Steam is an amazing resource for everything gaming. If it is on Steam, a game will have a strong foundation to create a community. There are forums, posting walls, and critically, reviews as written by the people that have played the game. Last May we reported on the first significant overhaul that the review system saw. Suddenly, more recent reviews were given visibility that more accurately reflected the changing nature of a game during development. This was particularly important for those games on Early Access where games were expected to change significantly from one month to the next.
This latest set of changes aims to, in part, tackle a problem that has has since emerged as an abuse of the system. For those that are not aware, developers are able to hand out steam keys to whoever they wish. This often includes Kickstarter backers, sales from their site, game bundles and reviewers.
The adjustments a that are coming in include some extra sorting, but also a change to the calculation of review scores. Before, these scores took into account all the reviews that were written for a game. From now they will only take into account reviews from people who purchased the game through Steam. This does not mean that reviews from versions acquired outside Steam will disappear, it just means that they will not be factored into the review score.
Some wonder what this change would achieve; why would they do it? As developers are able to create all the free keys they want, some have been using it to create false accounts which they then use to boost the review score for that game. Sometimes this boosting is super obvious, other times it is a little more subtle. For example, some devs have been known to just create false accounts and spam the same, or very similar, reviews. Others give keys to random people in exchange for positive reviews. The one common trend is that none of these accounts purchase the game, it is all done by key redemption.
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.
It is possible to see why Steam would take this approach at first. It stops games getting scores boosted by shady developers while not hiding what people have to say if they got it legitimately. But, as one can expect, this also lends itself to some collateral damage. There are many games that have very strong communities off Steam, the most common type are games that have been Kickstarted. The people who backed games often have quite strong feelings, they are the base for the community and they will often leave many reviews, all of which point in a similar direction. These too have now been excluded from the review score. Understandably, there are more than a few people who are extremely upset at this.
We will have to see how these changes develop. Valve has promised to listen to everyone’s feedback, something which drove these changes in the first place. I am not too sure on how they can swing this to stop the worst of the shady devs while not harming too much the honest reason for providing external CD keys. Short of including back into the review score these types of reviews I can hardly see how everyone will remain happy. Maybe these scores could contribute value at a less than 50% weighting or something of the sort. It would mean that external sources would still provide feedback, while doubling the amount of effort required to manipulate the score.
Let us know what you think below!