Heavy Steam users may have noticed that the customer reviews section of every store page looks a bit different as of last night. That’s because the system has changed, as Valve announced in a post last night, and the tweaks are meant to make scores more legitimate.
To do so, Valve has introduced several filters to the reviews tab; one limits customer write-ups to just a user’s native language, while the other lets them choose between game reviews by Steam purchasers, key activations or both. The latter option, which is set to reviews by Steam store customers by default, is what Valve honed in on in its post, explaining that the update comes as a preventive measure against illegitimate reviews.
"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," Valve wrote in the post.
It’s a problem critics like Jim Sterling have called out in the past as a deceptive and not uncommon practice; PCGamesN reported earlier this year that certain websites offered to give games positive marks for as low as $5.
Valve isn’t suggesting it can nip planted reviews in the bud, but the company said that filtering out game reviews based on Steam keys of any kind could keep it from influencing the average customer.
"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," Valve wrote, without giving any names of offenders.
"There are, of course, legitimate reasons why this could be true for a game ... But in many cases, the abuse is clear and obvious, such as duplicated and/or generated reviews in large batches, or reviews from accounts linked to the developer," the post continues.
"The changes made today target the main abuse we're seeing"
Developers caught playing the review score system have already been booted from Steam, according to Valve, but the bigger change for customers is that review scores now exclude ratings derived from reviews based on keys entirely. Whether their games are acquired from legitimate sources, like Humble Bundle, or oftentimes fraudulent ones like the gray market, key-buyers' feelings won’t be counted toward the overall score.
Valve said that the difference in score without the input of key activation-based reviews is generally minor, while acknowledging that there will sometimes be a marked increase or decrease. Looking at recent, controversial PC games like Batman: Arkham Knight reflects the divide between the two types of reviewers. Forty-nine percent of Steam purchasers gave it a positive rating, while 74 percent of reviews based on key activations were positive; that means the game has a mixed rating overall.
The point isn’t to stop users from obtaining games from sources other than Steam, the company maintains; instead, it’s about keeping the customer review system, which was updated for better user friendliness a few months back, balanced and in check.