We're in the process of making a couple more small changes to Steam Customer Review system as we continue to fine-tune the relevance and accuracy of the overall review score for each product.
In September, we made some adjustments to how the review score was calculated for each product. You can read about those changes and the reasoning behind it here. We're continuing with a few more changes in this direction to improve the relevance of the score by better reflecting the sentiment expressed by invested, paying customers.
With the changes we are making now, the review score (shown at the top of store pages and in various places throughout the store such as search results) will no longer include reviews by users that received the game for free, such as via a gift, or during a free weekend. Reviews can still be written by customers that obtained the game in any of these ways, but the review will not count toward the overall review score.
We started rolling out this change earlier this week, and it will take a few more days for our system to completely update all reviews and re-calculate the scores. In the meantime, you may see the review score on a game change a couple of times depending on how many reviews come from the sources mentioned above.
This change only affects games that are listed for sale on Steam. For free or free-to-play games, reviews by all users will continue to count toward their review score.
When we consider any new features or changes for Steam, our primary goal is to make customers happy. We measure that happiness by how well we are able to connect customers with great content. We’ve come to realize that in order to serve this goal we needed to move away from a small group of people here at Valve trying to predict which games would appeal to vastly different groups of customers.
Thus, over Steam’s 13-year history, we have gradually moved from a tightly curated store to a more direct distribution model. In the coming months, we are planning to take the next step in this process by removing the largest remaining obstacle to having a direct path, Greenlight. Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path and ultimately connect gamers with even more great content.
What we learned from Greenlight
After the launch of Steam Greenlight, we realized that it was a useful stepping stone for moving to a more direct distribution system, but it still left us short of that goal. Along the way, it helped us lower the barrier to publishing for many developers while delivering many great new games to Steam. There are now over 100 Greenlight titles that have made at least $1 Million each, and many of those would likely not have been published in the old, heavily curated Steam store.
These unforeseen successes made it abundantly clear that there are many different audiences on Steam, each looking for a different experience. For example, we see some people that sink thousands of hours into one or two games, while others purchase dozens of titles each year and play portions of each. Some customers are really excited about 4X strategy games, while others just buy visual novels.
Greenlight also exposed two key problems we still needed to address: improving the entire pipeline for bringing new content to Steam and finding more ways to connect customers with the types of content they wanted.
To solve these problems a lot of work was done behind the scenes, where we overhauled the developer publishing tools in Steamworks to help developers get closer to their customers. Other work has been much more visible, such as the Discovery Updates and the introduction of features like user reviews, discovery queues, user tags, streamlined refunds, and Steam Curators.
These improvements have allowed more developers to publish their games and connect with relevant gamers on Steam. One of the clearest metrics is that the average time customers spend playing games on Steam has steadily increased since the first Discovery Update. Over the same time period, the average number of titles purchased on Steam by individual customers has doubled. Both of these data points suggest that we’re achieving our goal of helping users find more games that they enjoy playing. (You can read a more detailed analysis of our recent updates here.)
A better path for digital distribution
The next step in these improvements is to establish a new direct sign-up system for developers to put their games on Steam. This new path, which we’re calling “Steam Direct,” is targeted for Spring 2017 and will replace Steam Greenlight. We will ask new developers to complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account. Once set up, developers will pay a recoupable application fee for each new title they wish to distribute, which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline.
While we have invested heavily in our content pipeline and personalized store, we’re still debating the publishing fee for Steam Direct. We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.
Just the beginning
We want to make sure Steam is a welcoming environment for all developers who are serious about treating customers fairly and making quality gaming experiences. The updates we’ve made over the past few years have been paving the way for improvements to how new titles get on to Steam, and Steam Direct represents just one more step in our ongoing process of making Steam better.
We intend to keep iterating on Steam’s shopping experience, the content pipeline and everything in between.
As we prepare to make these changes, we welcome your feedback and input on this and any other Steam issues. As always, we'll continue to read the community's discussions throughout the Steam forums and the web at large, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Last week we made some changes to the Steam user review system, which you can read about here. In the week since, we've been reading a lot of feedback from customers and game developers to see what's working and what's not. Based on this feedback, we’re making a couple of tweaks to the review system today and are working on some longer-term updates. Here are the changes made as well as some information on the changes we're still working on.
