Valve has issued sweeping changes to the way Steam tracks user reviews, with the addition of new filters and – most notably – the removal of reviews based on products acquired through Steam product keys. The reason for the latter is because the company is trying to eradicate reviews that have been incentivised – or outright paid for – by developers.
This means that, going forward, Steam review scores will be based on purchases made directly through Steam, rather than purchased on third-party sites or acquired directly from the studio. "Steam keys have always been free for developers to give out or sell through other online or retail stores," the statement from Valve reads. "That isn't changing. However, it is too easy for these keys to end up being used in ways that artificially inflate review scores."
According to Valve's analysis, games acquired via product keys are more likely to get positive review scores than those purchased direct. While the company acknowledges that this might be due to the enthusiasm of Kickstarter backers, to name one example (funder rewards are often distributed via product key), the abuse is otherwise "clear and obvious". Where that's the case, Valve will ban false reviews and end business relationships with developers who continue to violate the rules.
"Customers that received the game from a source outside of Steam (e.g. via a giveaway site, purchased from another digital or retail store, or received for testing purposes from the developer) will still be able to write a review of the game on Steam to share their experience," the statement reads. "These reviews will still be visible on the store page, but they will no longer contribute to the score."
This will naturally result in scores changing – if not dramatically – for a range of titles. In cases where a game might have a single review written by a clearly compromised source, the game will no longer have a score at all, though the review will still be visible. Meanwhile, the new filters allow Steam users to choose whether they see reviews by Steam Purchasers and / or Key Activations.
Valve writes that it will continue to tweak the review system according to frequently raised concerns, such as the weakness of the "mark as helpful" system, which can sometimes make otherwise poorly performing games appear more appealing. The full statement can be seen over here.