Surprising effect of Steam's latest review system change
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
I was completely shocked to open the Steam page for my first game Seeders today and see the customer rating suddenly changed from Mixed to Positive. Somewhere in the middle of the store page, there was a note that the review system has changed (Sept 2016) and a link to this announcement:
So what happened?
As I played with the "purchased" / "activated key" setting, I discovered that people who have bought my game consider it positive and those who got the keys via bundles are "mixed", almost bordering the negative. My games were featured in three different bundles, so number of owners via bundle is actually greater than owners who bought the game on Steam. Because of this, the "activated key" owners are a significant factor.
The Valve's change's aim was to actually prevent the opposite situation: games that use free keys to pump up the positive reviews. To quote:
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.
So while this wasn't aimed at games like mine, it actually helped to weed out those players who bought bundles for some other games and then tried a game in genre they don't really like and left a negative review.
Lessons learned for any indie to follow:
If your game's target market is some niche audience, DON'T SELL IT INTO BUNDLES. People will pick up a bundle for some other game(s) and then leave a negative review on yours.
If you still decide to bundle the game, consider twice whether you want to include Steam Trading Cards feature. Some players would only install the game for it, leave it running on their computer to get the cards. When done, they might actually play the game and possibly leave a negative review because they were never interested in the game in the first place. This isn't only a theory, it actually happened with my game.
If you have a niche game yourself, please write how this change affected your game in the comments?