Earlier this week, a developer’s Twitter thread about shady Steam curators potentially lying to get free game codes went viral. on the thread, using a bit of a sting-like operation To back up their suspicions, the developer theorized that these shady curators take game keys and sell them instead of using them to review the game they claim to be interested in. Now, Valve has shut down some of the curators implicated in the alleged scams. And after all this, the developers behind the popular city-building survival game frostpunk have announced that they will no longer provide keys to curators.
On August 28, independent developer Cowcat, the developer behind the newly released point-and-click beat ’em up Brok—shared a now viral thread on Twitter explaining how a particular type of scam works involving curators, Steam codes, and reviews.
The quick and basic explanation is that Cowcat and other indie developers have email inboxes that are inundated with requests for code from various curators on Steam. Most of these are believed to be scammers. In an effort to see how many were dodgy, Cowcat submitted all of these curator codes, but not for the full game, just for the demo. The idea was that if the curators were legit, they would get to the end of the demo, then come over and request the full code to do a proper review. Instead, many did not, and codes for the game began to appear on key selling sites, though Cowcat does not support these types of markets. Shortly thereafter, some curators began posting negative reviews of Brok, even though none of them had received the full game. While there are a few other possibilities, it seems very likely that these curators were simply trying to scam Cowcat with some free codes that could then be resold.
In response, Cowcat contacted Valve and heard from the company, who explained that he would investigate the curators in question. It seems that Valve agreed with Cowcat and others on Reddit who believe that these particular curators were not following the rules and possibly using negative reviews as punishment for not providing keys. (Curators can leave reviews for games they don’t own.)
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At least 20 curators—many of whom posted negative reviews of Brok after receiving the keys for the demo, they have now been banned from Steam. Clicking on a link to one of these curator groups now takes you to a message from Valve stating that “This group has been removed for violating the Steam Community Rules and Guidelines.”
Of course, because anyone can quickly create a free Steam account and group and become a curator, it’s likely that many of these shady users will come back, create new lists, and continue to scam developers with codes. But this sudden public exposure of this scam could make it more difficult for those looking to get free codes. At least one game developer and publisher, 11 Bit Studios, has publicly announced will no longer provide Steam keys to curators as a result of this situation.
“Based on our experiences and those of other developers,” tweeted the frostpunk devs, “most of the [Steam curator] the requests come from fake accounts used to collect and resell the keys, and the reviews posted don’t seem to add any value to the community anyway.”
While it’s good to see Valve stepping in and trying to stop some of these scams, developers like Cowcat are still hoping the company will do more to improve the curator system. Many want more verification methods and ways to filter real users and outlets from random scammers or dubious users. Until then, it can always be a gamble to email curator codes.