Has Steam's Seedy Underbelly Been Exposed?
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Steam and its parent company. Valve, are always looking for ways to improve their system. Rather than just resting on their laurels and sitting back while the money comes in, the company actively tries to make their platform better for all. This past year, those changes have often come in the form of new ways to understand game reviews. Steam has made some changes to address review bombing. It also now requires reviewers to own the game in question before they can leave their thoughts. It's clear that some other changes might be coming in the future, after a recent revelation.

Insel Games was actually caught in the middle of some shady dealings. The revelation began when a “leaked” email was posted to Reddit from the company's CEO. Amidst a vast amount of spelling and grammatical errors was a request for employees to buy and/or leave a review for one of their games, Wild Busters. One section in particular read, “I had send an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me pretty disappointed.” This can only be seen as an attempt to inflate sales statistics and to draw in more buyers with good review scores.

The CEO's wording was rather unfortunate, as it was clearly and strongly asking employees to commit to a clear conflict of interest. “Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year.” The email went on to say, “So I am asking you either of do the following: buy the game [Wild Busters] and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be re-imbursed within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to to this.” Clearly, employees of a company should not be buying their own game just to write a review. Those reviews in and of themselves would be a major conflict of interest and could not be taken seriously without considering the chance for bias.

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After that email was posted to Reddit, gained a decent amount of attention and was reported to Steam, Valve released a statement. It said that they had since done their own investigation of Insel Games and realized the company had multiple accounts being used to leave positive reviews on their own titles. It was due to this that Valve decided to cut ties with Insel Games. The company's page and games are no longer available to view on Steam. Anyone who previously purchased or otherwise owned anything from Insel Games will still be able to access and play it from their library.

Insel Games actually released a statement of their own after all this. They claimed that the email was meant to rally employees into sharing the game with their family and friends. Apparently, asking your employees to write reviews for your game is actually code for, “Tell your friends and family to review this!” I don't know about all of you, but I'm not buying it. The post-Steam partnership ending statement from Insel Games went on to explain that they will continue to support their games (Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster), with the hope that they will reclaim the trust of both fans and Valve.

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It remains to be seen as to whether or not that trust will ever be regained. But the situation as a whole still reveals a seedy underbelly to Steam that the platform and its users need to be aware of. I'd like to think the Insel Games/Wild Buster scandal is a Steam rarity. I would hope that most companies are not stooping to such lows. However, it is good to have the knowledge that it could happen.

It's only now that Steam can take steps into preventing this from happening. Perhaps we're headed towards an era of Steam accounts needing verification, like Facebook, before they can be considered a real person. If that step was taken, then this sort of thing wouldn't happen as much. If a company can't create multiple accounts to leave fluffed reviews, then we'll have better representation of honest scores for games.

What do you think? How could Steam change in order to prevent this from happening again? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

April Marie
April Marie
@Legiodith

Contributing Writer
Date: 02/26/2018

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