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Steam Curators: Paid Endorsements Must Be Disclosed

Who curates the curators?

I wrote half an editorial about my concerns with the new Steam Curator system (which RPS is on. We recommend a new game almost every day, so give it a follow if that sounds useful to you) last week, but trashed it because it was full of speculative hand-wringing about worst-case scenarios. Paid endorsements, games being left off the biggest curation lists because critics hadn't played them or disliked their creators, devs getting even less front page Steam attention because they hadn't bent the right ears, fascinating specialist lists being drowned out by the front page, that sort of thing.

A lot of scope to go wrong, basically, but who knows? Like so much of what Valve make, it's going to be in flux for a fair while yet, and I couldn't begin to predict its final form. The first big change has happened already, and it's that anyone who's been paid to endorse a game must now disclose it.

While, as you may know (and by God I envy you if you don't), a number of games sites - including us, entirely unfairly - have been suffering massed but unsubstantiated accusations of corruption over the last month, there seem to be few such concerns about prominent YouTubers being paid by developers and publishers to make enthusiastic videos about their games, with varying degrees of openness. We're even seeing big channels directly taking a cut of sales from games they recommend now.

A whole lot of money is being made in exchange for promotion, and it's not always apparent when that's the case. Whether the role of a games journalist and the role of a video entertainer are sufficiently far apart to justify such wildly differing business practices is a matter of some debate. Different strokes, different folks. Valve, however, do appear to have some reservations about games media's latest wild west.

While they've stopped short of disallowing paid endorsements on Steam Curation, they have now announced that these sorts of deals must be revealed. Here's the word: "If you’ve accepted money or other compensation for making a product review or for posting a recommendation, you must disclose this fact in your recommendation."

What happens in the event someone's caught not 'fessing up is not detailed, nor is there clarification on if this explicitly refers to just the recommendations themselves, or also to linked videos or articles which are not deemed to be 'reviews' by their creators. Plenty of grey area remains, though that it remains illegal to post unmarked advertorial in the UK (see point 11 here) and other countries may lead to further tightening up of Steam's rules.

If nothing else, it'll be fascinating to see how often these disclosures do appear, simply to perhaps get a better sense of what the balance between enthusiasm and business is for the big channels. It is a new frontier out there, and I'm sure I'm not alone in not yet entirely understanding how it all operates.

It should go without saying that we never have and never would be paid to recommend anything, but you knew that already. Everything on our own Steam Curator page is there because of personal enthusiasm from one or more of our writers.

I hope it's a useful resource for you, and please do let me know how it can be more useful. I'll be damned if I know what the whole system will eventually evolve into, however.

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