Here at Ars, we’ve covered Valve banning Steam game developers for everything from sexual content and gratuitous ultraviolence to ill-defined “trolling”. But we’ve never before seen a case where a developer got kicked off of Steam just because of its (non-infringing) name.
That’s just what happened to Emoji Evolution developer Very Positive, which said on Twitter Saturday that its developer account had been banned for “review manipulations.” Unlike other prominent examples of Steam user-review manipulation, though, Very Positive didn’t do anything to unduly skew the reviews players posted for its games.
Instead, Very Positive exploited a vagary of the Steam store’s user interface. That interface displays a game’s developer and publisher name in the same font, color, and general area as the written summary of that game’s overall user review summary (e.g., “Overwhelmingly Positive,” “Mixed,” “Mostly Negative,” etc.) Thus, it was hard for users to distinguish at a glance that the “Very Positive” developer name wasn’t an accurate summary of Emoji Evolution‘s actual user reviews (which ranged from “Mixed” to “Mostly Positive” according to screenshots).
The wrong kind of attention
Simon Carless was among the first to notice this bit of trickery, writing about it in his GameDiscoverCo newsletter on February 8. Over the next few days, word of Very Positive’s existence and actions spread among gaming news sites and social media. By February 12, the developer had been banned from Steam.
“I knew that reviews have a huge impact on the customer’s decision,” the coder behind Very Positive (who goes by the pseudonym Mike) told Vice. “I noticed that the publisher/developer name is located really close to the reviews and has the same color, and I decided to use it for my purposes.” Steam users, Mike said, “make conclusions about information when seeing familiar words and don’t spend much time reading all the words.”
Mike seems to be taking the ban in stride, promoting memes and jokey polls about the saga on Twitter. Even before the Steam ban, the Very Positive account tweeted that “to be honest the Developer and Publisher name is the best thing in the whole Emoji Evolution project,” acknowledging the bargain-basement simplicity of the game itself.
“I’ve made a really bad game – this is the only thing I’m guilty of,” Very Positive cheekily tweeted on Wednesday. “If making awful games is not allowed on Steam, why haven’t they already suspended the CDPR account?” (Zing!)
In the end, Very Positive tried to exploit a small attention glitch in Steam’s byzantine store system and failed in part because too many people gave it attention. Going forward, though, we can’t help but think a UI change on Valve’s part might be more effective (and easy to implement) than policing individual developer names for looking like “fake” review summaries. Or, as Twitter user DoctorWyrm put it (in a tweet retweeted by Very Positive), “Maybe Valve should fix their easily exploitable review system instead of just banning developers.”