A report into unethical user reviews on Steam has suggested that multiple studios have paid as little as $5 (£3.55) for positive coverage.
PCGamesN’s Phil Iwaniuk examined advertisements offering to write reviews for games released on Steam on work-for-hire website Fiverr.
Cross-referencing the Steam libraries of the users he contacted that offered to submit a positive review in exchange for a free copy of the title and/or payment, Iwaniuk found 20 titles that reappeared multiple times.
The titles that appeared on more than two Fiverr sellers’ profiles were as follows:
- Apocalypse Hotel
- Areeb World
- Blood of Magic
- Cat Simulator
- Centauri Sector
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Egyptian Senet
- Epic Character Generator
- Epic Showdown
- Garfield Kart
- Gods Vs Humans
- Home Design 3D
- Hospital Manager
- Moto Racer Collection
- Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy
- Super Hexagon
While it should be noted that any conclusions are not definitive proof, and that popular games such as Super Hexagon and Counter-Strike are likely to appear in multiple Steam libraries of any two or more users, the coincidental presence of smaller, lesser-known games in the sellers’ libraries is curious.
All of the developers of the above games were contacted for comment, with just three responding.
Shiplord creator Just1337 Studio denied the claims, stating: "Sorry, but we don't pay for reviews – we just gift a lot of keys to YouTubers, forum users, random guys from Facebook, etc."
Meanwhile, Centauri Sector dev George Neguceanu responded: "I used Fiverr for translations, proof reading texts and others things on Centauri Sector. Reviews, only two or three, from which only one was really good, the rest not so much."
D3DGear’s Richard simply asked back: "Do you need a free license to review D3DGear?"
The article sparked further comment from those who claimed to have worked on some of the accused titles.
User Cozy, who said they had created a new account to remain anonymous, said: “I worked on one of the games listed here, published by Anuman/Microids (there are several of them in the list). And, yeah, I can definitely confirm that they are doing it, having mentioned the process a few times when I was working with them.”
Another user, ‘justaguy’, added: “The creator of ShipLord randomly added me and offered me a code to his new game and wanted me to review it, and after I did he sent me a code to the game ShipLord to review.
“I believe he's just going around passing codes to people in hopes that people will leave positive reviews since it's essentially a free game for them.”
While the validity of the claims is yet to be proved by any of the parties involved, the accusations themselves are potentially damning – although not unheard of.
Last year, Rock Band developer Harmonix was forced to apologise after it was revealed that its employees were leaving five-star reviews for Rock Band 4 on Amazon and other online stores.