It was bound to happen and in light of the CS lottery scandal, the company is embarking on standards tightening. Everyone knows Amazon plays whack-a-mole with fake reviews on products – both negative and positive.

Its review system can be manipulated much the same way as a Google search position. The fake positive reviews drive up the number of buyers, thereby pushing product XYZ higher in Amazon’s search system.

The same can be said for Steam, and Valve is tired of it. Me? I’m tired of waiting for a new Half Life game. You have to laugh a little Valve. The issue is that developers know their games live and die by review scores. It gives rise to third-party services that promise glowing reviews for a price.

It’s easy to feel for the developers that have a stellar game, but lack the budget to push it into the hands of various influencers to gain visibility for their art. But, they can’t hit the easy button of gaming the system, especially when the same third parties figure out even more money is to be had in doing both. Develop a garbage game and artificially inflate the review score.

Steam’s blog post on lays out the rationale.

“The majority of review score manipulation we’re seeing by developers is through the process of giving out Steam keys to their game, which are then used to generate positive reviews. Some developers organize their system using Steam keys on alternate accounts. Some organizations even offer paid services to write positive reviews.”

Valve’s answer to the problem are reviews from key redemptions will no longer be factored into the game’s overall score.

Steam has already moved on at least 160 games and is promising even more drastic measures if the fake reviews continue. “We’ve now taken action by banning the false reviews and will be ending business relationships with developers that continue violating our rules.”

Steam Sledgehammers its Review System

It’s not a perfect solution. Steam key redemptions are popular for Kickstarter games, and no one is questioning the reputation of Humble Bundle which offers the same as a third-party seller.

Now that the sledgehammer approach has taken hold, Valve will have to take a more scalpel approach to games inadvertently impacted. The company is already promising to listen to feedback from the community and incorporate it into future solutions.

The whole thing is unfortunate due to the fact it’s easy to spin up servers with clean proxies and find workarounds to keep gaming the system. And Steam’s sledgehammer approach runs the risk of developers being cut from the system through no fault of their own. Disgruntled employee. Random internet rage mob.

Possible Solution?

Google’s answer was a link disavowal tool in its search console for webmasters. If the site owner is paying attention, it can detect a sudden influx of links from ‘bad neighborhoods.’ It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does work.

Third-party sellers of fake review make their money by automation. Much the same way a website can be blasted by links through a button push, the reviews act the same way unless you are willing to spend an outrageous amount. It will be impossible to tell once someone buys handwritten reviews.

But something automated? No matter how clean the proxies, it’ll always have telltale signs. Either the velocity is too much, usernames look generated, or even a velocity drip.

Steam and Valve would be better served by doing the initial cleanup and a warning to devs. Then give them the option of disavowing or warning Steam/Valve if an influx of overwhelming positive or even negative reviews looks manufactured.

Even that’s not a perfect system, but lowering a sledgehammer which will almost certainly impact honest devs and third-party sellers is definitely not an answer.

Welcome to the whack-a-mole Google and Amazon have been fighting against for a decade or more Steam.

Gear. TV. Movies. Lifestyle. Photography. Yeah, I’m the type who sees a shiny object and is immediately captivated. Wait... There’s another. You can reach me at marcus@newsledge.com

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