indie developer exposes huge scam

Steam blocage chine attaque

Valve’s platform is full of good ideas, but some features are an open door to scams of all kinds.

With its ease of use and its colossal catalog Steam has quickly established itself as the main sales platform for PC gamers. Over the years, the launcher has improved offering more and more features reminiscent of what is also done on consoles. However, some additions failed to convince the firm and its community, pushing them to be abandoned and forgotten.

Some players may remember Steam curation groups, those groups created by media, organizations or others with the purpose of recommending games to an entire audience. It’s been a long time since this feature has been talked about, and very few users still seem to follow the recommendations of these groups. These no longer appear on the home screen of the store, you really have to search for them to find them. Despite this discretion, an independent developer has just discovered a very sad practice hiding behind this system, benefiting the biggest scam in PC gaming.

Blackmail and CD keys

This is an independent French studio which has brought to light these terrible excesses. Cowcat has just developed and published Brok the Investigator, an old-fashioned point’n click, well tailored for fans of the genre. Charming at first sight, the game sported a bunch of negative ratings right after its release. That might mean the game is bad, but in reality, the studio hastened to denounce a review bombingi.e. a bunch of fake ratings to harm the game.

But why do that to an indie game? Like a whistleblower, the Cowcat team decided to show the reality behind the publication of a game and the impact of Steam curation groups. When an independent game is released, many content creators, journalists and other testers flock to contact the developers to request a key to test the new title. However, it is very difficult for them to filter the astronomical quantity of emails in order to know who is sincere or not. Results, CD keys are therefore sent en masse. Unfortunately, although most requesters are well-meaning, many others have only one goal: do business on key resale sites.

To avoid this situation, the Cowcat studio has devised a scheme: send a CD key giving access to the free prologue of the game. Thus, the legitimate testers would therefore come to warn the developers of the error to obtain the correct key, while the scammers would not even realize it. Except that in the end, it was not to the taste of digital thieves…

Caught red-handed

The review bombing of Brok the Investigator therefore followed this initiative on the part of the studio. While the game had no negative ratings soon after release, it took a few days for positive ratings to turn into unpleasant comments. To the general surprise of the studio, these came from large curation groups to which the studio sent keys. And how did the developers manage to expose the scammers? It’s all about subterfuge.

These ratings are 100% wrong when you know that I sent them a key for the prologue, they couldn’t play the full game

The CD keys sent only offered the prologue of the game, and yet the comments claim to have played the entire game. The purpose of these groups was then to put pressure on independent developers to push them to send other keys. Indeed, after selling keys that do not give access to the full game, the thieves must have found themselves in trouble. Far from being taken in by this blackmail, Cowcat was therefore able to identify a whole list of curation groups with bad intentions to report them to Valve. Many independent developers suffer this kind of blackmail, ready to do anything so that their game is not at the bottom of the rankings.

This situation also reminds us that CD keys sold on resale platforms are very often thefts of this type. By buying through these resellers, no income goes to the developers and this practice is dangerous for the video game as an art and a profession. The studio therefore invites players to be careful and buy their games from official sources. Curating groups can’t harm a game too much because of their low impact on the Steam community, but their key reselling action can be fatal for small developers.