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.