Valve has announced more changes coming to the Steam Customer Review system, intended to further “fine-tune the relevance and accuracy of the overall review score for each product.” Reviews from customers using gifted Steam keys and free-to-play weekend keys will no count towards a game’s overall Steam score. This is a continuation of Valve’s efforts in refining their review system, following up on their changes since early last September.
With the changes we are making now, the review score (shown at the top of store pages and in various places throughout the store such as search results) will no longer include reviews by users that received the game for free, such as via a gift, or during a free weekend. Reviews can still be written by customers that obtained the game in any of these ways, but the review will not count toward the overall review score.
The update was started earlier last week, and Valve has told its customers that “it will take a few more days for (their) system to completely update all reviews and re-calculate the scores” as the new rules begin to take effect. As such, many customers and developers can expect to see fluctuations in game ratings throughout the week.
The reasoning behind restricting the impact on Steam scores from customers using gifted keys, and keys given out on free-to-play weekends, follows that of their September 2016 restrictions. Since last September, a game’s overall Steam score stopped taking into account the ratings from reviews written by customers that activated the game through a Steam product key. This restriction was meant to prevent “Customers that received the game from a source outside of Steam”, such as through a 3rd party retailer or direct from a developer, from being able to impact the overall Steam score of the game.
This was meant to halt a rash of developer manipulation of their games’ Steam score. Valve reportedly found “developers…giving out Steam keys to their game, which are then used to generate positive reviews” either through generating these keys themselves, or via selling massive amounts of often discounted keys through 3rd party websites. The decision to restrict activated gift keys follows this reasoning, as developers could potentially still hand out these keys while they still counted as being ‘bought via Steam’. In regards to the free-to-play weekend key restrictions, this would also prevent a developer from inflating their Steam score via bot accounts participating during the free weekend en masse.
It should be noted that for games that are listed as for free or free-to-play, that “reviews by all users will continue to count toward their review score.” Additionally, reviews can still be posted by these players and read, they just will not impact the rating that the game gets on the top of it’s store page, which also influences Steam’s discovery algorithms.
When the first major changes to Steam review scores were unveiled in last September, many developers had varied reactions and thoughts on the overhaul and its impact on their games’ sales and bottom line. It remains to be seen whether these latest changes would garner a similar impact or reaction.
In the meantime, @Steam_Spy has provided updated statistics as the recalculations are underway.
.@larsiusprime the average userscore increased from 72.67% to 73.56% (Feb, 9 to Mar, 9), and the games lost 20 reviews on average
— Steam Spy (@Steam_Spy) March 10, 2017
.@larsiusprime 31.66% of games saw a userscore increase, 17.69% saw a decrease and 50.65% had no changes to their userscores
— Steam Spy (@Steam_Spy) March 10, 2017
These changes are definitely minor in comparison to the September changes, and honestly just seem like a further clarification on the earlier rules set-up by Steam. This is especially in regards to the gifted Steam keys, which technically should have counted as ‘product keys’ for the giftee. Though I am curious if I can no longer provide a rating-influencing review on any games I activate from my inventory, that I purchased for myself but stored as Gifts. The changes for free-to-play weekends feels like common sense – aside from a developer abusing the influx of weekend players to hide any fraudulent bot account reviews, it also makes sense to think that a player who has a limited time to play the game would simply not provide a very thorough review. Granted, that hasn’t stopped other Steam reviews before on occasion.
What are your thoughts on these changes to the Steam Review system? Do you feel that it will be more beneficial in the long run, or too restricting? Are you a game developer who has been impacted (positively or negatively) by these on-going changes? Let us know in the comments below!