Steam reviews are now going to eliminate games purchased with a software key

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Steam is a digital platform for delivering video games. Among other things, Steam lets players review a game they own, and there are two ways to get a copy of a game: Buy it on Steam or receive a key to download it.

Keys can be given out by developers for review purposes, and are often used to buy games on other platforms, like Humble Bundle. When players help to fund the development of a game through a Kickstarter campaign, they usually receive a Steam key for it.

Steam reviews are aggregated to give potential buyers an idea of how well liked a game is, but a new change to the store means that reviews of games from Steam keys, though they can still be left, don’t count towards that aggregate.

The logic behind this is that developers will sometimes hand out keys to players for the express purpose of getting good reviews. There are actually groups on Steam that will do this for money: A developer pays them, gives them keys, and they assure that the game gets good reviews.

Steam wants to clamp down on this, but some developers are likely going to be hurt by it. The review system in general is broken, though, because people who like a game rarely bother to review it. People who don’t like a game, however, will write about why they don’t like it.

Not only that, but organized campaigns, by players, not developers, have been waged against games in the past using Steam reviews, usually for political purposes. Occasionally, angry gamers get wind of a game they don’t like, usually a game made by women or one which features “social justice” themes—for example, the game has a transgender character or features a person of color—and they will work the review system to downvote it.

The change to Steam’s review process likely won’t prevent harassment, but it might hurt small, independent developers who count on legitimate dispersals of keys as a way to publicize their games.

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