Steam will be changing its review system in response to Valve’s issuing a number of updates affecting reviews written by users who activated the game through a Steam key. According to PCgamer, in a blog post, Valve detailed the changes that will be coming, saying they intend to improve the usefulness of the review system and stop attempts to manipulate a game’s aggregated user review score. So users who activate their game using a Steam key (different from buying it directly from the Steam store) will still be able to write and submit a review. However, they won’t be able to give the game a score. These implementations are a precaution Valve is taking to prevent abuse by developers who are inflating game’s scores, whom Valve is finding to be duplicated or generated reviews. In their blog post Valve issued this statement:
We know this review score has become a valuable shortcut for customers to gauge how well the game is matching customer expectations. But the review score has also become a giant of fixation for many developers, to the point where some developers are willing to employ deceptive tactics to generate a more positive review score. 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 own system using Steam keys on alternative accounts. Some organizations even offer paid services to write positive reviews.
Steam’s changes means that those gamers that are playing their games through keys purchased from third-party sites, or from those handed down from developers, will not be able to contribute to Steam’s overall rating score. Their written reviews will, however, still be visible for all to see but they just won’t be able to score their game.
Developers are reacting to these changes with mixed feelings: Julian Gollop, X-Com and Chaos Reborn creator, took a more positive outlook on the changes, saying that “it’s a shame that people are trying to game the system, but I think Valve are doing what is necessary to preserve the integrity of the review score system.” At first, Gollop was worried that the Steam changes would negatively affect scores for Chaos Reborn, since it’s a game backed by Kickstarter, but he has found that it hasn’t been the case for the game. The same goes for Wess Platt, writer and designer for Prologue Games’ Knee Deep. He has stated that his indie detective game has actually benefited in score ratings with the new Steam changes.
However, Dan Marshall, developer of The Swindle and Time Gentlemen, Please!, has pointed out that this change suggests that the whole rating system on Steam actually needs a complete overhaul:
While reviews are undoubtedly a vital tool for gamers, by-and-large I think the review system as it stands is so open to abuse it can be damaging for developers and no use to customers. What’s more, this isn’t like an Amazon review of a microwave, or a film/ book—in a world of instant patching, a review left today might be factually incorrect tomorrow, and yet there it hangs for eternity, because people simply don’t update reviews. I’d suggest rather than endless tweaking, the whole review system needs a complete rethink and radical redesign to better suit the unique ‘product’ developers are creating.
Valve will continue to tweak the review system accordingly, stating that they will also be working on those reviews that are marked as “helpful”.