Valve has taken down a handful of Steam curator pages after a virtual sting operation exposed them as part of an apparent scam to obtain and resell free game keys.
In a Twitter thread posted earlier this week, Broke the researcher developer Fabrice Breton discussed the flow of free game key requests he got from Steam curators after the recent launch of his game. While some of those curator pages were undoubtedly legit, Breton suspected that many more were scammers who were using artificially inflated curator pages to get free game keys. Those free keys can then be converted into cash through gray market code resellers such as G2A, affecting legitimate sales that benefit the developer.
To separate the scam curators from the real ones, Breton said he responded to those important requests with keys to the free, limited Prologue version of the game rather than the full release. While those keys would be indistinguishable from full ones before they were redeemed, curators who are actually interested in playing the game would quickly realize the difference and get in touch with the issue.
Only a few trustees complained, “affirming that most of those emails are from scammers who didn’t even activate those keys on their account before posting a review,” as Breton put it. The games fast availability on major resale sites also suggests that many of the free keys Breton sent were not played by the recipients.
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After this little experiment, Breton says he saw “a fair number of ‘suspicious’ negative reviews” for his game from some of the curators who got the prologue keys. That included many trustees for whom chunk was the only game with a negative review and a few curators who changed their recommendation from positive to negative (probably after “evil customers came back at them” from resale sites, according to Breton).
“Those reviews are 100 percent fake because given that I sent them Prologue keys, they couldn’t play the full game,” Breton noted. And while Steam’s more direct user rating system requires reviewers to actually own and play the game being rated, a curator page can recommend or pan any game in the Steam catalog.
Reddit user darklinkpower did a deep dive into the curators who panned chunk and noted some suspicious similarities between many of them, including identical creation dates and administrators. However, all those curated pages will no longer be available as of Wednesday morning, following an apparent purge by Valve for “violation of the Steam Community rules and guidelines” (some curated pages are currently still available in Google cached versions from the past few weeks).
“Somehow I feel a little guilty about it now,” Breton writes of his apparent role in removing these trustees. “I am aware that those scammers often live in less fortunate countries where it is harder to earn a living. But they should be doing positive work, building something instead of filling our mailbox with spam and extorting the work of others. to spit.”
Breton recommended that Valve is tweaking Steam’s Curator Connect program to limit the flow of fake requests developers face and to allow developers to identify and verify trusted curators. Breton also wants Steam “not to allow curators to rate games they don’t own” [or] In any case, let players see what curated reviews have been made by playing the game and how much playing time.”