Earlier this week, a developer’s Twitter thread about shady Steam curators possibly lying to get free game codes went viral. in the thread, use a bit of a stitch-like operation to back up his suspicions, the developer theorized that these shady curators are taking and selling game keys rather than using them to actually rate the game they claim to be interested in. Now Valve has shut down a number of trustees involved in the alleged scam. And after all this, the developers behind the popular city-building survival game frostpunk have announced that they will no longer provide keys to trustees.
On August 28, indie developer Cowcat, the developer behind the newly released point-and-click beat ’em up chunk—shared a now viral thread on Twitter explain how a particular type of Curator, Steam Code, and Reviews scam works.
The quick and simple explanation is that Cowcat and other indie developers have email inboxes that are inundated with code requests from various curators on Steam. Most of these are considered scammers. In an effort to see how many were obscure, Cowcat sent all these curated codes, but not for the full game, just for the demo. The idea was that if the curators were legit, they would get to the end of the demo and then get in touch and ask for the full code to do a proper review. Instead, many didn’t, and codes for the game appeared on major sales sites, though Cowcat does not support these types of marketplaces. Shortly after, some curators began posting negative reviews of chunk, even though none of them had received the full game. While there are a number of other possibilities, it seems very likely that these trustees were simply trying to scam Cowcat with some free codes that could then be resold.
In response, Cowcat contacted Valve and heard back from the company, explaining that it would investigate the trustees in question. Looks like Valve agreed with Cowcat and others on Reddit who believe that these particular trustees were not following the rules and may have used negative reviews as punishment for not providing keys. (Curators can leave reviews for games they don’t own.)
At least 20 curators-many of whom posted negative reviews of chunk after receiving keys for the demo – are now banned from steam. Clicking on a link to one of these curated groups will now take you to: a message from Valve stating that “This group has been removed for violating the Steam Community Rules and Guidelines.”
Of course, since anyone can quickly create a free Steam account and group and become a curator, it’s likely that many of these shady users will return, create new lists, and continue to scam developers with codes. But this sudden, public exposure of this scam may make it harder for those looking to score free codes to flip. At least one game developer and publisher, 11 Bit Studios, has publicly announced it will no longer give trustees Steam keys as a result of this situation.
“Based on our and other developers’ experiences,” tweeted the frostpunk developers, “most of the” [Steam curator] requests come from fake accounts used to collect and resell the keys and the published reviews don’t seem to be of any value to the community anyway.”
While it’s good to see Valve stepping in and trying to put an end to some of these scams, developers like Cowcat still hope the company does more to improve its curation system. Many want more verification methods and ways to filter real users and outlets from random scammers or shady users. Until then, sending trustee codes via email can always be a gamble.