173 games were removed from the Steam store yesterday, which may be a record. As Polygon reports, the removed games include titles such as Fruit Candypop, Rage Parking Simulator 2017, SHAPES4, SHAPES5, SHAPES6, and, who could forget, SHAPES7. Sure enough, SteamDB shows that all of the games in the list were updated about 18 hours ago, and none of them have Steam store pages anymore (though existing owners should still be able to play them).
Based on the titles, it seems likely that these are some of the "bad actors" Valve was talking about in May when it announced changes to Trading Cards, though we haven't yet heard from Valve or the developers of these games (Update: See Valve's response below). Back in May, Valve accused unnamed developers of releasing cheap games, sometimes just 'asset flipped' versions of previous games, solely so they could mine their own Trading Cards and then sell them.
"These fake developers take advantage of a feature we provide to all developers on Steam, which is the ability to generate Steam keys for their games," wrote Valve. "They generate many thousands of these keys and hand them out to bots running Steam accounts, which then idle away in their games to collect Trading Cards. Even if no real players ever see or buy one of these fake games, their developers make money by farming cards."
Last month, a post in Valve's developer forums indicated that it would no longer approve large batches of keys for just any game. "We're not interested in supporting trading card farming or bot networks at the expense of being able to provide value and service for players," Valve told us.
We've reached out to Valve for comment, as well as Silicon Echo, the company which published the bulk of the removed games (and has been criticized for it before).
Update: Valve has responded to our inquiry, telling us that a single "bad actor" who released games under multiple names—one of which is Silicon Echo, as mentioned above—was engaging in what Valve considers "extreme actions" by releasing "nearly-identical products," "abusing Steam keys," and "misrepresenting themselves on the Steam store." As a result, Valve says it has removed the games and ended its business relationship with the individual. "Spamming cloned games or manipulating our store tools isn’t something we will tolerate," concludes the statement. "Our priority is helping players find games they will enjoy playing."
Read the full statement from Valve below:
We have a full-time team monitoring reports and they identified an issue that lead to the removal of some titles from a few different Steamworks accounts. These accounts were generating a lot of reports and frustration from customers and other developers. It turns out that the bad actors were all the same person operating under different accounts.
What we found was a set of extreme actions by this person that was negatively impacting the functionality of the store and our tools. For example, this person was mass-shipping nearly-identical products on Steam that were impacting the store’s functionality and making it harder for players interested in finding fun games to play. This developer was also abusing Steam keys and misrepresenting themselves on the Steam store.
As a result, we have removed those games from the Steam Store and ended our business relationship with them.
The Steam platform is open, but we do ask developers to respect our customers and our policies. Spamming cloned games or manipulating our store tools isn’t something we will tolerate. Our priority is helping players find games they will enjoy playing.
Update 2: Silicon Echo, the publisher targeted by these game removals, sent a statement regarding the termination of their business relationship with Valve. Read it in full below:
We are no heroes, we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady. For example, creating more developer names even though they were on the same account and listed under the same publisher. This was done primarily for easier statistical tracking as we did not believe it to be a problem since all the games were publicly listed under the same publisher and there was no deception included. We did make a mistake here in the beginning by changing the names of publishers as well, but we were warned in time that this was not allowed and have changed it and made it right. Moreover, all the games on the Silicon Echo account have had the same customer support email precisely for people not to be deceived.
We are sure a lot of people are happy because of this, but this can have an effect on every other Steam developer as well. If some of you have games released in the past that can even remotely be considered to be asset flips or even to be using any Unity assets, you must know that there is always a chance for all your games to be simply removed from the store even though you have bought the assets fair and square and did nothing illegal or wrong. This situation has completely destroyed everything we have been working for in the past 3 years and we are forced to give up game development at this point for more that one reason. Mainly because our reputation is destroyed beyond repair, but also for financial reasons. We wish we have been warned about this before, in that case we would focus on a different business plan of development. Unfortunately for us, we have been investing in Steam Direct fees for some time now thinking that our business strategy is being approved by Valve and have been buying fees on daily basis, but the moment we stopped buying them and had about 40 or them unused, our business gets terminated. Not to mention that we have just started getting our first invested fees back. It is just bad luck for us, we guess.
For all of you who are getting ideas about making larger number of indie games to found your bigger projects, a couple of pieces of advice. Your game getting approved by Valve to be released onto Steam does apparently not mean that it is okay for you to actually just go ahead and release it. It may cause the termination of your entire business even after years of it being perfectly fine by Valve and therefore may destroy your bigger project which you have been working on for a long time.
All that being said, we do not hold anything against anyone, especially not against the hating community because in a way, we can understand their frustrations. As for Valve, we have had a good run and can hardly say it was a bad one. Looks like it is all about business, after all.