One frequent piece of feedback we’ve heard regarding the recent changes is that it has become more difficult to find and read the helpful, articulate reviews written by customers that obtained the game outside of Steam. We want to make sure that helpful reviews can be surfaced regardless of purchase source, so we're making a change to the defaults. Starting today, the review section on each product page will show reviews written by all users, regardless of purchase type. By default you'll now see reviews written by all players of the game, including Steam customers, Kickstarter backers, bundle customers, streamers, and other users that acquired the game outside of Steam.
Regardless of the default, you may prefer to see only reviews by Steam customers. So we’ve also made it so that Steam will remember the last 'purchase type' you selected to view in the review section. As you move between game pages, Steam will remember your preference and display only those reviews.
This change doesn't impact the review score. Each game's score will continue to be calculated based only on customers that purchased the game via Steam.
Some developers have pointed out that we've been inconsistent in use of color for the review score of "Mixed." We've adjusted the color of the "Mixed" text to match the icons we’ve already been using in search results. It’s kind of a yellow/tan color now.
There was some confusion in how reviews were sorted when viewing all reviews written by a particular user. It was previously sorted by 'helpful' rating of reviews by that user, which was often just a factor of the size of audience for each game reviewed. This meant that reviews on bigger games almost always were listed first in those views because there were simply more users clicking 'helpful' on reviews. This display is now sorted chronologically, so you can see what a particular user has reviewed most recently.
Work in progress:
As we mentioned in our previous announcement, we’ve been working on some changes to the ranking of ‘helpful’ reviews that appear for each product. The goal is to be able to better identify and highlight helpful reviews while hiding or lowering the prominence of unhelpful reviews. Our existing system just looks at the overall number of users that rated a review as 'helpful', but we're seeing this can produce unpredictable results. For example, sometimes unhelpful memes get rated as ‘helpful’ because people think it’s funny. So we're working on updating the system to consider more factors when deciding how to rank 'helpful' reviews so that it can generate better results. We plan on rolling out a beta soon, which you’ll be able to opt into so you can compare the sorting of helpful reviews before and after the change.
Over the past few months, we've been reading your feedback and reports on the Steam Customer Review System. In addition, we've been looking at the different ways customer reviews are being used on Steam and evaluating which aspects of the feature need the most improvement. In May of this year we made changes to highlight the recent reviews on games to better show the current state of quickly evolving products (read more about those changes here). Now we are releasing the next update, which adds more filtering and sorting options for the displayed reviews, and sets some new defaults to highlight the recent, helpful, and relevant reviews.
New Filtering Options & Defaults
We know that you have your own preferences in what information is important when you consider making a purchase. So today's update adds some options at the top of each game’s review section where you can filter the reviews you see by language, purchase source, and whether the review is positive or negative. This will let you dig in to different aspects of a game's reviews to see what other people have to say about the game and a summary of how positive those reviews are.
With the introduction of these new tools, we're setting the default filters to provide the most useful snapshot of a product's reviews for you. By default, we'll show you a summary of helpful recent reviews written by Steam customers in languages you speak. (If you speak more than one language, you can configure your preferences here.)
We are also changing the default review score that we show at the top of each product page (and in search results) to not include reviews written by users that obtained the product through a Steam key. Here's why:
The Review Score
When we introduced the Steam Customer Review System in November 26, 2013, our primary goal was, and still is, to help customers make an informed decision when considering the purchase of a new game. To achieve that goal, we've put an emphasis on written reviews that encourage customers to share their experience in a game so that other's can decide for themselves whether the game sounds like something they would enjoy playing.
As the number of reviews on any particular product grew, it became difficult to get a sense of whether customers were generally happy or unhappy with how well the game met their expectations. To make it easier to tell whether customers overall would recommend purchasing the game, we created a review score. We've intentionally kept this score as transparent as possible, by simply calculating the percentage of positive reviews.
We know this review score has become a valuable shortcut for customers to gauge how well the game is matching customer expectations. But the review score has also become a point of fixation for many developers, to the point where some developers are willing to employ deceptive tactics to generate a more positive review score.
The majority of review score manipulation we're seeing by developers is through the process of giving out Steam keys to their game, which are then used to generate positive reviews. Some developers organize their own system using Steam keys on alternate accounts. Some organizations even offer paid services to write positive reviews.
How Steam Keys Impact Review Score
Steam keys have always been free for developers to give out or sell through other online or retail stores. That isn't changing. However, it is too easy for these keys to end up being used in ways that artificially inflate review scores.
An analysis of games across Steam shows that at least 160 titles have a substantially greater percentage of positive reviews by users that activated the product with a cd key, compared to customers that purchased the game directly on Steam. There are, of course, legitimate reasons why this could be true for a game: Some games have strong audiences off Steam, and some games have passionate early adopters or Kickstarter backers that are much more invested in the game.
