Game accused of scamming Marketplace buyers removed from Steam

Valve has removed a game called Abstractism from Steam after a "pretty reputable and experienced" Steam Community Market trader reported over the weekend that he'd been "scammed" by an item from its Community Market. He thought—acknowledging that he wasn't paying enough attention to what he was doing—that he'd purchased the Team Fortress 2 weapon Strange Australium Rocket, a rare Team Fortress 2 weapon that can sell for well over $100. But it was actually a visually identical but different item from Abstractism, and apparently quite worthless. 

That's pretty greasy, but as YouTuber SidAlpha breaks down in the video below, it got even greasier, as developer Okalo Union changed the item details, including the image and name, not just once, but twice, in an apparent effort to erase evidence of the scam—although the URL (https://steamcommunity.com/market/listings/781600/Strange%20Professional%20Killstreak%20Australium%20Rocket%20Launcher) remains unchanged. Other of the 190+ items available in the store were predictably stupid and useless—Pepe, Putin, I think I saw a copy of the Vintage Banhammer in there, and various other bits of meme fodder, flags, ASCII art, and the like.

Other suspicions were aroused by the July 23 announcement of item drops in  Abstractism, a purported dynamic drop system with increasing gaps between drops. "You need 15 minutes to receive the first drop, 30 minutes for the second drop, 60 minutes for the third drop and so on," the developer wrote. "You receive more rare items if your playtime is long ('60 minutes' item drops are better than '15 minutes' drops) … Drops limit resets on Friday and you should be in game to allow Abstractism reset it." 

In other words, you need to have the game running for extended stretches if you want to get to the good stuff. That sounds pretty dodgy in its own right, but what raised eyebrows even higher was the high CPU usage of "steamservice.exe," which the dev claimed was necessary to enable item drops. That led people to suspect that the real purpose was cryptocurrency mining, a theory that gained traction when Okalo Union said in response to a Steam user review that, "Bitcoin is outdated, we currently use Abstractism to mine only Monero coins."   

Confusing the matters further, the item drop announcement includes a note suggesting that the user review response was a joke: "Abstractism Launcher and Abstractism Inventory Service are not Bitcoin miner (and are not Monero miner too, honestly)."

On top of all that, steamservice.exe reportedly tripped a Windows Defender warning that it was actually a trojan that could be used to execute commands by remote.   

Image source: SidAlpha

It's scammy at a bare minimum—you don't duplicate expensive Community Market items from other games and sell them at a wildly inflated price by accident, after all—and quite possibly outright malicious. I emailed Valve to ask why, in light of that, it was allowed to remain on Steam. I haven't received a reply, but 20 minutes after I clicked the "send" button, it had been taken down, which is why you don't have any live links to play with. 

"We have removed Abstractism and banned its developer from Steam for shipping unauthorized code, trolling with content, and scamming customers with deceptive in-game items," a rep said. However, the Okalo Union account is currently still live on Steam. 

The incident spotlights (again) the inherent weakness of Valve's "anything goes" approach to Steam: The lack of moderation opens the door to unscrupulous developers who will take advantage of the platform's massive population and popularity to prey on its users. Valve gets credit for removing the game after it was brought to its attention, but software like this shouldn't be approved in the first place.

Update: Perhaps it's coincidence, or maybe it's evidence of an obvious and exploitable flaw in Valve's current approach to managing games on Steam. Either way, another game running a very similar scam with Dota 2 items came to light today. It has also been removed from the platform, although another "game" by the same developer still remains available for purchase.