Valve really hates me. At least they hate the way I use Steam. They also hate others like me. It’s sad really, but that is the impression I have received from Valve’s recent changes to Steam.
So let’s explore who I am and why that means that Valve hates me. I am a gamer. I love to play games. I have spent many hundreds of dollars on games and who knows how much on consoles. I bought a $1,000 gaming computer four years ago that is still going strong. I have bought a few hundred dollars worth of PC games and play them quite often. The PC is probably my most played gaming system. I have 206 games in my Steam library.
Despite all the above, Valve hates me. Why? Because of those 206 games, only 2 of them were bought directly through Steam. And those were bought for $0.50. All the rest I have bought through the Humble Bundle, or were given to me by developers or through other giveaways. Because I have only spent fifty cents through Steam, Valve does not consider me a customer and have, through their actions, demonstrated that they hate me.
Exactly how have they shown their hate for me? Well, the first move was in April of 2015 when Valve decided that if you haven’t spent $5 on their site, you were barred from a host of features. This included, but was not limited to, sending and receiving friend requests, opening group chat, commenting frequently on discussion boards, creating Steam Groups, adding artwork and screenshots, and more. It didn’t matter how many games I activated on Steam or how many hours I logged on Steam, I could not use these features because I was not a “customer” to them.
Then today happened. Today, Valve further expressed its disdain for me by barring my reviews from having any impact positively or negatively on any game that I have activated on Steam, because I did not buy that game through Steam. Meaning, if you did not buy that game directly from Steam, you are not a customer and your reviews are second class reviews. They don’t account for anything. Sure you can write reviews and people can still read them, you just can’t impact the overall score.
Valve thinks that people like me are a problem, a disease that needs to be cured.
Steam keys have always been free for developers to give out or sell through other online or retail stores. That isn’t changing. However, it is too easy for these keys to end up being used in ways that artificially inflate review scores.
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 is the real kicker. This review ban is on a game by game basis. This is not something that I can unlock by spending $5 on Steam. If I want my review to impact the overall score of the game, I am required to buy that game through Steam. That is something that I can’t do for the 206 games I already have on Steam. I already own them and Steam won’t let me buy them again, even if I wanted to.
This new policy change has had an array of effects on the wider game development community. Those most likely to feel its impact are those developers who have made it to Steam following a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaigns, in which those backing the game got a Steam key. Those developers can no longer count on their backers to provide early reviews for people seeking to buy through Steam.
This is also bad for someone like me who reviews games from time to time. I am approached by developers to review games that are available on Steam. These developers give me a Steam key so that I can get a copy of the game and provide a review. It doesn’t happen too often, but now my reviews are essentially locked to whatever site I write it for. Those reviews will never make it to Steam with this change in place. The same is true for those games that I buy and feel inclined to write a review for.
I am not in the business of producing positive reviews just because a developer gave me a free copy. That is not how I roll. Most of these developers are looking for an honest assessment of the game and I give them that. But now, my value has been reduced due to Valve’s change.
In other words, Valve hates me. I don’t feel the same way about them. Yet, they seem to be working their hardest at building a wall between those who use the rest of the internet for gaming, and themselves.