Over 2,400 Steam users had their accounts restricted for marking a negative review as helpful

The Heavy looks concerned
(Image credit: Valve)

Beneath every user review on Steam is a prompt that asks "Was this review helpful?" and lets you respond with a Yes, No, Funny, or Award option. While it makes sense that user reviews can be flagged as inappropriate and those who write them have their ability to post more restricted, it turns out that even clicking on that thumbs-up "Yes" can get you in trouble, as 2,439 people who labeled a negative review of Warlander helpful found out.

Warlander is a free-to-play game of multiplayer hacking, slashing, and magicking. Like a lot of competitive online games it uses anti-cheat software, in this case Sentry Anti-Cheat, and there are players who hate it. One, who goes by FREEDOMS117, posted a negative review earlier this year calling the anti-cheat system "suspicious", claiming that "it maintains running even when the game is closed, including tray icons" and "seems to be sending some packets of data to japan IPs while the game has already been closed."

FREEDOMS117 went on to explain how to uninstall Sentry Anti-Cheat completely, including instructions on how to remove anything it left in your registry. If you sorted Warlander's user reviews by "Most Helpful" that review was at the top, receiving not only 2,439 upvotes but also several hundred awards. 

Until mid-April, that is, when it was banned by a Steam moderator "for violating the Steam Terms of Service". You can still see the review with a direct link, but its text is now hidden.

FREEDOMS117's Steam account was then restricted for 30 days, locking all Steam community features. That made it impossible for them to post further reviews, post messages in the forums, or vote on other reviews, though their ability to play games was not affected. Anyone who gave the original review a thumbs up also had their ability to vote on reviews restricted for 30 days, as was brought to light by a post on Slashdot.

(Image credit: Valve)

Steam Support has now responded to FREEDOMS117, removing the restrictions on their account and the vote ban on others', explaining that a moderator mistook the original review for instructions on how to avoid anti-cheat software:

"Our moderators watch for content that describes how to cheat or describes how to tamper with anti-cheat systems. Those are against our rules and it looks like that is what our moderation team incorrectly identified with this case, leading to the banned review. I agree with your evaluation that this review does not fit that criteria.

"Furthermore, the mod identified this review as potentially dangerous to other players, due to some of the steps requiring registry edits. This led to the additional lock that was placed on your account and voter accounts. I can see that your review does not contain phishing links, attempts to scam or deceive players, or anything else that warrants a lock."

They went on to suggest that, rather than restoring the review, it would make more sense to reformat it as a Steam guide, given that it contains detailed instructions, and could be posted "with at least some disclosure about how the steps are 'at your own risk'. The guide could then be linked to directly from the review." They finished by noting, "We will also be following up with the developer about the behavior described in the review."

(Image credit: PLAION)

For their part, Warlander's publisher Plaion posted a support article saying Sentry Anti-Cheat had "a bug where Sentry fails to unregister the icon displayed in the task tray when Sentry Anti-Cheat Task Tray closes, which leaves the icon displayed and makes it appear that Sentry is still running." They also wrote that, "Sentry Anti-Cheat does not collect any personal information, as Sentry Anti-Cheat does not need to handle any personal information", and included instructions on how to uninstall it.

Claims about Sentry Anti-Cheat to one side, while it makes sense that Valve can restrict anyone who uses Steam reviews to post scams, abuse, or other inappropriate stuff, the fact it can extend a restriction to anyone who simply clicks a thumbs-up on it—perhaps without even realizing a review's malicious—seems like a step too far. 

Although people who upvote meme reviews with copy-pasted text and ASCII art should obviously be banned forever.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.