Update 3: One of the reviewers, Terrance, spoke with us some about his experiences. You can read what he had to say here.
Update 2: Since last night, Fiverr has removed three of the gigs that allowed for Steam reviews to be purchased on their website. It should be noted, however, that the removed gigs were only the examples sent to Fiverr by TechRaptor. Currently, there are still eight other sellers on Fiverr offering Steam reviews, although it is possible Fiverr is investigating their pages further.
Update: Fiverr has responded to us with the following statement: "We take this issue very seriously. As with every marketplace built on content created by users, we rely on our community to help us identify inappropriate Gigs. The Gigs you referenced are a clear violation of our terms of service and not in the spirit of our marketplace. We are reviewing the flagged Gigs and taking the appropriate action."
Website PcgamesN has reported a sad truth, that developers can still take advantage of Steam Reviews quite easily.
In this case, PcgamesN found out that a large quantity of reviews are being advertised for sale on the website Fiverr.
Fiverr, for those who may not know, is a website that offers people items, tasks, or feedback for the low price of $5.00. So if you need something designed, created, or some other oddjob or task done, it acts as an independent marketplace where you can get your job completed.
It seems, however, that Fiverr is also host to a number of people offering their services to review games on Steam. According to Phil Iwaniuk of PcgamesN, within an hour of setting up an account and sending out a message to various members saying they would write reviews, he received thirteen replies. In cross-referencing their Steam library lists, Iwaniuk found twenty games that at least two of the people seemed to have in their library as a positive review.
Of those twenty games include Super Hexagon and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, but Iwaniuk is quick to point out that they are both quite popular on Steam and owned by a large quantity of users. Ruling them out leaves 18 games that have positive reviews attached to them. The list of similar games, according to Iwaniuk and including Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Super Hexagon, is as follows:
Blood of Magic
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Epic Character Generator
Gods Vs Humans
Home Design 3D
Moto Racer Collection
Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy
Iwaniuk also noted that each "seller" of a review has different criteria for their games; some had multiple accounts to review different games, others guaranteed playing the game for one hour before sending a review, and if you pay them extra they will play up to 10 hours of the game. Interestingly enough, none of the accounts note that they guarantee a positive review on their Fiverr page, but upon further inquiry Iwaniuk found that most of the sellers admitted through email that the review would be positive. Only one of the thirteen sellers said they do not guarantee a positive review, and even goes as far as revealing how he received his free Steam key in positive reviews on Steam itself. Due to his honesty we can state for sure that at least Blood of Magic, Home Design 3D, ShipLord, Zamarian, D3DGear, and Natural Soccer paid for reviews. It is possible, given he discloses receiving keys, that Egyptian Senet and Cat Simulator were paid for as well, and he later updated his disclosure to include the payment information.
The report notes that six of the other sellers guaranteed a positive review, and each seller has positively reviewed the list of games above. Iwaniuk has contacted several of the game developers regarding free Steam keys, and all that replied have noted they do not give out Steam keys for positive reviews. Contact with the sellers, however, says otherwise regarding reviews, and each seller believes there is nothing unethical about this practice at all.
Now, Iwaniuk is quick to point out that people should not jump to conclusions regarding this discovery, even going on to say that the entire issue is important, but not earth-shattering:
And it is important not to make generalisations or jump to conclusions here - that list doesn't tell us that anyone associated with those games are paying people to leave positive reviews. But as you join the dots, you wonder how and why they would appear so frequently in seller's review pages if they weren't.
Some are published by the developers themselves, others are published by companies who have no website, social media footprint or contact details. None are represented by major publishers, or for the most part anyone I've heard of during my time writing about games, for what that's worth.
The problem, however, comes from the honesty found in Steam Reviews being compromised for smaller, independent games. Games such as the MMO Otherland have already come under fire for having fake, paid reviews on Steam, and the problem of paid off reviews is not only relegated to the PC. Mobile games have been advertised as well on sites like reddit, offering people $1 to review and refer games on the Apple App store. Another
Now, it should be noted that Valve has wiped out user reviews in the past. One company, RosePortal Games, had numerous reviews removed from Steam on their game Epic Quest of the 4 Crystals due to RosePortal giving out free Steam codes in a "promotion" for the game. Valve ruled that this was a case of manipulation of the user review system, and even noted that most countries require reviewers to disclose if compensation was given. "Advertising laws in many countries require you to disclose any compensation for your review," stated a Valve spokesperson. "If you received anything from a publisher or developer in exchange for a user review please say so in your review." Valve has also changed their own policy to require disclosure for paid endorsements, which the Fiverr reviews would fall under, as the sellers were compensated with both a Steam code and $5.00.
The question of ethics has been brought up for a long time in video games journalism, and accusations of corruption are wide-spread. This is one case where the violation of ethics can be put not just on developers who may be supplying Steam codes to non-professionals, but those non-professionals who do not advertise that they were paid to do reviews. Developers may not even be offering Steam codes for review; it could be practically anyone who is a potential buyer and seller on a website like Fiverr, which offers a small but arguably dangerous loophole in Steam services.
Both Steam and Fiverr have been contacted for a reply. Fiverr replied, and it is posted above. Valve has not replied as of yet. We at TechRaptor will update this story with their responses if they do.
Thanks to Phil Iwaniuk of PCgamesn for reporting this story. What are your thoughts on this report? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!