On September 12, Steam shook things up again in the store in an attempt to address “scam” reviews that have been clogging up the pipeline and providing what are considered fraudulent review scores for video games.
Changes to reviews in the past have included users being able to pick whether they’d like to know the positive aspects of a game, or negatives to make sure they know what they’re getting into – there’s even a category for “funny” reviews, as chosen by Steam users themselves.
This simple system has been found to be abused by those who are redeeming keys from locations other than the Steam store. CD keys, keys from Humble and GOG, and those directly from developers all fall under this umbrella. Steam hopes that by filtering the review system to only include users who’ve purchased the game directly from Steam, they’ll be getting a more “authentic” rating system.
An analysis of games across Steam shows that at least 160 titles have a substantially greater percentage of positive reviews by users that activated the product with a cd key, compared to customers that purchased the game directly on Steam. There are, of course, legitimate reasons why this could be true for a game: Some games have strong audiences off Steam, and some games have passionate early adopters or Kickstarter backers that are much more invested in the game.
Steam goes on to point out that those with alternate accounts may be posting the exact same review text on a single game, artificially inflating the score. Since developers are given unlimited free keys to give out to possible reviewers, it is possible for that system to be abused, certainly.
The issue, as pointed out, is that those who are genuinely enthusiastic about the game, but have been able to either purchase the game elsewhere before it appeared on Steam, or have received a key for the express purpose of providing a review (as we do here on Marooners’ Rock) will no longer have their opinions counted in the score, and their reviews won’t even be viewable in the general review listing: Steam users will now have to click a special category to view non-Steam reviews.
Some developers will post-release their games on Steam to make them more widely available, particularly as formats change, with CD-ROM as an example. Someone who has put in dozens of hours on a game such as Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines will have obviously gained insight on the ins and outs, and may perhaps be able to provide guidance to new players via their seasoned review. With this new policy, those reviews will not longer have any bearing on the product impression as a whole, and potentially valuable feedback will be inadvertently ignored by customers.
And, of course, those who obtained keys through Kickstarter campaigns will have their reviews ignored (whether positive or negative), even if Steam is the only vehicle through which the game is available.
The reactions have been mixed, naturally. It remains to be seen whether this decision will be fruitful, or what the long-term ramifications may be. For now, however, at least these non-Steam purchase reviews can still be read, despite the score discrimination.