But in many cases, the abuse is clear and obvious, such as duplicated and/or generated reviews in large batches, or reviews from accounts linked to the developer. In those cases, we've now taken action by banning the false reviews and will be ending business relationships with developers that continue violating our rules.
While helpful users in the community have been valuable in reporting instances of abuse, it's becoming increasingly difficult to detect when this is happening, which reviews from Steam Keys are legitimate, and which are artificially influenced.
Changes To The Review Score
As a result of this, we are making some changes to how review scores are calculated. As of today, the recent and overall review scores we show at the top of a product page will no longer include reviews written by customers that activated the game through a Steam product key.
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. These reviews will still be visible on the store page, but they will no longer contribute to the score.
This does mean that the review score category shown for about 14% of games will change; some up and some down. Most changes in the review score category are a result of games being on the edge of review score cut-offs such as 69% positive or 70% positive. A change of 1% in these cases can mean the difference between a review score category of "Mixed" and "Positive". About 200 titles that only had one or two reviews will no longer have a score at all until a review is written by a customer that purchased that item via Steam. In all of these cases, the written reviews still exist and can easily be found in the review section on that store page.
We are aware that these changes do not address all of the feedback and suggestions presented by members of the Steam community. We are working to address these other issues, which mainly pertain to the helpfulness of reviews:
There are some titles where the most helpful reviews don't seem to accurately match the general customer sentiment. For example, there are a couple of prominent titles that have review scores of 'positive' but all the reviews marked as helpful are negative. We need to look at this to figure out how to represent cases where the community has highly divergent opinions.
There are some titles where a small group of users are able to consistently mark specific reviews as helpful, and as a result can present a skewed perception of what customers are saying about the game. This is obviously not ideal, so we're looking at ways to ensure that a few users don't have outsized influence over the system.
Some off-topic reviews get marked as 'helpful' simply because they are funny. These don't appear to actually be helpful in determining whether you should buy the game, so we're working on some ways to better detect and filter out these.
We know that Steam customer reviews can only be valuable in aiding you as long as you can trust the data we're presenting. The changes made today target the main abuse we're seeing, and give you more control over the information you see when evaluating a game.
One common theme we've been seeing in customer feedback about the Steam review system is that it isn't always easy to tell what the current experience is like in a game months after release. This new set of changes released today is designed to better describe the current customer experience in those games. We do this by better exposing the newly posted reviews and by calculating a summary of those recent reviews.
Visibility For Recently Posted Reviews
While there are plenty of new reviews posted every day, we saw that it was often difficult for newer reviews to be seen and voted on enough to become listed as most helpful. As a result, the most helpful reviews presented on a store page would often describe an outdated view of a game that might have changed dramatically over the course of Early Access or post-release development. By listing recently posted reviews more prominently and by defaulting to recent helpful reviews, Steam can now show a more current idea of what it's like to play the game now.
Recent Review Score
Another problem we identified was that review score that appears at the top of a product page didn't always reflect the dynamic nature of the game. For that review score, we'd previously only been compiling an overall score using a simple calculation of the percentage of all reviews that were positive. This let us be really transparent in how the score was being calculated, but didn't accommodate cases when a game has changed a lot (for better or worse) over time.
To address that, we've now added a Recent review score that calculates the positive percentage of reviews within the past 30 days (as long as there are enough reviews posted within those 30 days and as long as the game has been available on Steam for at least 45 days). The overall score is still present as well in case you still find that information helpful.
Other Review Updates
In addition to the above updates, we've made a few other changes:
The customer review section on a game's store page has a new "Summary" tab that focuses on recent helpful reviews and recently posted reviews. You can still find overall most help reviews by selecting "Most Helpful" tab.
There's a new checkbox when writing a review to more easily disclose if you received the copy of the game for free.
You can now view all reviews regardless of language by selecting "All Languages" from the language dropdown in the reviews tab of the Community Hub for the game.
For a number of years we’ve had a system in place to notify you when a game on your Steam Wishlist goes on a certain type of sale such as Midweek Madness or Daily Deal. Then about a year and a half ago, we began also sending notifications for the release of popular games to people with that game on their Steam Wishlist. This has expanded over time to include more releasing titles, but we haven’t been ready to turn it on for all new releases until now.
