Valve is cracking down on shovelware and games that violate their sales policies. Last week it was reported that Valve quietly de-listed hundreds of games from Steam. Most of the affected titles were part of the “asset-flipping” scene, that is, games made very cheaply by using pre-made textures, models, and sometimes whole game systems offered from various sources such as the Unity Asset Store. While there’s nothing wrong with using community-made assets, many of the games in question did so to meet the bare minimum requirements for being sold on Steam and offer trading cards. As explained by Valve in May, these developers primarily intended to profit off trading card sales over the sales of the games themselves. In fact, the “card-farming” scheme usually started by getting the keys into as many gamers hands as possible via cheap bundles or even giving them away to seed the card generating population.
Polygon communicated with Silicon Echo Studios, whose entire catalog of more than 200 games was de-listed as part of the sweep. (You can see a pitch for one of their games here.) According to the studio, they were unfairly targeted and their games were sold with full disclosure to their customers. The studio did acknowledge that they played fast and loose with the letter of the rules, but no harm, no foul.
“We are no heroes, we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady.”
Silicon Echo Studios has since closed their doors, presumably because their business model was destroyed. It’s a wake-up call to indie developers determined to game Steam. You can get away with a certain amount of goofiness thanks to the company’s reliance on community policing, but there is a limit. Valve is watching, and at least in terms of messing with their money, they do not abide tomfoolery forever.
The larger debate on whether or not Valve is acting fairly continues. It’s their store and their rules, but some people have expressed displeasure over the fact that Valve changes the rules without warning. How then should others trust that the rules won’t change against them? In the short-term, just what is Valve doing to combat shovelware that doesn’t violate their card-farming rules? Steam is a large enough presence in the industry that anything Valve does can have wide-ranging effects on gaming. For example, Valve can close a studio with relative ease.