If you write a negative review for a game, is that harassment? It is according to game developer Digital Homicide, which is suing 100 Steam users for $18 million.
After Digital Homicide developer James Romine filed a lawsuit, an Arizona judge granted a subpoena to obtain the personal “identification and associated data” of 100 anonymous Steam users. Romine alleges that the Steam group of Jane and John Does created a “hate and harassment group, Digital Homicides Poop Games.”
The group of Steam users have claimed Digital Homicide spams massive volumes of games to Steam Greenlight for dirt cheap, “hoping to get quick sales from leftover change in user’s wallets,” as well as re-skins games and re-releases them as new. Steam Greenlight removed Digital Homicide submissions once in the past, after the developer released 11 games on one day.
Kotaku delved into some allegations in Digital Homicide’s lawsuit against anonymous Steam users. They include “stalking, harassment, criminal impersonation, tortious interference, and so on. Also: being mean.” Digital Homicide previously attempted to silence game critic Jim Sterling by filing a $15 million lawsuit after Sterling criticized “every single title” created by the small company of “sockpuppet developers.”
But by going after Steam users this time, Romine evoked the wrath of Valve. By Friday evening, Valve had nuked all Digital Homicide games from the Steam Store. Bye-bye to reviews, pages and downloads; however, previously purchased Digital Homicide games still remain in a gamer’s library.
When asked about delisting Digital Homicide’s games, Valve vice president of marketing Doug Lombardi told TechRaptor, “Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers.”
Valve cracks down on Steam key abuse and fake positive reviews
Last week, Valve made significant changes to the Steam review system in an attempt to stop some developers from gaming the system to guarantee positive customer reviews. Default review scores, which show up at the top of the product page, will no longer include reviews written by users that obtained the game for free via a Steam key.
Developers are given Steam keys to hand out to gamers; some developers give out the key in exchange for positive customer review. Lots of positive reviews affect the default review score, which is what most gamers check out before deciding to purchase a game. Valve explained that the review score has “become a point of fixation for many developers, to the point where some developers are willing to employ deceptive tactics to generate a more positive review score.”
Valve called the abuse “clear and obvious.”
The majority of review score manipulation we're seeing by developers is through the process of giving out Steam keys to their game, which are then used to generate positive reviews. Some developers organize their own system using Steam keys on alternate accounts. Some organizations even offer paid services to write positive reviews.
Valve found that at least 160 games “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.”
Some gamers applauded the change, but some developers did not. Some of those devs might be the cheaters, but other indie developers were concerned the change might be the end for them. Valve will still allow reviews that are written by gamers who acquired the game outside of Steam—think Kickstarter or another crowdfunded game—and that review will still show up on the store page, but it will not contribute to the default review score.