Valve have again shaken up how the Steam store presents player reviews, this time adding new filtering options which, by default, don't include reviews from people who got the game by activating a Steam key rather than buying direct from Steam. Valve say this is to prevent score inflation from devs throwing out free keys in exchange for reviews. That's a noble goal, but the change also means discounting reviews from players who backed Kickstarters or bought the game direct from devs - groups likely to have genuine strong opinions - not to mention from other stores like Humble and Itch. Some devs are not best pleased.
The Steamlords announced the changes last night. The expanded filtering is useful, to be sure, letting folks ditch or focus on reviews in certain languages, that are positive or negative, and by where the player got the game from. That last one's the problem, as by default store pages will now only show copies bought directly from Steam. Valve say it's to combat cheatery:
"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.
"But in many cases, the abuse is clear and obvious, such as duplicated and/or generated reviews in large batches, or reviews from accounts linked to the developer. In those cases, we've now taken action by banning the false reviews and will be ending business relationships with developers that continue violating our rules.
"While helpful users in the community have been valuable in reporting instances of abuse, it's becoming increasingly difficult to detect when this is happening, which reviews from Steam Keys are legitimate, and which are artificially influenced."
This looks like the typical Valve approach of making broad, sweeping changes that affect everyone negatively rather than dealing with people individually. Rather than simply hire more staff to handle problems, they seem to end up create huge systems like Greenlight or making sweeping changes. This one is not going down well with a number of smaller developers.
Here's The Sea Will Claim Everything developer Jonas Kyratzes:
Here's Kieron Kelly from Larian, who Kickstarted their RPG Divinity: Original Sin:
The new Steam Review policy will hurt. As a kickstarter dev, your most passionate fans are now silenced.— Kieron Kelly (@Kurnster) September 13, 2016
And Maia man Simon Roth:
Between direct sales, Kickstarter, indiegogo I have 16000+ users who will never be able to leave me a review that matters to the score.— Simon Roth (@SimoRoth) September 13, 2016
And Death Ray Manta dev Rob Fearon:
For some perspective, out of 120 odd reviews. I've just lost 40. I'm fortunate that I've retained 'very positive' because they're all legit.— Rob Punches Robots (bobbinsrobots.com/@Bobbins) (@retroremakes) September 13, 2016
Fewer reviews from fans means a worse score on Steam means fewer future sales, obviously, and fewer reviews in general makes a game look less popular.
Like with Greenlight, it's smaller devs who suffer most - people who rely upon crowdfunding, selling across multiple storefronts, and backing sales up with promises of Steam keys if their games pass Greenlight. Valve really need to hire more people.