Developer Insel Games has been permanently banned from Steam for encouraging employees to leave positive reviews.
Insel Games recently released its fourth game: Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan on Steam to poor sales, selling only 24,476 copies. To compare, Insel’s previous game: Guardians of Ember sold 72,648 units.
The CEO of Insel Games, Patrick Streppel, who was naturally unhappy with the game’s low numbers, encouraged employees to purchase a copy of the game and leave positive reviews on Steam. He also said that any employee who bought the game and left a positive review would be paid back.
Streppel said in an email: “Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails. And then we all will have no jobs next year.”
The email leaked and once Valve had heard of the news, it investigated all of Insel Games’ titles. On February 13th Valve released a blog post discussing Insel Games’ review manipulation. In the post Valve says that Insel has used multiple Steam accounts to post reviews for their games. “We have investigated these claims, and have identified unacceptable behavior involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the publisher of this game.”
Valve then removed all three of Insel Games’ titles from Steam and has permanently banned them from the platform.
Insel has since apologized, a representative says, “It was meant to rally people’s support, including advertising the game to their family and friends, in the hope to simply get more reviews.”
Over the last year Valve has made changes to its review system to combat review manipulation. Positive reviews can increase a game’s visibilty, which is why review manipulation is against Steam’s policies.