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June 25, 2019
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Let's get rid of Steam Keys

by David Jimenez on 09/15/16 10:29:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

By now you should have seen that Valve has changed the review system of Steam to prevent abuse of it. It happened yesterday and it generated several articles discussing the new system, or how developers reacted to it. Long story short with the new system reviews are only “worth it” if they come from a Steam purchase.

By “worth it” I mean that they provide actual value to the consumer, which I guess is the whole point of a review system. Other reviews will be hidden from now on (only accessible by clicking in the correct filters at the bottom of the page) and they will not be accounted for in the total game review score. The new system swiftly removes potential fake reviews done using free keys. Perfect! Good games will get good reviews and bad games will be put where they belong. And the typical mantra of “the cream will rise to the top” will prevail. As a developer who strives for quality and transparency this is all I can ask, right?

Unfortunately, this system also removes all the legit reviews by consumers that purchase through other storefronts. So basically it was a nuke from orbit instead of a more surgical approach, that may damage developers who did nothing wrong to begin with. One of the more affected cases are Kickstarter games.

 

Yes, I’m using an image from Terminator

If we look back a bit we can find that not only review scores were being abused; the whole system was being abused. I am talking about key scamming and key reselling fraudsters.  For example, Alex Nichiporchik reported how tinyBuild lost $450K through key reselling fraud. I have already seen people approaching us trying the whole key scamming thing. Systems like dodistribute() alleviate this problem a bit but you still get scammers in there. So, after much thinking and talking with other devs I came up with an idea.

Let’s get rid of Keys!

 

 

Seriously?

Before you think I am crazy just hear me out. If you analyze the two problems above (abuse of the review system, and key scamming) both have the same source: keys. When you think about the typical purchase process within Steam, it goes like this: the consumer finds a game, pays for it and the game gets added to his steam library. Seems even silly to discuss the process, but that last part is the important point. Why should the purchase process be any different in 3rd party sites?

 

Imagine that Valve works directly with 3rd party sites like the example of Humble without the need of the developer/publisher to be the middle-man transferring keys. The consumer would just link their Steam account to these sites and get the game added directly to their library. Exactly as if bought within Steam. Actually, I was pointed out that this was even a part of how Humble worked but it was removed at some point! 

The potential effects of getting rid of Keys

Once this system would be in place, Valve could go and forbid all reviews done through keys because effectively there would be no keys exchanged anymore.

This system would be also great for developers like me who have gone through Kickstarter or people who are using other legitimate business models or community building schemes (itch.io, selling via Twitch…). With the current system that Valve put in place yesterday, the most vocal players got silenced and their reviews went into oblivion.

As there would be no exchange of keys anymore and key scammers would get cut at the source. Which is a massive win. No more shady key reselling sites.

Hey, hey! What about press/youtuber/streamer keys? How about integrating the same system in services like dodistribute() where these people could also link a Steam account and the developer would know that they are providing access to a verified party?

Finally, what if a developer just wants to do a key give away? Let’s keep keys for that, sure. But those keys should be treated as the current system Valve has put in place, i.e. reviews from those should not count to avoid abuse. And of course it would be the developer’s responsibility not to flood the market with keys effectively throwing away the value of their product.

Obviously no system is perfect, surely flaws can be found and there should be a transition phase but all in all I think this could solve two problems we are facing with one bullet and be a win-win for developers and consumers. The system could be reinforced with things like hiding reviews that don’t meet a certain play time.


I would love to hear your opinions, let me know what you think about it in the comments or contact me on twitter @dajimba .

 


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