Earlier this year, Valve gave Steam users unconditional refunds on a game called Journey of the Light, which claimed to have seven expansive levels, but actually contained just one unbeatable area. The game was then removed from sale.
Recently, however, the developer — who goes by the moniker Lord Kres — added two new games to Steam Greenlight, Valve's increasingly wide-open window to the Steam store. This after he failed to provide evidence that there were ever additional levels for Journey of the Light and, shortly after controversy erupted, disappeared. Not the best look, given the circumstances.
Predictably, many Steam users are mystified as to why Valve even allowed Kres to submit two more games to Greenlight after he a) caused them so much trouble and b) never righted his wrongs or got his last game reinstated on Steam. They are, naturally, all up in the comments sections of his two new attempts at storming Steam's brittle walls, Turbo Snake and A.R.R.
They are not happy.
Not only that, they have noticed at least one way in which Turbo Snake and A.R.R. bear a worrisome resemblance to Journey of the Light: they both look similar to pre-assembled Unity asset packs. Now, as long as Kres ponied up for them, he hasn't done anything legally wrong, but re-purposed asset packs do not make for the next GOTY (game of the year), GOATY (game a goat would really dig), or GOATEE (a facial hairstyle). It's a crummy way to use assets people made in hopes of streamlining the development process, helping people who aren't artists or what have you bring their interesting ideas to life.
Given that situations like these are becoming increasingly common on Steam, I got in touch with Valve to ask whether they keep tabs on developers who've crossed over to the sketchy side once or twice. A Valve rep explained:
"In general, we try to have an ongoing dialog with Steam developers about how all parties can best serve gamers. If something goes wrong on a given project, we try to help make things better the next time. If we cannot get there, then tough calls have to be made to keep the customers' interests a priority. It's also worth noting the new refund policy also helps alleviate the customer risk in these situations."
They did not, however, comment on this specific instance. I also attempted to reach out to Lord Kres for the purposes of this story, but his Twitter account is gone, and he's yet to reply to me on Steam.
Still, the way things have gone down so far is telling. As per usual on Steam, users are the first line of defence. Valve didn't block Lord Kres from submitting new games, and if they reconsider, it will be because users lined up with their whistles and blew so hard that most dogs are now deaf. I've spoken to Valve about this a bit before, and that's more or less the system working as intended. It's not that they want to be completely hands-off, but they rely on users more than a traditional platform holder.
Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, this approach has some side effects. Since the whole process isn't really systematized, it's tough to know if identifying sketchy developers will actually have any effect. It's still a warning sign for other users, but there's no guarantee Valve will step in. It also leads to a culture of dogpiling on those perceived as "guilty," sometimes viciously (there are now multiple fake Lord Kres Twitter accounts, and they're not kind) and occasionally with... less evidence than might be advisable. Granted, one could also chalk that up to people being fed up with sketchy developers on Steam — knee-jerking and acting increasingly nasty because, "Really? Again?" So perhaps it's a problem that needs a less unreliable solution on Steam.
Then, of course, there's the most obvious conclusion that can be drawn here: you don't get many chances with Steam users. Much like elephants, The North, and fancy mattresses, Steam users remember. Some less-than-wholesome projects still find marginal success, but I've seen tons of instances where developers who once sold a game in bad faith or treated people poorly on Steam forums or what have you never really heard the end of it. Is that good? Sometimes. Again, warning signs for other users. Better to have too much information than too little.
But I'm curious to see how this all works out in the long run. There's a strong air of distrust in many corners of Steam, and I'm not sure it's healthy to let that ripen and ferment — for Valve, developers, or users.