Steam is kind of a minefield. Sometimes mid-development projects get abandoned. Other times, developers try to bury legitimate questions or criticism.
The majority of the time, those things do not happen. Games launch, they’re either solid or shitty, and life goes on. But there have been enough instances of sketchy games and abrasive developers on Steam to warrant the occasional widespread controversy, frequent complaint threads, and an entire subreddit, among other things. And in some cases, Valve either doesn’t react quickly or refuses to intervene at all.
That’s where Steam curator group Scam Report comes in. They are, at the moment, not the largest group, but they’re illustrative of some of Steam’s bigger problems in recent times. Scam Report attempts to use Steam’s curator system—which allows groups to post short evaluations of games that can get prime real estate on home pages and store pages—to catalog the following:
“Abandoned Early Access titles, Early Access titles from devs with a history of abandoning unfinished games, games that don’t have the features they claim, or from devs with a history of misconduct.”
So basically, they want to be the canary in the endless labyrinth of a coal mine. They want to help people avoid games whose sketchier elements they might not have heard about otherwise.
The group’s name is perhaps a bit... overzealous (not every sketchy or abandoned game is necessarily a scam), but their goal is admirable, and they’ve definitely slapped “PROCEED AT YOUR OWN PERIL” signs on some worthy games. For instance, their rundowns of games like Journey of the Light and Godus are succinct, well-researched, and useful:
There are many more like that as well, and some include a good deal of evidence in their comment sections. Case in point, this info-dump on shady Hotline Miami-alike Bloodbath Kavkaz:
The issue, however, is that it’s hard to be 100 percent certain on a lot of this stuff. A group like this, in theory, requires investigation from multiple angles (rather than basing research’s direction on hearsay—something that’s tempting when people are dog-piling on a game or developer they consider sketchy) and frequent updates, given that some games might appear sketchy only to resume updating or somehow prove otherwise. When you’re only doing this as a user, out of the kindness of your heart, it’s tough to make time for that. It’s difficult to be comprehensive, especially when you’re working with time-sensitive information.
There’s also room for a lot of subjectivity in running a group like this, only some of which is useful. For instance, Kentucky Route Zero is on the group’s curator list because, “Despite not being listed as an Early Access title, this game is only 60% complete, having released 3/5 ‘episodes’ in the 2.5 years since release.” However, that fails to take into account that a) each episode has been a complete, polished experience, and b) the dev team is still working on additional episodes and releasing free games set in the same universe to tide people over. Are they taking for-goddamn-ever with it? Absolutely. Is KRZ a “scam” or abandonware or whatever? Probably not.
And then, of course, there’s the thorny issue of what constitutes good discussion moderation versus “censorship,” a word that’s been diluted to the point of abject meaninglessness in this day and age. Certainly, some developers get banhammer-happy when their game’s under fire by legitimately incensed players, and that’s bad news. They absolutely should be called out for that, and it would be nice if Valve had more consistent rules against squelching legitimate critique. But there are also plenty of good reasons for developers to shut down discussions. For instance, people might be treating each other poorly, derailing discussion, or spreading previously disproven misinformation. Steam forums blur the line between public and private spaces, and—to be frank—you don’t have the right to say whatever you want in them. In some cases for better, in some cases for worse, devs make the rules there.
In all likelihood, Valve would say the emergence of a group like Scam Report is an example of Steam working as intended—or mostly as intended. They’ve been beating the “user-generated content” drum/melodica/hat trumpet for years now, and they claim that Steam is on its way to becoming a fully open platform. The goal of systems like Steam curator groups is for users to create and moderate their own communities, to patch up holes Valve can’t (due, perhaps, to conflicting priorities or the overwhelming volume of Stuff happening on Steam).
Problem is, users are only really accountable to themselves. In most cases they have the best of intentions—and sometimes good, well-considered methods on top of that—but this isn’t their job. They can occasionally be sloppy about it, or only update sporadically, or disappear without warning, or work off knee-jerk reactions instead of always vetting information. Are big companies like Valve better at handling these kinds of things? Not necessarily. But there’s more on the line when you’re doing something for a service that foots your bills—and that you, in all likelihood, derive a lot of personal pride from (or pressure, when the community’s pissed off).
Maybe the solution is for Valve to take an active role in holding people accountable, or to create better incentives for people to keep themselves accountable. Or maybe Valve could provide tools that’d make research of games’ histories and current statuses easier—better documentation, update timelines, etc. Scam Report is, in the grand scheme of groups looking to crack down on Steam’s issues, a really strong effort. But it could still be better.
Valve would do well to pay attention to curator groups like Scam Report (or Framerate Police or what have you) and the forum posts, news reports, and whatnot that inform them. Clearly, they represent instances where users feel like an issue isn’t being properly addressed on Steam, so they’ve taken matters into their own hands by using Steam groups in ways Valve didn’t expect. Now, as the proprietor of a largely open, user-driven system, the ball is in Valve’s court. It’s time for Valve to react and improve their systems so that users can do a better job of cleaning up messes GabeN and co can’t—rather than essentially saying, “Eh, good enough” and leaving these systems alone.
You’re reading Steamed, Kotaku’s page dedicated to all things in and around Valve’s stupidly popular PC gaming service. Games, culture, community creations, criticism, guides, videos—everything. If you’ve found anything cool/awful on Steam, send us an email to let us know.