Earlier this week, a developer’s Twitter thread about shady Steam curators who potentially lie to get free game codes went viral. In the thread, using a bit of a sting-like operation to support his suspicions, the dev theorized that these shady curators take game keys and sell them instead of using them to actually review the game they claim to be interested in. Now, Valve has shut down some of the curators implicated in the supposed scams. And after all of this, the devs behind the popular city-building survival game Frostpunk have announced they won’t be providing keys to curators anymore.
On August 28, indie dev Cowcat, the developer behind the newly released point-and-click beat ‘em up Brok—shared a now-viral thread on Twitter explaining how a particular type of scam involving curators, Steam codes, and reviews works.
The quick and basic explanation is that Cowcat and other indie devs have email inboxes that are flooded with code requests from various curators on Steam. Most of these are believed to be scammers. In an effort to see just how many were shady, Cowcat sent all of these curators codes, but not for the full game, rather just for the demo. The idea was that if the curators were legit, they’d hit the end of the demo, then reach out and ask for the full code to do a proper review. Instead, many didn’t, and codes for the game started appearing on key-selling sites, even though Cowcat doesn’t support these types of marketplaces. Shortly after that, some curators began posting negative reviews of Brok, even though none of them had received the full game. While there are some other possibilities, it seems very likely these curators were simply trying to scam Cowcat out of some free codes that could then be resold.
In response, Cowcat reached out to Valve and did hear back from the company, which explained that it would look into the curators in question. It seems Valve agreed with Cowcat and others on Reddit who believe that these particular curators were not playing by the rules, and were possibly using negative reviews as punishment for not providing keys. (Curators can leave reviews for games they don’t own.)
At least 20 curators—many of whom posted negative reviews of Brok after receiving keys for the demo—have now been banned from Steam. Clicking on a link to one of these curator groups now takes you to a message from Valve stating that “This group has been removed for violating the Steam Community Rules and Guidelines.”
Of course, because anybody can quickly make a free Steam account and group and become a curator, it’s likely that many of these shady users will return, creating new lists and continuing to scam devs out of codes. But this sudden, public exposure of this scam might make it harder for those looking to score free codes to flip. At least one game developer and publisher, 11 Bit Studios, has publicly announced it will no longer provide curators with Steam keys as a result of this situation.
“Based on our and other devs’ experiences,” tweeted the Frostpunk devs, “most of the [Steam curator] requests come from fake accounts used to gather and resell the keys and the published reviews don’t seem to bring any value for the community anyway.”
While it’s good to see Valve stepping in and trying to put a stop to some of these scams, devs like Cowcat still hope the company does more to improve the curator system. Many want more verification methods and ways to filter real users and outlets from random scammers or shady users. Until then, it might always be a gamble to send curators codes via email.