As of today, there are now more opportunities for you to receive e-mail notifications about the games on Steam you are interested in and more options for you to opt out of specific kinds of notifications you are not interested in. Here are the new options:
More Discount Types If a game is on your Steam Wishlist, we’ll now send you an e-mail if any type of discount is applied on that game. This includes Midweek Madness, Weekend Deal, Daily Deal, and now Weeklong Deals (which start on Mondays and run for a week) as well as any custom configured discounts which developers can define to start and end on other days of the week.
More New Releases If a game is on your Steam Wishlist, we’ll now send you an e-mail when that game has released or transitioned out of Early Access. If you browse through upcoming releases or if you’ve happened to find an upcoming title you’re interested in and added it to your wishlist, we’ll send you an e-mail when that game becomes playable on Steam. Also, we’ll let you know if a game on your wishlist transitions from Early Access to fully-released.
Games You’ve Followed or Favorited in Greenlight If you’ve participated in voting on Games in Steam Greenlight and opted to Follow or Favorite one of those games, we’ll now let you know when that game becomes playable on Steam.
Managing E-mail Preferences We know that not everyone may want these e-mail notifications, so we’ve made it easy to opt out of specific types of notifications or all e-mails entirely. Just follow this link to manage your preferences: https://store.steampowered.com/account/emailoptout. You can also find this link on the bottom of any official Steam marketing e-mail you receive.
Do you want more types of e-mail notifications? Have feedback on notifications in general? Let us know in the Steam Suggestions forums.
Recently we walked through our thinking on account security and trading http://store.steampowered.com/news/19618/, and introduced some new tools for users to protect their accounts. Now that we've had some time to gather data, we'll be making a few more changes to account security, market transactions, and our account restoration process.
Below are the changes that will take place on March 9th. If you are already protected by the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator (or if you add the security feature to your account today), the first two points below will not impact you:
Trade hold duration will be increased to 15 days (for long-time Steam friends the duration will remain 1 day)
Listing on the Steam Community Market will have a hold of 15 days before an item can be sold
Steam Support will no longer restore items that have left accounts following a successful trade or market transaction (a process that previously created duplicates of original items)
To help understand these changes, we wanted to walk you through the results we've seen so far and our reasoning behind these next steps.
First, it's worth revisiting our goals behind the two main ways customers interact with in-game economies on Steam: Trading and the Steam Community Market. Our primary goal for Trading is to allow customers to easily exchange items with their friends. Our goal for the Steam Community Market is to provide customers with a way to sell any unwanted goods to other players. Both systems work well for these purposes, but they can be a source of pain if the security of your account is ever compromised.
Account and Item Theft
In December we took steps to improve account security by adding more security features, including the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator and trade holds.
Since then, we've seen lots of users adopting the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator (two-factor authentication) for trade and market confirmations, and now roughly 95% of daily trades use the mobile authenticator, with trade volumes as high as ever. The authenticator is the best tool that users have to protect their accounts, and the fastest and most secure way to trade items.
For users who have yet to transition to the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator, trade holds provide a way to continue to exchange items. Items in a trade hold are held by Steam for a period of time before delivery. This allows users whose accounts have been compromised to quickly cancel any fraudulent trades to recover their items. Trade holds are effective, but unfortunately the current three-day hold fails to protect users who log in less frequently and who need more time to identify a problem. So we'll be adjusting the system to accommodate the majority of customers by increasing trade holds to 15 days.
If you're exchanging items with a friend, and you've been friends for more than a year, don't worry - the trade hold duration is still one day.
Trade holds have been successful, but until now they've been limited to trades. If the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator was not enabled on a user's account, it was still possible for a hacker to quickly liquidate a user's inventory through the Steam Community Market. To further protect users who haven't enabled the authenticator, holds will now also apply when you list items on the Steam Community Market. Market listing (like trades) will still be instantaneous if you're using the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator.
Since the last account security update, we've made significant progress in protecting accounts. In addition to significantly increasing the size of Steam Support to improve response times, individual accounts protected by the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator on a separate device turned out to be even more effective than we'd hoped. For customers who have yet to add the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator, trade holds have been helpful in keeping items secure, and we expect that the added duration and extension of holds to the Steam Community Market will further improve security.
Our work isn't finished, but we've seen enough progress in account security to finally address an old problem: item duplication. Currently, if an account is compromised and items have been lost through a successful trade or market transaction, we would manually restore the items, creating duplicates of the original items in the process. That process of manual restoration and duplication has the negative side effect of changing an item's scarcity - as more copies of the item are created, the value of every other similar item is reduced. In addition, it created a method by which users could be rewarded for faking account hijacks.
