In a followup to our report yesterday regarding paid Steam Reviews, one of the reviewers mentioned in the report has come forward with some extra information and insight into the practice.
The reviewer, by the name of Terrence (ThatAwesomeTerr on Steam), spoke candidly with myself and Phil Iwaniuk of PcgamesN. Iwaniuk was the man who originally broke the story after investigating a number of sellers on the website Fiverr.
Terrence has noted that he wanted the contents of his comments to be made public and was not holding back on his thoughts on the matter.
For starters, Terrence notes that he always references if he was compensated for a user review. This was noted by Iwaniuk in the original article and through Terrence's own Steam page. "If there isn't my usual italicized boilerplate at the beginning of a review, then I wasn't paid or otherwise reimbursed in any way for the review I left," he stated. He specifically cites the games State of Decay and Magic: The Gathering, the two games on his list that do not have the italicized opening, as reviews he was not requested to make, nor compensated for.
Terrence goes on to note only one other time he was approached to specifically write positive review for payment, and refused to do so. According to Terrence, it is "not the most unethical nor disturbing thing I have ever been asked to do on Fiverr, but it wasn't videogame-related."
What is most interesting is when Terrence discusses how his own gig page has been targeted by Fiverr in the past. "My 'honest Steam review' gig is the only Steam review gig that Fiverr has removed (to the best of my knowledge). They've done it multiple times," he stated. "I have never seen any of the other gigs disappear from search, ever, especially not the more sketchy-phrased ones. The explanation I received from their customer service was that my gig wasn't 'part of their editorial focus.' They refused to elaborate."
It should be noted, as per an update in our original story, that Fiverr has removed at least three gig pages from their website that deal in Steam Reviews. All three accounts were examples sent into Fiverr by TechRaptor, when asking for a comment on the situation. At the time of this writing, at least eight other accounts, including Terrence's, are still active.
Terrence goes on to lament the fact that he is apparently the only reviewer on Fiverr who insisted on honesty and transparency for any compensation. He finished the short discussion with myself and Iwaniuk by discussing his feelings on the matter overall:
Speaking as someone who has supported the
#GamerGate hashtag in the past and as someone who is very interested in ethics, I don't personally find a problem with paid reviews (said the guy being paid to review stuff). As a consumer, I primarily take issue a) when the paid reviews aren't disclosed, and b) when those paying for the reviews dictate the outcome/positivity of the review. That being said, I can understand the insecurity that drives the latter behaviour.
It is clear that the issue regarding Fiverr is not done, but the bigger implication is the ethical practices of user reviews. Terrence showcases proper ethics by revealing compensation for paid reviews. The report, however, also shows the shady flipside of this practice, demonstrating several users leaving positive feedback without mentioning compensation. This is not only in violation of Steam's own policy, but also violates the Federal Trade Commission regarding the usage of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.
It is still unclear how far-reaching this issue is. As of this writing, Valve has yet to contact us regarding this story. We at TechRaptor will continue to follow and update this story as it develops.
Special thanks to Terrence for contacting us and allowing us to divulge this information.