Valve Pulls Developer From Steam For Reviewing Its Own Games

Valve has cut ties with the video game company Insel Games, pulling the developer's entire library from Steam after its CEO asked staff to submit user reviews for the company's latest game.

Concept art from Wild Buster

Insel Games, a Malta-based company responsible for little-known games such as Guardians of Ember and the recently released Wild Buster, made waves yesterday when a Redditor posted an email that CEO Patrick Streppel had sent to staff, implying negative consequences for anyone who didn't buy and review their latest game.

"Sadly Wild Buster's revenue has so far not met expectations and it will be even more difficult to turn things around during the weekend as the first day is usually the strongest," Streppel wrote. "One of the major issues: the fact that we do not have a review score. [In] fact we have currently 6 reviews. If I alone count the people in [publisher] IME and Insel... I count more than 6 people.

"I had [sent] an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me pretty disappointed. Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) - but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year. So I am asking you either of do the following: buy the game and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be re-imbursed within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you and will follow up."

This email, sent on December 14, correlates to a spike in positive Steam reviews for Wild Buster.

In a post yesterday on the Steam forums, a Valve representative wrote that as a result of this new information, the store has pulled all of Insel Games' products. "The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously. For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library."

When reached by Kotaku this morning, Insel Games' Patrick Streppel confirmed that he had written the letter and said that the company plans to appeal the decision to Valve. Here's Streppel's full statement:

At the day of 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 apologise 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.

This isn't the first time Valve has cracked down on game publishers reviewing their own Steam releases. Early last year, the store removed indie game Art of Stealth after discovering that its developer had created multiple accounts to post positive reviews.


    Yeah, well, i feel terrible for the staff - their hard work is being punished by being force to do something to retain a job.

    On the other hand, im so glad valve takes these sorts of actions, its piss poor when you see 5/5 and the game is terrible.

    I hope the devs find new jobs

    Last edited 15/02/18 9:26 am

      And yet... pretty much every game's first half a dozen reviews are positive. If it's not the publisher, their staff and their aunts and uncles, it's the inevitable fanboys and girls obsessively following that dev, hardcore Kickstarter backers, or whatever.

      I more or less treat every game with a dozen reviews or less as needing a great deal more due dilligence than I might otherwise dedicate regardless of whether someone is stupid enough to get caught in the act of shilling.

      And if anyone's stuffed up here it's the staff member who forwarded on the CEO's email. Damn, they're going to be feeling pretty silly when they're looking for a new job next week.

    Keep doing stuff like this Steam, you need to get out. PC Gaming deserves better.

    Wow. Probably for the best. Sounds like a fucking heinous place to work.

    "Bring your receips and proof to me by this deadline or be prepared to explain yourself," is unquestionably intimidation.

    I've seen managers like that, before. They can't explicitly ask you to work 12hr days and forfeit all your workplace rights, but people who DO are clearly team-players. And we only promote/give hours to team-players, here. Right?

    Fucking despicable piece of trash.

      Whats worse is that by being a creating such a hostile environment for his staff they have done what they were told to do so they didn't loose their job which has resulted in the game being pulled from Steam which will most likely result in these guys loosing their jobs

      P.S.: Mr CEO, a lack of reviews is not the fault - or responsibility - of any of your staff outside of the Marketing team.

      That's what marketing is for. You do have a marketing team, right? Or you paid someone to do it? You can't do this half-assed 'get staff to violate ethics by reviewing the game they worked on' shit as a way to avoid actually paying someone to do REAL marketing.

      Steam isn't the field of dreams anymore, you can't just 'build it and they will come'.

      That's why review copies get sent out. To get reviews.
      It's kind of why they call them review copies.
      And guess what? THEY'RE FREE! They cost you nothing except a potential sale that you couldn't know if you were getting anyway! And they don't get your company banned from the biggest digital distribution platform in the world.

        Do they still count as full fledged reviews when they're marked 'received for free'? Steam has changed its algorithm up enough in recent times that I've lost track of what actually counts and what doesn't any more.

    He doesn't seem to realise what he's done wrong xD

    No no, you misunderstand, I told them how important reviews were earlier!!

    I would have thought it was against Dev TOS to do that on Steam. And the fact its the CEO saying this makes it even worse. If it was some low end manger, then the problem would be solved quickly, and they would most likely be back on Steam, BUT, due to it being the CEO, that is probably what made Valve move to just pulling them completely. The Board should replace him as soon as they can TBH.

    More like incel games.

      Bit of a chip there mate.

      Let me guess, You're one of the nice guys?

        It's a joke about their shit name.

      It's a bit of an unfortunate name, isn't it. Not their fault of course, but unfortunate.

      More like Ansell games, when your CEO screws you this hard.

    It's telling that when confronted about it, the boss doesn't dispute the shoddy reviews part, just the dodgy industrial relations part. He doth protest too much, methinks.

    It was never intended to threaten anyone

    Absolute horseshit. You don't get to say "do this dodgy thing or explain yourself to the CEO" and then publicly say you don't threaten your staff. You just don't.

    Is the difference between six reviews and 26 really that important to the success of an independent game? Seems like he's dug himself a massive hole for what would have been a minimal benefit.

    Sucks for the staff but the CEO got what he deserved, good luck ever getting a job in the industry again. Also serves as a good warning to those other dodgy bosses out there not to do the wrong thing.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now