possible in its store, the platform also values the feedback and interests of its gaming customers.

For his part, Kubas has admitted to the wrong-doing, while also pleading on behalf of his employer.

You are right. I'm guilty. It came from my frustration of few bad, unfair reviews on Valve's Steam only. It was stupid action, not something planned. This is my individual, bad behavior, not the team, so I would like to blame me, not the devs. It's a lesson for the rest of my life and it will not happen again, ever.

Good on him for taking responsibility in this way, although it sure would be difficult to place full trust in the rest of the studio when one of its employees actively attempted to fool potential customers in this way. Maybe it's true that Acram had no idea he was doing this. Maybe not. The public sure can't know the answer to that question and it seems likely that the trust has been broken beyond repair at this point regardless.

Either way, game developers really ought to know at this point that there is no percentage in fake reviews. The costs are simply too high.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2018 @ 8:10pm

    Hmm

    This sort of leaves a difficult question open.

    What if an unhappy/spiteful employee wanted to poison the well so to speak?

    Wouldn't a more sensible policy be to disable/hide all reviews on the game until the company can respond on the matter?

    What avenues would a company have to defend itself? A lawsuit against the employee? For what? Potential losses?

    Or maybe Valve is reasonable in those kinds of scenarios. Or maybe not.

    This is one of the hazards of a de-facto monoculture of distribution networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 11 May 2018 @ 8:40pm

      Re: Hmm

      All systems are open to attack with shadows and mirrors...suppose this guy *wanted* to hurt his employer, so doesn't quite hide the bogusness of the review he is posting....or maybe that's just the story his employer is telling the world...or..or...

      I'd hope Valve would give the developers a chance to respond, officially, to all public reviews...just as anyone, including Techdirt, can respond to comments here on Techdirt, quite possibly creating a dialog.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 May 2018 @ 2:37pm

      "Now that they've been caught, we had no idea they did that!"

      While I can see where you're coming from, the 'problem' with being lenient is that it would allow a company to intentionally create fake reviews in order to con people into thinking their game was better than it actually was, only to throw someone under the bus once they get caught with a 'we had no idea they were doing that, we certainly would never do something like that.'

      While it's certainly possible for the scenario you envision to come about(someone who knows they're going to be fired so they intentionally start pumping out clearly bogus reviews to get their employer's games pulled), the alternative seems like it would be just as, if not more open to abuse, even if it does kinda screw over game devs who get sabotaged by their own employees like that.

      It's a difficult situation where there's really no 'good' choice, merely different flavors of bad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2018 @ 9:08pm

    A bit off-topic: Hey Steam, stop scanning users' files and folders with your proprietary software.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2018 @ 9:17pm

      Re:

      Other than the Steam library and install locations? Because it kind of has to scan those to make sure your games are up-to-date.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 4:19am

        Re: Re:

        Why does steam need to scan anything if user is only playing off line? Steam games that claim to be off line will stop working until you go on line and re-authorize or whatever they need to do. Guess I do not need to play those anymore, or any new ones from steam - or any other stupid game publishers that do similar crap.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 7:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          If you're only going to play games offline then maybe Steam isn't a good fit for you.

          Steam has its share of issues but I've never heard or seen anyone accuse it of scanning your files and folders outside its own folder locations.

          There are also other reasons it scans its own folders, not just to keep games up-to-date. I believe VAC scans certain game files to make sure they haven't been modified with a multiplayer cheat. It also checks game integrity and re-downloads any files that may be corrupted (though I think this is a manual scan).

          But at the end of the day, if you don't like it, don't use it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 8:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            afaik, Fallout New Vegas is only available via steam even if you purchased the physical dvd which you then have to authenticate on steam after which steam downloads who-knows what onto your machine. You are forced to "re-new" every few years, I guess it has a count down timer. Some off line mode they've got there.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2018 @ 10:16am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, other folders, even when I "told" the software not to do it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 12 May 2018 @ 3:08am

      Re:

      Then DONT install their software...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2018 @ 4:27am

      Re:

      Build a SteamOS machine. Nothing to scan but your games, you tinfoiler.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Draph91 (profile), 12 May 2018 @ 4:02am

    question

    did digital homicide also do this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ben S (profile), 13 May 2018 @ 2:59pm

      Re: question

      With all the things Digital Homicide did, it's hard to keep track of it all. I think I remember something about it at some point, but I could easily be misremembering. The thing that got them kicked off of the Steam platform wasn't fake reviews though. It was filing a lawsuit against steam customers for posting negative reviews of their games.

