Steam Yanks Another Developer's Games Over Fake Reviews Posted By Employee

from the when-will-they-learn? dept

Astro-turfing and fake reviews continue to be plagues upon the online marketplace, creating a wave of distrust with the public when it comes to properly assessing any business via online means. It’s impossible to know how big or small a problem this is, which only adds to the distrust in the public, forcing them to assume the worst. All that being said, Valve has actually been pretty good about policing reviews on its gaming platform, Steam, and also making a big public stink about instances in which it has had to take action against developers for trying to game the review system. Studios have had their games pulled from the store entirely, such as when Digital Homicide and Insel Games each had their respective titles pulled. Given that Valve made sure the volume was turned up when it took such actions, one would think that game studios ought to have gotten the message by now.

And, yet, not all of them have. Acram Digital, a developer that makes digital versions of board games, just had all of its titles disappeared by Steam when it was discovered that an Acram employee was creating fake Steam accounts and posting fake positive reviews. As it did so, Valve released the following statement.

We’ve received a number of reports for Steam review manipulation on the titles Steam: Rails to Riches and Eight-Minute Empire, from Acram Digital. After investigating these reports we have found that the developer, Grzegorz Kubas, has been trying to inflate the user review score for his titles. This is against our policy, and something we take very seriously.

Because of Grzegorz’s actions, we have removed all games/DLC developed by Acram from our store, and will no longer be doing business with him. Existing owners will be able to keep their titles.

Say what you will about Steam, but the platform has had a steady stream of consumer-friendly practices rolled out to gamers everywhere. These types of actions, particularly when accompanied by a public statement like this, are fantastic ways to preserve the trust gamers have in the platform and its review system. It’s also a good way to demonstrate that, despite Steam wanting as many games as possible in its store, the platform also values the feedback and interests of its gaming customers.

For his part, Kubas has admitted to the wrong-doing, while also pleading on behalf of his employer.

You are right. I’m guilty. It came from my frustration of few bad, unfair reviews on Valve’s Steam only. It was stupid action, not something planned. This is my individual, bad behavior, not the team, so I would like to blame me, not the devs. It’s a lesson for the rest of my life and it will not happen again, ever.

Good on him for taking responsibility in this way, although it sure would be difficult to place full trust in the rest of the studio when one of its employees actively attempted to fool potential customers in this way. Maybe it’s true that Acram had no idea he was doing this. Maybe not. The public sure can’t know the answer to that question and it seems likely that the trust has been broken beyond repair at this point regardless.

Either way, game developers really ought to know at this point that there is no percentage in fake reviews. The costs are simply too high.

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Companies: acram digital, valve

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Comments on “Steam Yanks Another Developer's Games Over Fake Reviews Posted By Employee”

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46 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Hmm

This sort of leaves a difficult question open.

What if an unhappy/spiteful employee wanted to poison the well so to speak?

Wouldn’t a more sensible policy be to disable/hide all reviews on the game until the company can respond on the matter?

What avenues would a company have to defend itself? A lawsuit against the employee? For what? Potential losses?

Or maybe Valve is reasonable in those kinds of scenarios. Or maybe not.

This is one of the hazards of a de-facto monoculture of distribution networks.

Christensonsays:

Re: Re: Hmm

All systems are open to attack with shadows and mirrors…suppose this guy wanted to hurt his employer, so doesn’t quite hide the bogusness of the review he is posting….or maybe that’s just the story his employer is telling the world…or..or…

I’d hope Valve would give the developers a chance to respond, officially, to all public reviews…just as anyone, including Techdirt, can respond to comments here on Techdirt, quite possibly creating a dialog.

That One Guysays:

Re: "Now that they've been caught, we had no idea they did that!"

While I can see where you’re coming from, the ‘problem’ with being lenient is that it would allow a company to intentionally create fake reviews in order to con people into thinking their game was better than it actually was, only to throw someone under the bus once they get caught with a ‘we had no idea they were doing that, we certainly would never do something like that.’

