Steam user reviews have ended up making a bigger difference in the ability for a game to do well on Steam. Users usually stay away from games with Mixed or even negative reviews, but those games with an overall number of positive reviews tend to at least get a look from the average fan. However, that means that developers and publishers are attempting to find new ways to use the system to their advantage. While Steam has been slow on the draw on several of their issues on their service, it looks like that they've taken action on one of the latest controversies regarding Steam reviews, specifically with Epic Quest of the Four Crystals.
The evidence was seen over at steam gifts with a promotional giveaway. In the following thread, users who posted a review for the game within 24 hours of the games release were promised 2 extra game keys as well as a free key for a strategy guide DLC to go along with the game. Now while it never indicates a positive review has to be given in exchange for this, the offering of products in exchange for reviews could easily cause a bias for the reviewer in question, as being offered free products can provide "good vibes" of sorts for the reviewer in question, possibly making a more positive result. Or it could even go the other way, where the reviewer is more harsh on the game due to the practice. Steam has now stepped in and said that the system has been abused in this specific case. There have been a few past cases where Valve has instructed developers that what they were doing was against the policies of the system (see WTfree controversy), but this is the first time in recent history that user reviews were mass deleted because of it.
tomg, a valve administrator, indicated that Aldorlea Games and RosePortal Games actions of giving gifts to leave reviews on the game is a manipulation of the Steam review system, which Valve doesn't allow. Indicating that they can not tell what reviews were tainted because of this, they deleted all user reviews at that time, but welcomed people to re-post their reviews. They also clarified that advertising laws in many countries may require people to disclose any compensation for the review, and indicated that should be in the review if that happened.
What's unclear in this stage however is where officially this rule is laid out. While common sense may tell you that this is clear user review manipulation, there's nothing on the steam reviews page that dictates this rule of any sort. It is possible however that it is part of the developers/publishers agreement to be on Steam, and that documentation is only available to developers/publishers in that case. I have reached out to RosePortal Games to get their comment on the situation and ask if they were informed specifically of the guidelines they broke, and will update the story as I get information. At this point in time, Epic Quest of the Four Crystals does have 70 reviews re-posted, having a Very Positive rating on Steam despite the problems seen with the giveaway.
Was the punishment for the key giveaway too light or too harsh in your opinion? Do you use Steam reviews often in your determination of getting a game? Let us know in the comments below!