      I love going back to the Jim Sterling videos about them though, since Digital Homicide really targeted him, getting a quick review of one of the greatest internet tantrums I've ever born witness to, followed by the dev being forced to shut down, then having the only remaining lawsuit dismissed with prejudice. The schadenfreud is glorious.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 7:17am

    internet plague

    @ "fake reviews continue to be plagues upon the online marketplace"


    yup, that's the key takeaway here. this is an internet-wide problem. the ease of internet communication spawned an avalanche of phony product/service reviews in all categories --- Amazon reviews are especially annoying with about 2/3 of its reviews being fake or highly exaggerated positive reviews. There are some 3rd Party sites trying to provide objective reviews, but they are far behind the avalanche of deceptive reviews.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 7:49am

      Re: internet plague

      Lying has been prevalent since humans began communicating, the internet simply makes it easier for them to tell their lies to more people and game reviews are possibly the lease worrisome of these lies being told.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pixelation, 12 May 2018 @ 9:03am

        Re: Re: internet plague

        Lying about products definitely existed before the internet. It's called marketing. The best , the fastest, Unlimited! Hahaha, suckers!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 7:22am

    Praiseworthy effort, but ultimately irrelevant - I will NOT use Steam no matter what they do due to their unacceptable DRM enforcement scheme. I told a Kickstarter project owner not long ago that releasing as Steam-only will see my pledge withdrawn before the campaign ends. I meant it. And it was right on top of another comment from someone else saying the same thing. Sorry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 9:56am

    That „employee” happens to be the company’s owner. Link to entry to public information about the company in Polish national register of companies: http://m.krs-online.com.pl/acram-sp-z-o-o-krs-217815.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 10:43am

    Back in the day, gaming houses put so much pressure on gaming review magazines to give them sterling reviews that I ceased then to trust any review.

    It was put to the review magazines that if they could not give good reviews they would not receive any early releases of new games for the purposes of reviews. In otherwords gaming houses were gaming the system and those reviews could no longer be trusted.

    At that point I stopped buying review magazines. Not only did I cease to purchase such but from then on had to realize that all reviews had been gamed whether they had or not. To this day I will no longer depend on them, be it in a magazine or on the internet. The well has been poisoned and is no longer trustworthy to be accurate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 10:56am

      Re:

      from then on had to realize that all reviews had been gamed whether they had or not

      You realize this is a contradictory statement right? Either they have been gamed or they haven't. They can't be both gamed and not gamed at the same time.

      If you don't trust them fine, that's your choice. Whether you trust them or not, doesn't mean they don't provide useful info for other people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 2:35pm

      Re:

      Back in the day ... new games would have demos released prior to the release of the game. They stopped doing that for some reason.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 May 2018 @ 11:59am

    Because we've NEVER seen someone sure that they have a new way to pull this off, despite the last 100 idiots getting caught.

    Perhaps instead of creating fake reviews it's time to respond to the negative reviews to see if its a real problem or not. Rather than contest a review on Yelp we've seen people committing fraud upon courts... not only did they destroy their business in the process they get bench-slapped. Yet some idiot always thinks they can pull it off.

    There are polite ways to answer negative reviews, which is something more makers need to learn how to do. Yes you poured your blood sweat & tears into this... which means you take any criticism as a declaration of war... Get someone with a cooler head to look at the complaints & address them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2018 @ 5:44pm

    Too harsh

    This would be great if Steam were not the de facto app store for Windows games. Remove a game from Steam and it might as well not exist for a lot of players. It's a harsh punishment, especially if the developer truly didn't know what their employee was doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 May 2018 @ 5:53pm

      Better you than me and everyone else'

      If people can't trust the review on a service then they're much less likely to buy anything on it. It may suck for a developer to get their games pulled if they really had no idea someone was posting bogus reviews but having a reputation for bogus reviews stands to lose Steam(or any similar platform) a lot of money, so it's no surprise they'd have a zero-tolerance policy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2018 @ 6:57am