While we'll continue to assist users with the recovery of their account if they encounter an issue, beginning March 9th we will no longer be manually restoring items that have left the account due to a successful trade or market transaction.
There's a delicate balance between account security and the convenience of interacting with the market or trade. Any time we make changes, there's the risk of significant disruption. We recognize that today's changes will be inconvenient for users who have yet (or are unable) to use the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator. But if you're a high volume trader (who our data shows is likely using the authenticator already), or a trader who likes to exchange items with friends, these changes won't really affect you at all. We believe these steps are necessary to ensure that accounts are made more secure, that users are empowered to identify and solve problems, and that the economic systems enjoyed by millions of customers are not compromised by people with malicious intent.
Account security is an issue that affects everyone, and we hope this post has helped to explain our goals and reasoning as we move forward. Please continue to provide your feedback and account security ideas in the Steam forums and elsewhere on the web.
The biggest change relates to Valve now selling hardware in the European Union (EU), specifically the Steam Controller and Link. Going forward, our hardware distribution in Europe will be the primary responsibility of our Luxembourg subsidiary, known as Valve SARL. Meanwhile digital content and services in Europe move back under our US company, Valve Corp., just as they were before the Luxembourg office opened in July 2012.
In practice, this changes nothing for our European customers. We will continue to operate with respect to relevant European laws, such as local data and consumer protection, and we'll continue to provide the same services we have for years.
Those who simply want to keep playing their games and are not making a purchase at this time are free to simply ignore the SSA update for now. It only takes effect for users who explicitly confirm it, usually during a new purchase.
We'd like to follow up with more information regarding Steam's troubled Christmas.
On December 25th, a configuration error resulted in some users seeing Steam Store pages generated for other users. Between 11:50 PST and 13:20 PST store page requests for about 34k users, which contained sensitive personal information, may have been returned and seen by other users.
The content of these requests varied by page, but some pages included a Steam user’s billing address, the last four digits of their Steam Guard phone number, their purchase history, the last two digits of their credit card number, and/or their email address. These cached requests did not include full credit card numbers, user passwords, or enough data to allow logging in as or completing a transaction as another user.
If you did not browse a Steam Store page with your personal information (such as your account page or a checkout page) in this time frame, that information could not have been shown to another user.
Valve is currently working with our web caching partner to identify users whose information was served to other users, and will be contacting those affected once they have been identified. As no unauthorized actions were allowed on accounts beyond the viewing of cached page information, no additional action is required by users.
How it happened
Early Christmas morning (Pacific Standard Time), the Steam Store was the target of a DoS attack which prevented the serving of store pages to users. Attacks against the Steam Store, and Steam in general, are a regular occurrence that Valve handles both directly and with the help of partner companies, and typically do not impact Steam users. During the Christmas attack, traffic to the Steam store increased 2000% over the average traffic during the Steam Sale.
In response to this specific attack, caching rules managed by a Steam web caching partner were deployed in order to both minimize the impact on Steam Store servers and continue to route legitimate user traffic. During the second wave of this attack, a second caching configuration was deployed that incorrectly cached web traffic for authenticated users. This configuration error resulted in some users seeing Steam Store responses which were generated for other users. Incorrect Store responses varied from users seeing the front page of the Store displayed in the wrong language, to seeing the account page of another user.
Once this error was identified, the Steam Store was shut down and a new caching configuration was deployed. The Steam Store remained down until we had reviewed all caching configurations, and we received confirmation that the latest configurations had been deployed to all partner servers and that all cached data on edge servers had been purged.
We will continue to work with our web caching partner to identify affected users and to improve the process used to set caching rules going forward. We apologize to everyone whose personal information was exposed by this error, and for interruption of Steam Store service.
We've seen a lot of Steam users lose access to their Steam accounts. Most often it’s because an attacker has compromised a user's email account. That email account can then be used to change the password and email address on that user's Steam account, blocking access to their games and items.
There are several methods attackers use that are hard to combat: malware in the guise of other programs like a ‘TeamSpeak update or missing audio codec’ or a ‘CS:GO weapon upgrader!’, malware disguised as images and screenshots, identifying users who reuse passwords on their Steam and email accounts, or via an exploit in their web browser or operating system.
It's a complicated situation and even very sophisticated Steam users can fall victim. Any Steam user who has made a purchase or earned a trading card has value in their account and should use these new features to protect it and all the time invested.