Steam terminates its relationship with MMO company Insel Games over alleged review manipulation

    
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Well this is... not great.

It’s really unusual to see publishers outright booted off of Steam, but Valve has done exactly that to Insel Games following reports of review manipulation. It started with a Reddit post yesterday posting an alleged email from the company’s CEO lamenting the lack of a proper review score for Wild Buster and asking all employees to purchase a copy of the game along with leaving a positive review on the game page. Apparently whatever Valve found behind the scenes was enough to convince the company that the accusations were legitimate and terminate the relationship.

Players who already own copies of Wild Buster, Guardians of Ember, or any other Insel Games titles will still be able to play the games, and they can still be purchased through other sources, but new copies cannot be obtained through Steam. We’ve reached out to Insel Games for comment on the matter and will update this post with any response we receive. [Update: We’ve included the statement made to MOP via email below.]

“Dear Community, there are several accusations and a Steam statement that we want to respond to. At the day of the Wild Buster EA launch in December an email was sent to everyone in the company telling staff (about 20 people including freelancers) how important reviews are in the Steam ecosystem and that a failure of Wild Buster would mean the company was in jeopardy. 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.

“It was never intended to threaten anyone but just state the importance of reviews for the whole company. No staff has received penalties for not buying the game or writing a review. There also never were texts or instructions provided for reviews. We sincerely apologize for the misleading wording in the email and the practice in general.

“We, the complete team behind Insel Games, will keep working on improving Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster while still providing access to our games through other channels. We hope to regain the trust of players through our future actions and are further in discussion with Steam about this incident. Until then current Steam owners or those in possession of a Steam key can continue to play normally.”

Source: Reddit, Steam via VG24/7
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Suikoden

Incredibly stupid to send that over an email. However I guarantee this is happening all over, not just Insel. The difference is that those discussions are held over a conference call, not sent out in an email.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Yes, that was the mistake, having an email trail rather than just talking to the employees like most other companies do.

Obviously this is a disgruntled worker that “spilled the beans” as the truth is it’s not an unreasonable request. Around 10 people were asked to help jump start reviews, is it really review manipulation? If indeed that is – there are a lot of investigations that need to be done and companies that need their relationship with Steam terminated.

I can’t imagine someone valuing their job so lowly that they’d rather destroy the company than help follow through with helping to jump start the reviews (10 reviews won’t have a long term impact on the game) especially being that they were going to be reimbursed. They must really hate working there to not want to help their own company out when it’s in jeopardy. Someone really wanted to stick it to the boss for daring to tell them to help out their companies game.

This happens on such a huge scale all over Steam on other games, not this little rinky dink 10 reviews thing they were trying to push that could have gone on here. The little company gets caught and punished, while the people doing this on a huge scale get away with it and go on with business as usual. It really reflects our real world well at least, but it still seems like a bum deal for the small company here.

Oh and he only pushed buying the game too. He said he couldn’t tell them what to write. Obviously you won’t want to trash your own games review score, but still he didn’t tell them that they had to write a positive review just that they had to buy the game and show that they did so. That seems a bit harsh to have their relationship terminated for something like that, especially considering the wide scale huge manipulations that go on with big companies on Steam all the time.

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kgptzac

Judging by your numerous whiteknighting replies here makes me wonder: what is your stake in this whole thing? The guy is making a thinly veiled (and very unprofessional) threat to his employees, and frankly if these sort of things being asked truly provokes my imagination that what else are those employees “supposed to do” to prevent themselves of being fired?

To me, there may be a correlation between bad management shown by the email to the fact that their business is struggling. Also by the fact that some employees leaked the email, it is clear that some, or even majority of the employees, have no confidence in their management.

It is my opinion that business under a management like this doesn’t deserve to survive. It is not ironic that at least one of their employee agrees with me.

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Gingen | Guildmarm

Considering the email in question had a line talking about how reviews will determine if the company stays afloat and then it could potentially “cost jobs”, it sounds to me like the CEO was coercing people into leaving reviews for their own game with passive threats of potential loss of employment.

The link to the image is in the sources but here it is too.
comment image

it’s pretty dumb to send an email like that.
I support Valve’s decision.

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Siphaed

It wasn’t just a hollowed threat at that point. After the “could cost jobs” line, the email gives a straight up ultimatum: Buy the game and present the receipt by Monday or you’ll get talked to personally by management (with the undertone suggesting that those who refuse will be out of a job).

That’s insane!

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Armsbend

Speak to me personally.

