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Steam Removes Reviews for Games Received for Free from Overall Score

Steam, the popular video game distribution platform run by the game developer Valve, has recently introduced a change to their user-generated review system intended to provide customers with a more accurate and fair assessment of the quality of the games they distribute. As of this week, Steam will no longer incorporate reviews of games written by players who didn’t pay for their game into their calculations of a game’s overall score, even if the game was received through Steam as a gift or during a free weekend. This change came about in recognition of the practice whereby game developers and publishers would provide free copies of games to players in exchange for reviews; although these types of reviews are ostensibly fair, gamers are naturally incentivized to post positive reviews of games they received for free, allowing developers to artificially inflate the review scores of their games.

Steam is the largest digital distributor of video games in the world and acts not only as a storefront for video games old and new but as a social network that allows PC gamers to connect with one another and share information about the quality of the games the service offers. As such, Steam’s built-in review system has a significant impact on video game sales. Especially in the video game industry, both professional and user-generated reviews have the potential to make or break the success of an entertainment product, and some video game publishers even go so far as to evaluate their employees based on the Metacritic scores of games that they worked on.

The recent change is part of a larger, overall plan to update Steam’s review system in the interests of helping consumers and targeting common complaints about the platform’s indicators of game quality. In a blog post published in September of last year, Valve outlined its strategy for overhauling its review aggregation process, and acknowledged the problem of “deceptive tactics” used “to generate a more positive review score,” citing as evidence the fact that reviews published by users who did not pay Steam for the game in question tend to be more positive than others, and noting the presence of entire organizations that exist to write positive reviews in exchange for payment.

Although this change was implemented several months ago, Valve decided to further restrict the impact of unpaid game reviews by excluding games that were received as gifts by other users of Steam or games that were given away by Steam during a promotion. The rationale is that users who didn’t pay for a game, even if the game in question was not provided by a developer or publisher in exchange for a positive review, are likely to have a positive opinion of a game purely because it was free.

Overall, the recent change isn’t likely to have a major impact on the Steam community, as very few games on Steam are received as gifts or as part of a giveaway. But the change is representative of a larger trend among distributors of digital content of more strictly enforcing rules on reviews. Last year, Amazon announced that it would change its community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews entirely, even when the fact that the reviews are incentivized is disclosed unless these reviews were conducted through Amazon’s Vine program. This change came after a popular blog post, published by the organization ReviewMeta, which described in detail the differences between incentivized and non-incentivized review scores.

Artificially-inflated review scores aren’t the only complaint customers have about the scoring system on Steam. The service’s Reddit community often features posts that complain about the number of reviews that are unhelpful or are failed attempts at humor.

Featured image via Pixabay

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