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Valve Hates Me, It Really Hates Me

SteamValve 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.

8 Comments

  1. MechaTama31
    MechaTama31 September 14, 2016

    No, they’re trying to build a wall between themselves and spammers, fake reviews, etc. The $5 thing is a trivial amount for a real user to spend, but would make it prohibitively expensive to create thousands of throwaway accounts to spam the forums, artificially inflate scores, etc. The thing about steam key copies not counting towards the score, they should probably change. I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s gotta be difficult to try to sort out what’s legitimate and what’s shady, but the collateral damage on that one is just too much. It dings review copies, crowdfunded copies, humble bundle copies… They’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I’m pretty sure they don’t hate you, though.

    • Zachary Knight
      Zachary Knight September 14, 2016

      That is all well and good. however, how many spam accounts have activated over 200 games and logged over 500 hours of gameplay? Don’t you think that those two stats account for something to prove my account isn’t a spam account?

      Of course any amount of money is enough to prevent the vast majority of spam. The $5 is pretty arbitrary. Even the Humble Bundle determined that $1 was sufficient to block the vast majority of its problem sales.

      As for blocking fake reviews, I think a much better option would be for Steam to require 1) the user must actually have the game activated in their Steam Account 2) Require that the user clock at least 2 hours playing the game through Steam 3) create a system that weighs the overall impact of review scores based on time played. Where a review with 2 hours of play time is worth less overall than one with 20 hours of play time.

      Here is a good suggestion for how to fix reviews without removing functionality for real people.

      http://www.fortressofdoors.com/fixing-steams-user-rating-charts/

      • Jon Kole
        Jon Kole September 14, 2016

        There are a few issues with trying to block spam accounts based on how many games they have activated and/or hours logged in gameplay. First they would have to look at, track, and store those stats on their end which would cause a few issues with database storage, and privacy concerns.

        Though that first issue isn’t that major, you would also have to consider how logging hours in a game would not be impossible to automate and fool the system with (like getting cards by leaving a game on its main menu all night), and the same can be true with the number of games. You can add non-steam games that are on the computer, you can add free games, you can even add copies of games that you get free keys to because you are a dev or something along those lines.

        And while it is of course doable to get a system in place to try to get around all those issues, it would take more time, effort, and money to do. While applying a simply limit based on money the account has spent, which was most likely already being tracked, is FAR simpler and easier to do, not to mention costs less money for them to pay people to set up.

        • Zachary Knight
          Zachary Knight September 14, 2016

          ” First they would have to look at, track, and store those stats on their end which would cause a few issues with database storage, and privacy concerns.”

          They are already looking at and storing that data. I can see right now how much time I have spent playing a game that has never been installed on this PC.

          “You can add non-steam games that are on the computer,”

          The idea is that you can only review games that Steam offers and only if you own that game. You can’t just review any game.

      • Infophile
        Infophile September 14, 2016

        I don’t think the time limit for playing a game should be as high as two hours. Maybe just 15 min to half an hour, if that. A lot of games can be completed in under two hours, for one thing. For another, it doesn’t take two hours of play to identify a horrible game – no one should be forced to slog through that so that they can have the privilege of warning others.

        • Zachary Knight
          Zachary Knight September 15, 2016

          True. I am not one to require people to play crappy games for too long to be able to review them. I think people who demand reviewers to play the entire game before writing their review are being unreasonable. I simply use the two hour as a baseline because that is what Steam has set for the refund window. If you haven’t played it long enough to escape the “I might refund this tomorrow” window, then you likely haven’t played it long enough to review the game.

      • MechaTama31
        MechaTama31 September 14, 2016

        OK, but how many games and how many hours are enough? And is that instead of, or in addition to the $5 threshold? How many people are there who have that many games and that many hours, but have not spent $5 (Personally, I know of just one ;)? Do these edge cases justify the extra time and complexity of accounting for them, when the $5 threshold is dead simple, unambiguous, and works just fine for probably at least 99% of the real users?

        • Zachary Knight
          Zachary Knight September 15, 2016

          Considering the $5 requirement doesn’t require that you actually spend the money, just put it in your Steam wallet, any number of games and time spent would be acceptable. I mean, really, how many games can you actually buy with $5? During a really good sales weekend, you could probably buy 5 or more. But most often, that is only 1 game.

          As for time spent, Steam has set 2 hours for a refund, so just make it that. 2 hours in a single game.

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