Frostpunk developer 11 Bit Studios says it's done providing game keys to Steam curators largely due to the risk of resellers posing as reviewers, echoing a recent wave of complaints regarding key racketeering on Valve's platform.
"Starting today we won’t be granting game keys to Steam curators," the studio said in a tweet. "Based on our and other devs' experiences, most of the requests come from fake accounts used to gather and resell the keys and the published reviews don't seem to bring any value for the community anyway. Apparently, those issues have caught [Valve's] attention so hopefully we’ll be able to see some improvements to the curator feature soon," it added.
11 Bit Studios is also the maker of This War of Mine and the publisher of other indie hits like Children of Morta and Moonlighter, so its stance here carries some weight. However, several users – some other game devs among them – were quick to point out that Steam's Curator Connect feature does allow developers to grant trusted curators direct access to games rather than giving them keys which must be activated and can therefore be resold. This system can better weed out resellers, though Steam only allows for up to 100 copies to be shared this way.
"We know it," 11 Bit Studios PR lead Wujek Grga said in response. "But it was easy to send them the old-school way. Not working anymore though."
"You'd be surprised at the number of emails we receive with a message more-or-less like this: 'Hello, this is Curator Dude from the Totally Legit Curator on Steam. I very much love your game and Totally Legit Curator fans are waiting for a review. Please send at least 5 keys!'" 11 Bit Studios said in another tweet.
11 Bit Studios' comments come on the heels of a ban wave targeting alleged key resellers highlighted by another indie studio, Brok the InvestiGator developer Cowcat.
Shortly after Brok's launch, Cowcat noticed that some Steam curators had switched their reviews of the game from positive to negative – curiously, the very same curators who'd received demo keys rather than complete game keys. Cowcat sent demo keys to curators suspecting that legitimate reviewers would follow up seeking a full key while resellers would be raked over the coals for passing incomplete copies on to third-party websites. Given the result, it argued that the negative reviews were left out of spite.
"Those reviews are 100% fake because considering I sent them prologue keys, they couldn't play the full game," Cowcat said. "Yet I was surprised. Somehow, those curators were able to post reviews of the game on the full version page."
A total of 20 curator groups – all seemingly tied to just a few bad actors overseeing multiple fraudulent accounts – were banned shortly after Cowcat's complaints surfaced. Of course, 20 bans is a drop in the ocean for a platform like Steam, and it remains to be seen whether developments like these will prompt firmer action or even a direct response from Valve.
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