For the second time this year, Valve has changed the way Steam user reviews work. Just like before, the change is aimed at improving the visibility of scores that are relevant to users, and in that sense, the thinking behind it is sound.
However, for the most part, the changes are shortsighted as they impact groups that would need those reviews the most.
In this latest update, Valve has added new filtering options that, by default, exclude reviews from users who did not buy the game on Steam. This means that people who get the game via a Steam Code obtained through Kickstarter, for example, or through a developer's website, do not affect the Steam user review score.
For the most part, this move makes sense. Valve is keenly aware that some developers have been cheating the system for quite some time by utilizing methods such as giving keys or paid services to people in exchange for positive reviews.
In fact, such instances are what Valve referenced in a blog post where the changes were announced:
"[...] The review score has also become a point 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 alternate accounts. Some organizations even offer paid services to write positive reviews."
While Valve raises valid points, what becomes of the developers who don't engage in such practices? The simple fact of the matter is that Valve has implemented a change that goes one step too far and indiscriminately targets smaller developers. Many of the games affected by this change have large audiences off Steam, while others have plenty of Kickstarter campaign supporters.
Also, of course, Valve is keenly aware of this fact:
"An analysis of games across Steam shows that at least 160 titles have a substantially greater percentage of positive reviews by users that activated the product with a CD key, compared to customers that purchased the game directly on Steam. There are, of course, legitimate reasons why this could be true for a game: Some games have strong audiences off Steam, and some games have passionate early adopters or Kickstarter backers that are much more invested in the game."
Despite that, Valve went through with the changes, negatively impacting smaller developers, as they were quick to mention on Twitter early Tuesday (Sept. 13) morning.
Here's The Sea Will Claim Everything developer Jonas Kyratzes:
Hey look, half the reviews of TSWCE no longer count. And none of the people who backed The Council of Crows will be able to support it.
— Jonas Kyratzes (@JonasKyratzes) September 13, 2016
This is a daft move, but I can't really get mad at Valve. The whole process of selling digital things is so deeply absurd. — Jonas Kyratzes (@JonasKyratzes) September 13, 2016
Similarly, here's Maia developer Simon Roth:
@SimoRoth @Jam_sponge will the people who buy your game not like it? — ruan rothmann (@rrza) September 13, 2016
There's also Kieron Kelly from Larian, which Kickstarted its RPG Divinity: Original Sin:
The new Steam Review policy will hurt. As a kickstarter dev, your most passionate fans are now silenced. — Kieron Kelly (@Kurnster) September 13, 2016
For what it's worth, users still have the option to display reviews from those who got their game via key activations, but that still requires them to actually turn that option on, which isn't necessarily something that would be high on their to-do list. The end result? Many games that are targeted by this change will get fewer reviews from fans, which means a lower score that may result in fewer sales in the future.