Indie adventure Brok the InvestiGator is currently being hit by some negative Steam curator reviews. Nothing strange about that, you might think, but there's something rotten in the state of Brok; these reviews share some common characteristics, and the dev seems to think they're coming from key reselling scammers.
Why is Brok the InvestiGator being targeted by scammers?
If you take a look at the Brok the InvestiGator Steam page, you'll see that a good chunk of curator reviews for the game are negative. This doesn't gel with the game's Very Positive Steam rating, nor the fact that according to developer Cowcat Games, those same curators had previously left positive reviews, but subsequently changed them to negative ones. So, what's going on here?
In a Twitter thread, Cowcat outlines their theory for why this might be happening. Cowcat says that many indie developers are sent lots of requests by supposed Steam curators for keys, but that these requests often come from key resellers looking to make a quick buck. As such, Cowcat decided to test their theory with a rather smart play; they sent keys for Brok the InvestiGator's prologue to curators, rather than the full game, and waited to see which curators would respond with a request for the full game.
Cowcat says that most developers didn't ask for a full game key, suggesting that those requests were from "scammers who did not even activate" the keys before trying to resell them. The theory is that those keys were resold immediately on gray market websites, leading to angry customers who thought they were getting the full game but were actually just getting the prologue. These curators then passed on those negative reviews to their Steam curator pages.
Is there any proof Brok the InvestiGator is the target of a curator scam?
There's no direct proof that these Steam curator reviews are scams, but there is some compelling circumstantial evidence, much of which Redditor darklinkpower has helpfully gathered in this post, and we subsequently confirmed. First, there's the fact that all of the curator accounts giving negative reviews were created around the same time; most were created on September 17th last year, apart from one, which was made two days later on September 19th. There are a number of other similarities, too, including similar numbers of game reviews and similar positive to negative proportions.
Most of the curators have a similar number of followers, suggesting bot inflation, and also share many of the same games in their recent review lists. What's more, the curator groups handing out negative reviews to Brok the InvestiGator all share an admin, suggesting they were set up by the same individual. This would gel with Cowcat's suggestion that the reviews are coming from a disgruntled key reseller who wants revenge for negative customer reviews. Again, this doesn't constitute concrete proof, but it's hard not to put two and two together here.
This wouldn't be the first time the gray market has been called out by the industry. Key resellers often come under fire for their misleading practices; back in 2021, 11 bit studios called reseller Kinguin "crooks" for a misleading Frostpunk 2 preorder page. Back in 2020, meanwhile, gray market platform G2A paid out $40,000 to Factorio developer Wube Software as compensation for keys illicitly sold on its marketplace.
Again, to reiterate, there's no direct proof that Brok the InvestiGator is the target of a key reseller Steam curator scam. However, the evidence is pretty compelling, and given that people seem to be digging the game in general, it's hard to imagine that the curator reviews are coming from a genuine place of dislike for the game. We'll bring you more on this as soon as we get it.