Steam had to drop the ban hammer this past week, severing ties with a publisher deemed to be padding user review scores of their own titles. So if you were looking to pick up Guardians of Ember or Wild Buster sometime soon, you'll have to seek out another marketplace.
We initially heard about this kerfuffle via the Guardians of Ember Steam page. If you head there, or to any other page previously belonging to an Insel Games Ltd. title, you'll discover a statement from Steam regarding review manipulation.
According to the report, Steam was aware of claims that many of Insel Games' user reviews were written by accounts tied to the company itself. The Steam team started to dig into the reports and discovered "unacceptable behavior" for Insel's user reviews, specifically an influx of positive reviews of their games.
As Steam points out, this is a violation of their user policy, which resulted in all of Insel's games being pulled from the storefront. As the announcement points out, anyone who already owns those games can still play them from Steam, but we imagine they will no longer be supported by Insel the Steam service.
Perusing some of the comments, it seems like the reaction from the community is mostly positive. Some argue that this should just be seen as a form of the company "self-promoting" its games, while others feel that it's little more than customer manipulation.
Based on a report from Kotaku, a specific email proved the most damning in this particular case. A letter surfaced from Insel CEO Patrick Streppel encouraging employees to purchase and review the game. It's noted in that email that Streppel cannot force employees to buy the game or write a review, much less control the content of said review. However, Steam felt the implications were pretty clear and, based on the timing of the email and a sudden spike in positive reviews for Insel games, it stands to reason that discussions held "individually and privately" concerning staff and reviews had an impact.
For their part, Insel is claiming they never meant to mislead the community or that they wanted to be perceived as threatening employees to write positive reviews for their own games. They're appealing Valve's decision to pull all of their games from the storefront. In the meantime, they said they'll continue selling and supporting their titles through other channels.
This isn't the first time Steam has had to take this type of action, but it seems like potentially their biggest reaction to date. Review policies exist for a reason and, even without them, we figure many folks would agree that reviewing your own product under the guise of being just an average Joe is sketchy at best. Of course, we'd be interested in hearing your take in the comments below.