Lol, either that or forward it to the gaming press and end the company permanently.

Game.
Set.
Match.

Don’t treat the employees who are making your unknown game like trash.
I do love watching bad decisions manifest.

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Armsbend

Re-reading that snagged email leaves so many funny possibilities out there. The fact he has to force people to buy the game because they don’t want to.

~Buy the game you made!
But it sucks, Friday is my PUBG night. Plus, who is Duke Nuke ‘Em anyway?
~You goddamned millennials. I’ll reimburse you for it.
I sent this note to Valve to review it.
~MILLENNIALS DIE

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TotalCowage .

The frustrating thing about stories like these are that it’s standard practice across much of the industry, but you’re reliant upon whether the story takes off in the media or not as to whether you ever see any action taken to address it.

We caught Portalarium doing exactly the same things on Reddit, for example; Devs calling for review bombing Steam, claiming they needed positive coverage to stay alive, staff actually leaving reviews themselves… Portalarium even turned up in comments and tried to blur the dates and said their Community Moderator wasn’t technically on staff when he reviewed the game… but despite this hard evidence they knew they’d been caught out, nothing ever came of it via reports to Steam.

And this has a corrosive effect on public trust; when you can’t trust the system itself, when it seems the watchmen look the other way depending on favouritism or money, people become angry and would even prefer to see everything blown up, rather than continue being told they’re somehow insane to be bothered by the corruption blatantly right in front of them.

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Yaner

So basically…

It’s OK for users to manipulate review scores and review bomb games, and Valve will ignore it while doing nothing to rectify it. However, if a developer gets their employees to leave a positive review it is manipulation and terms for a contract termination.

Seems legit.

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Jeremy Barnes

uhhh…yes..

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TotalCowage .

Unfortunately, Steam has tried to address review bombing, but as always relies upon automated features and statistics.

The predictable result is that reviews that vary too far from the average get automatically hidden, thus allowing you to vote up reviews to make them look suspiciously popular, and hide them that way, as well as still review bombing downwards.

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Armsbend

There was some controversial thread the other day and one of your developers/posters got upset at the mere mention of developers being lazy.

Valve is lazy.

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Zen Coder

umm users == customers so who gives a rat’s butt, developers need to make ONLY great games, treat users (customers) with respect and flawless service and dont do anything questionable, easy recipe for a WIN

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Armsbend

I don’t think it is possible for me to think about Insel Games any less – but this is a step towards that direction.

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Mewmew

Honestly this makes me think less of Steam and Valve. This reflects the same stuff in the real world where big companies are allowed to get away with much worse on a much bigger scale, but the little guy gets a major punishment for doing something very small. Technically the only thing he did was say the Employees needed to buy the game (which has cheap low end versions, and they were to get reimbursed for it).

What would you do for a company you owned that wasn’t doing so well? Do you feel that asking your 10 employees to buy it and be reimbursed would be that shady or that horrible of a thing to do?

Would you look at the mass manipulation that the big guys do and then think at least it would be nice if your employees bought the game and helped kick start the reviews and feel that was not so horrible of a thing? Would you panic if your life, company and job depended on it and send out an email you probably shouldn’t?

Being that he didn’t say what to write in the reviews, even if you feel it’s implied, technically he did not say what to. They didn’t have to show up and show who they were on Steam and show their review, just show that they had bought the game. With these things in mind and considering what the big guys get away with daily this just seems way too big of a punishment for this company.

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Tanek

If they were manipulating reviews and review scores for their games, I’m glad Steam took action.

That said, even if all the accusations are true, it is MUCH less than some other developers are doing on the platform and Steam seems blind to most of the funny business, so I wonder why the focus here.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Right, because 10 employees buying the game will really manipulate the review scores on Steam…

This kind of thing is done on a massive scale by other companies all the time. The only difference is they don’t get caught. That was the problem and issue, sending this out in an email and getting caught.

So much review manipulation occurs on Steam all the time one way or the other, asking the employees of an extremely small team to buy a copy of the game so that they can get the reviews rolling won’t really affect long term reviews at all.

A company was desperate and is in jeopardy. The CEO panicked and unfortunately sent something out in a public email that he shouldn’t have. Something that happens all the time in this industry only without an email trail.

Obviously someone didn’t value their job at all, as this was to help their company overall and they were going to be reimbursed for the purchase and as he said, the company is in danger and people are going to lose jobs otherwise (no matter if you read is as a veiled threat, people *will* lose jobs if the games don’t do well and the company will be gone eventually).