While it’s certainly possible for the scenario you envision to come about(someone who knows they’re going to be fired so they intentionally start pumping out clearly bogus reviews to get their employer’s games pulled), the alternative seems like it would be just as, if not more open to abuse, even if it does kinda screw over game devs who get sabotaged by their own employees like that.

It’s a difficult situation where there’s really no ‘good’ choice, merely different flavors of bad.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why does steam need to scan anything if user is only playing off line? Steam games that claim to be off line will stop working until you go on line and re-authorize or whatever they need to do. Guess I do not need to play those anymore, or any new ones from steam – or any other stupid game publishers that do similar crap.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you’re only going to play games offline then maybe Steam isn’t a good fit for you.

Steam has its share of issues but I’ve never heard or seen anyone accuse it of scanning your files and folders outside its own folder locations.

There are also other reasons it scans its own folders, not just to keep games up-to-date. I believe VAC scans certain game files to make sure they haven’t been modified with a multiplayer cheat. It also checks game integrity and re-downloads any files that may be corrupted (though I think this is a manual scan).

But at the end of the day, if you don’t like it, don’t use it.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

afaik, Fallout New Vegas is only available via steam even if you purchased the physical dvd which you then have to authenticate on steam after which steam downloads who-knows what onto your machine. You are forced to “re-new” every few years, I guess it has a count down timer. Some off line mode they’ve got there.

Ben Ssays:

Re: Re: question

With all the things Digital Homicide did, it’s hard to keep track of it all. I think I remember something about it at some point, but I could easily be misremembering. The thing that got them kicked off of the Steam platform wasn’t fake reviews though. It was filing a lawsuit against steam customers for posting negative reviews of their games.

I love going back to the Jim Sterling videos about them though, since Digital Homicide really targeted him, getting a quick review of one of the greatest internet tantrums I’ve ever born witness to, followed by the dev being forced to shut down, then having the only remaining lawsuit dismissed with prejudice. The schadenfreud is glorious.

Anonymoussays:

internet plague

@ “fake reviews continue to be plagues upon the online marketplace”

yup, that’s the key takeaway here. this is an internet-wide problem. the ease of internet communication spawned an avalanche of phony product/service reviews in all categories — Amazon reviews are especially annoying with about 2/3 of its reviews being fake or highly exaggerated positive reviews. There are some 3rd Party sites trying to provide objective reviews, but they are far behind the avalanche of deceptive reviews.

Anonymoussays:

Praiseworthy effort, but ultimately irrelevant – I will NOT use Steam no matter what they do due to their unacceptable DRM enforcement scheme. I told a Kickstarter project owner not long ago that releasing as Steam-only will see my pledge withdrawn before the campaign ends. I meant it. And it was right on top of another comment from someone else saying the same thing. Sorry.

Anonymoussays:

Back in the day, gaming houses put so much pressure on gaming review magazines to give them sterling reviews that I ceased then to trust any review.

It was put to the review magazines that if they could not give good reviews they would not receive any early releases of new games for the purposes of reviews. In otherwords gaming houses were gaming the system and those reviews could no longer be trusted.

At that point I stopped buying review magazines. Not only did I cease to purchase such but from then on had to realize that all reviews had been gamed whether they had or not. To this day I will no longer depend on them, be it in a magazine or on the internet. The well has been poisoned and is no longer trustworthy to be accurate.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

from then on had to realize that all reviews had been gamed whether they had or not

You realize this is a contradictory statement right? Either they have been gamed or they haven’t. They can’t be both gamed and not gamed at the same time.

If you don’t trust them fine, that’s your choice. Whether you trust them or not, doesn’t mean they don’t provide useful info for other people.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Because we’ve NEVER seen someone sure that they have a new way to pull this off, despite the last 100 idiots getting caught.

Perhaps instead of creating fake reviews it’s time to respond to the negative reviews to see if its a real problem or not. Rather than contest a review on Yelp we’ve seen people committing fraud upon courts… not only did they destroy their business in the process they get bench-slapped. Yet some idiot always thinks they can pull it off.

