Valve is in an ongoing battle with its increasingly popular digital distribution platform Steam, which serves more than 125 million active users. As the platform becomes more popular and publishes more games, Valve is constantly trying to find solutions to manage its giant community of players and publishers, in seemingly every way that doesn't involve investing in a proper customer service team.
In a move to improve the platform's user review system, Steam announced a change on Thursday night to the review score that appears at the top of store pages, search results, and other places throughout Steam—it will no longer include reviews by users who received the game for free as a gift or during a free weekend (publishers on Steam can allow players to try a game for free for a certain period of time).
In other words, if you didn't actually pay for the game, Steam cares less about your opinion.
Users who played the game for free can still write reviews, but they won't count towards the final score. The update will also not impact free-to-play games.
In the announcement, Valve said that the update aims "to improve the relevance of the score by better reflecting the sentiment expressed by invested, paying customers." It's an extension of changes Valve made in September, when it stopped counting reviews by players who activated the game with Steam keys, which some developers abused to inflate their Steam score.
This recent update could similarly prevent developers from artificially boosting their Steam scores by gifting their game or making it free for a weekend, at which point hundreds of dummy accounts will rush in and erroneously claim that Bloody Boobs is the best game of the year.
However, an interesting side-effect of this new policy is that it also deprioritized "drive-by" reviews, which has always been a debate in video games: Does a review from a player who didn't pay for the game matter less because she's not really invested in it, and hence not giving the game a fair shot? Or do people only say they like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare because they're trying to justify paying $120 for the special edition?
Valve will change Steam policy on a dime if it doesn't like the results, but at least for now, the biggest digital games distributor in the world is agreeing with the former.