Steam Game Vanishes After Players Accuse It Of Mining Bitcoins On Their Computers [Updated]

Image: Abstractism

For the past couple of weeks, players of a PC platformer called Abstractism have suspected that something is amiss. The game has been accused of “cryptojacking” people’s machines, or clandestinely using their resources to mine for cryptocurrency. Today, after sustained outcry over the weekend, Abstractism was removed from Steam.

Abstractism appeared on Steam on March 15 and billed itself as a “trivial platformer” that seemed innocent enough at first glance. But then players noticed that this simple game about a box moving through a series of minimalist environments was making their CPUs and GPUs wheeze for mercy by requiring irregular amounts of processing power.

Steam reviews, meanwhile, began to claim that the game installed a virus disguised as a Steam.exe process.

After further analysis of the malware in question, players began posting reviews and discussion threads claiming that the game was using their machines to mine cryptocurrency.

YouTuber SidAlpha (via Eurogamer) took a closer look and came to the conclusion that it’s probably a cryptojacking operation due to the structure of its Steam item drop system, which gamifies keeping the game running for long periods of time. This would, of course, handsomely benefit cryptocurrency miners.

Cryptojacking, according to security site CSO, is tough to reliably detect because of the way hackers disguise outgoing communications, but one surefire sign of it is a sudden dip in computer performance. Abstractism’s developer chalked this up to graphics settings.

Abstractism does not mine any of cryptocurrency,” the developer said in response to a negative review posted on July 14. “Probably, you are playing on high graphics settings, because they take a bit of CPU and GPU power, required for post-processing effects rendering.”

It’s worth reiterating, though, that the game’s graphical style was about as simple as it gets. It seems strange that any of its graphical settings would make PCs sweat.

In addition, one commenter on SidAlpha’s video, Matheus Muller, claimed to have analysed the game while running it on a virtual machine — or an emulation of a computer system — and found that “this resource usage is unrelated to graphical rendering, as it persists even when the game is not being rendered or is being rendered by a separate GPU”.

He also said that Abstractism “causes a huge amount of network activity”, which is pretty weird for a single-player platformer.

Abstractism was sketchy in more overt ways, too. One user reported that the game created a scam item claiming to be a Team Fortress 2 weapon that sells for upwards of $US100 ($135) on the Steam marketplace. It spoofed the real item’s picture and name, but it didn’t actually give players anything in-game. In effect, it was a fake listing.

“I really didn’t think something could be ‘replicated’ like this,” the user wrote on TF2 site Backpack TF. “I want y’all to not be dumb af like me and be careful about this scam.”

As of this morning, Abstractism is no longer available for purchase on the Steam store. Kotaku reached out to Valve to find out why the game was removed, but as of writing, the steward of all things Steam had yet to reply. [Update - 6:56PM: Valve responded to our inquiry, saying that it “removed Abstractism and banned its developer from Steam for shipping unauthorized code, trolling, and scamming customers with deceptive in-game items.”]

Obviously, though, this serves as yet another head-rattling knock against Valve’s decision to open Steam’s floodgates wider than ever. The company has said that it will still turn away games that are “illegal, or straight up trolling”, but if it can’t consistently detect them before damage is done, why should users expect a safe experience on Steam?


Comments

    It really has been the shadiest title, seems like a lot of people have been reporting it for a while and Steam has only taken action after articles started to float around about the devs. I really do miss the days when Steam wasn't a dumpster fire.

      The only thing that ever makes Valve take action is the attention of high-profile YouTubers and gaming sites. They don't care about quality control and scammers so much as they do PR damage control.

    Not a great selling point for the proposed steam changes where they're staying hands off and letting more or less anything be sold...

      Worth noting that this game has been on Steam since before the blog post. It doesn't mean much, but it is there.

        Hmm, that would imply that their previous vetting system was equally crap :(

        You'd think, considering how much money steam makes them that they'd hire a small gaming team whose job is literally to install and play every game (yeah I know that's a lot) for at least a few hours to see if anything dodgy happens. Wouldn't be hard to develop a checklist of things to watch out for that they could tick off.

    I've been thinking that Steam is really missing the opportunity for a proper curator system.

    Let anyone upload anything to Steam, sure. Valve doesn't have the time, nor (apparently) the inclination to police the marketplace. However, this means that everyone is having to wade through a sea of crap to find the gems, unless you're just sticking to well-known titles. What if, instead, they gave users the opportunity to create 'shopfronts', where the user could wade through that sea of crap to find the gems, and then other users could just browse the gems. To rewards them for their effort, maybe they get a 0.5% cut of the sales of the game from users that came through their collection.

    It would also essentially self-regulate. If the curators acted shady and took kickbacks to include games on their stores, then the quality of the store would be crap and their users would turn to other curators.

      To be fair the announcement a couple months back said they were going to develop better ways for the community to self police games. So it's possible they'll introduce something like you suggest.

      Your idea isn't far off what already happens. You can see recommended games lists. The main difference is no monetization for the users. And to be honest, I suspect monetizing recommendations would simply provide another avenue for corruption. You'd see companies paying trusted "recommenders" to provide glowing reviews and put their games on the recommended list.

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