There are polite ways to answer negative reviews, which is something more makers need to learn how to do. Yes you poured your blood sweat & tears into this… which means you take any criticism as a declaration of war… Get someone with a cooler head to look at the complaints & address them.

That One Guysays:

Re: Better you than me and everyone else'

If people can’t trust the review on a service then they’re much less likely to buy anything on it. It may suck for a developer to get their games pulled if they really had no idea someone was posting bogus reviews but having a reputation for bogus reviews stands to lose Steam(or any similar platform) a lot of money, so it’s no surprise they’d have a zero-tolerance policy.

Anonymoussays:

and real people are not longer real people. however, although this article is quite favorable towards steam, let me play devil’s advocate for a sec : there is no supply side problem with steam games because they are all digital; there is an endless supply without any additional costs to them. So, that leaves only demand, on which they base quite a bit of decisions. Demand is fueled by downloads, which can be fueled by reviews. What does steam do when demand is high but supply is infinite and the cost is a one-off flat rate… they raise the price. You might say they never ‘raise’ prices, but indeed they effectively do(no sales, discounts etc)
People, if you want to really mess with steam, leave bad reviews for the good games and positive reviews for the dogs.
By leaving positive reviews for games you like, you are just causing those games to be higher priced for longer. In other words, they are charging more based on positively reviewed games even though that games does not cost them more.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re:

“Section 230 immunizes websites from lawsuits for false advertising”

No, it doesn’t, if they themselves are doing the false advertising. All it means is that you have to go after the people who actually did it, rather than the nearest big target. Sorry if that confuses you, but the world is definitely a better place when people aren’t held accountable for things they didn’t do.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

“People who believe online reviews should be sterilized or executed. That will solve the problem.”

I realize this is most likely sarcasm or other such intricacies of language, however – in the world today so full of bullshit being believed by some, one should think twice about such statements because all it takes is for one of those nuts to take it seriously and go shoot up a pizza joint or worse.

Steve Brycesays:

Punishes more than the dev studio

As well as punishing the dev studio, this also punishes the board game designer and publisher and reduces the legitimate ways of buying digital versions of board games. While this is certainly not the main purpose of Valve’s enforcement action, it does drive people towards things like Table top Simulator, which is also sold on Steam. That game does have legitimate board game modules to download where money goes back to the publisher, but these are swamped by fan made modules of pretty much every board game under the sun, where the publisher and author don’t receive a penny.

Perhaps a more appropriate action by Valve would be to replace the advertising on the game page with a prominent notice about the fake reviews, but allow their customers to make an informed choice whether to continue to buy the game or not.

Anonymoussays:

When I read reviews, I start with the 1-star reviews. The dumb foolish ones you can easily toss out. This is when they give 1 star for their own stupidity. Like assume they would get something and they didn’t, and even though it didn’t say anything about it, they still give it 1 star. Not even a 3-4 star, nope just 1 star.

Fake Reviews almost always give 5 stars. Don’t mention anything negative. So it’s the lower stars I focus on a little more, and why they give it those stars. Real things that may be a Con yet for me, not an issue or a feature I like. A real review of the product its self and what’s being sold to you. Not some assumption.

Anonymoussays:

Abusive Developer on Steam

Why is Fortresscraft Evoloved still on Steam?
The developer is a bully, anyone that tells the truth about this game is targeted and verbally abused.
The developer seems to have moderators in his pocket, and has a flagging army that descends upon the negative reviewers, down voting their negative reviews, questioning their parentage, calling them stupid, and then flagging all negative reviewers as hostile. Honestly we wouldn’t be hostile if you’d stop calling us stupid cunts for pointing out the issues with your game.
I don’t see how anyone smart enough to use a computer can leave a positive review. The only thing I can think of is the dev is paying people to make new accounts and/or to buy his trash and upsell it. Anyone that says anything contrary to this dev’s ego gets a target painted on their back.

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