Valve removes developer from Steam after CEO apparently threatens staff to post fake reviews
Game reviews are important. Media reviews give detailed rundowns on areas such as how engaging the storyline is, how the controls handle, and how the game compares to the dozens of others that they have tested over the last few months. But the last few years have seen an increase in the importance placed on user reviews through third-party systems such as Metacritic, or via systems built into the sales platforms themselves (e.g., Steam, GoG, etc.). These user reviews help to give context as to how the game performs across a broad range of hardware, what the community engagement and longevity is like, and how well the developers are still supporting the game. For indy games that are often ignored by mainstream media in favor of high-profile titles, these user reviews are critical.
This is why Valve decided to ban a developer, Insel Games, from selling via Steam when an email leaked via Reddit showing the CEO appearing to threaten staff’s job security if they didn’t post fake reviews of “Wild Buster.” In the email the CEO pointed out that there were only six reviews for the game, and that their company had more staff than this, implying that they were all expected to write a review for the game. Some commenters in the Reddit thread have also managed to link the names of reviewers with staff and with moderators on the games official Discord server.
Part of the email reads:
“I had send [sic] an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me disappointed. Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If [Wild Buster] fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year.
So I am asking you either of do [sic] the following: buy the game and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be re-imbursed [sic] within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you and will follow-up.”
Valve says “This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously.” While the developer’s games are no longer available for purchase, the games are still on Steam, meaning that anyone who has purchased these games can continue to play them.
Insel Games has made an official statement saying that the email “was meant to rally people’s support, including advertising the game to their family and friends, in the hope to simply get more reviews.” They apologize for the misleading wording and claim “It was never intended to threaten anyone but just state the importance of reviews for the whole company. No staff has received penalties for not buying the game or writing a review.”
Unfortunately, the CEO's actions will likely have a negative impact on the job security of Insel Games staff as a result of this ban. Although the games are still available from their own website and from the Humble Store, neither has the customer base that Steam can provide.