On Monday, Valve announced plans to change the team reviews function in an attempt to further legitimize the system.
Many of the changes involve a new filtering system. Users can place preferences on language, positive or negative reviews, and purchase source. The main focus on the changes revolve around that final point.
Steam keys are a widely used and distributed source for PC games. Developers have always been free to give or sell keys through other outlets. Amazon is among the most commonly used storefront, but developer sites and Humble Bundle have also been used to distribute keys.
However, after looking into the relationship between key sources and review scores, Valve found that at least 160 games with high reviews were activated more often with CD keys compared to scores from purchases off Steam itself.
“In many cases, the abuse is clear and obvious,” Valve said in the post, “such as duplicated and/or generated reviews in large batches, or reviews from accounts linked to the developer. In those cases, we’ve now taken action by banning the false reviews and will be ending business relationships with developers that continue violating our rules.”
Valve isn’t claiming all those games’ scores are the result of planted reviews, but through this new filtering process, they hope to curb the influence those practices have.
“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.”
To reflect this new focus on Steam purchased games, Valve is changing the way aggregate scores are calculated altogether. Essentially, if a game was activated through a key, any review for it won’t count. Reviews will still be visible on the store page for the masses to read, but the top percentage will be unaffected.
“About 200 titles that only had one or two reviews will no longer have a score at all until a review is written by a customer that purchased that item via Steam.”
Smaller independent games will predominately be the most affected by this change since many of their initial sales aren’t through Steam.
The review system on Steam is often fluctuating and changing to combat fraudulent reviews, influence from the grey market of game sales, and to just generally make the experience more helpful to users.
“We know that Steam customer reviews can only be valuable in aiding you as long as you can trust the data we’re presenting.”