    Website with review problems?
    lol - Yelp

    The pizza joint / yelp story is a glorious example of how to deal with corporate extortion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2018 @ 7:02pm

    and real people are not longer real people. however, although this article is quite favorable towards steam, let me play devil's advocate for a sec : there is no supply side problem with steam games because they are all digital; there is an endless supply without any additional costs to them. So, that leaves only demand, on which they base quite a bit of decisions. Demand is fueled by downloads, which can be fueled by reviews. What does steam do when demand is high but supply is infinite and the cost is a one-off flat rate... they raise the price. You might say they never 'raise' prices, but indeed they effectively do(no sales, discounts etc)
    People, if you want to really mess with steam, leave bad reviews for the good games and positive reviews for the dogs.
    By leaving positive reviews for games you like, you are just causing those games to be higher priced for longer. In other words, they are charging more based on positively reviewed games even though that games does not cost them more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2018 @ 7:10pm

    What about all these eastern games that are just basically extended cartoon strips that have overwhelming positive reviews? I'm not paying $9.99 to see a cartoon of some anime girl's bulging bust. Let me know when it drops to $5.99.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 13 May 2018 @ 11:31pm

    People who believe online reviews should be sterilized or executed. That will solve the problem.

    Section 230 immunizes websites from lawsuits for false advertising. That's what will lead to it being abolished. "How can I trust the ads on your site if you can't be sued over them?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2018 @ 11:33pm

      Re:

      Section 230 will go the way of Plessy v. Ferguson, with so many exceptions being carved out there will be nothing left of the law before "Brown" is decided.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 14 May 2018 @ 12:55am

      Re:

      "Section 230 immunizes websites from lawsuits for false advertising"

      No, it doesn't, if they themselves are doing the false advertising. All it means is that you have to go after the people who actually did it, rather than the nearest big target. Sorry if that confuses you, but the world is definitely a better place when people aren't held accountable for things they didn't do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2018 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      "People who believe online reviews should be sterilized or executed. That will solve the problem."

      I realize this is most likely sarcasm or other such intricacies of language, however - in the world today so full of bullshit being believed by some, one should think twice about such statements because all it takes is for one of those nuts to take it seriously and go shoot up a pizza joint or worse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve Bryce, 14 May 2018 @ 4:56am

    Punishes more than the dev studio

    As well as punishing the dev studio, this also punishes the board game designer and publisher and reduces the legitimate ways of buying digital versions of board games. While this is certainly not the main purpose of Valve's enforcement action, it does drive people towards things like Table top Simulator, which is also sold on Steam. That game does have legitimate board game modules to download where money goes back to the publisher, but these are swamped by fan made modules of pretty much every board game under the sun, where the publisher and author don't receive a penny.

    Perhaps a more appropriate action by Valve would be to replace the advertising on the game page with a prominent notice about the fake reviews, but allow their customers to make an informed choice whether to continue to buy the game or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2018 @ 7:24am

    When I read reviews, I start with the 1-star reviews. The dumb foolish ones you can easily toss out. This is when they give 1 star for their own stupidity. Like assume they would get something and they didn't, and even though it didn't say anything about it, they still give it 1 star. Not even a 3-4 star, nope just 1 star.

    Fake Reviews almost always give 5 stars. Don't mention anything negative. So it's the lower stars I focus on a little more, and why they give it those stars. Real things that may be a Con yet for me, not an issue or a feature I like. A real review of the product its self and what's being sold to you. Not some assumption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2018 @ 9:08am

      Re:

      Smart consumers would all do the same. Positive reviews are great and all but the negative ones tell you the real story. While an overwhelming majority of reviews being positive might grab my attention it's the negative ones I read and base my purchasing choice upon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2018 @ 1:15am

    Abusive Developer on Steam

    Why is Fortresscraft Evoloved still on Steam?
    The developer is a bully, anyone that tells the truth about this game is targeted and verbally abused.
    The developer seems to have moderators in his pocket, and has a flagging army that descends upon the negative reviewers, down voting their negative reviews, questioning their parentage, calling them stupid, and then flagging all negative reviewers as hostile. Honestly we wouldn't be hostile if you'd stop calling us stupid cunts for pointing out the issues with your game.
    I don't see how anyone smart enough to use a computer can leave a positive review. The only thing I can think of is the dev is paying people to make new accounts and/or to buy his trash and upsell it. Anyone that says anything contrary to this dev's ego gets a target painted on their back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.