Valuable life lesson: probably don’t do this.
RosePortal Games, the developer of an RPG called Epic Quest of the 4 Crystals recently got caught offering compensation—in the form of free Steam keys—in exchange for Steam reviews. When Valve found out, they weren’t pleased. They wrote in a post on the game’s forums:
“It’s come to our attention that Aldorlea Games and RosePortal Games have given gifts or otherwise compensated some Steam customers to get them to leave reviews for the game Epic Quest of the Four Crystals. This is a manipulation of the user review system, which we don’t allow.”
Problem: because many players didn’t disclose RosePortal’s promotion in their reviews, Valve couldn’t tell who took part and who didn’t. So they decided to take a rather drastic measure: they nuked every review of Epic Quest of the 4 Crystals off the face of their humble world’s most popular PC gaming service.
“Advertising laws in many countries require you to disclose any compensation for your review. If you received anything from a publisher or developer in exchange for a user review please say so in your review.”
They added that people could re-post their reviews if they included a disclosure. Many have.
Wiping a game’s Steam review section clean? That’s pretty nuts. But Valve’s stance here? Not unprecedented. Earlier this year they updated the Steam subscriber agreement to stipulate that “If you use Steam services (e.g. the Steam Curators’ Lists or the Steam Broadcasting service) to promote or endorse a product, service or event in return for any kind of consideration from a third party (including non-monetary rewards such as free games), you must clearly indicate the source of such consideration to your audience.”
However, that’s buried under a mountain of other policies, which left some players clutching their four (or more) crystals in abject shock when they found out they’d done something that wasn’t allowed.
There’s an argument to be made that this should be common sense, but that’s not enough for everybody. Moreover, in this case Valve took things a step further than their previous policy, saying that what happened here constituted intentional manipulation—that (likely due to the lack of disclosure) it isn’t allowed at all. Perhaps Valve should clarify their rules and display them more prominently, given that people seem confused about where the line is.
Another thing Valve could stand to be more transparent about: reviews play a big role in helping games stand out on Steam’s increasingly chaotic storefront. A game with hundreds of reviews, for instance, is more likely to show up in search results than a game with very few—which, of course, will probably lead to more sales. This is why developers ask for user reviews so often and, sometimes, run “promotions” like this one.
It’s a questionable system, given that—like many other elements of Steam—it’s extremely numbers-driven. It can lead to an over-prioritization of review quantity (rather than quality) on devs’ parts and, sometimes, conflicts of interest or sketchy schemes to get more reviews. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s good to present people with multiple perspectives on games—multiple points of view being expressed—but this might not be the best way to encourage that.
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