A Maltese gaming company has been cut from the largest gaming distribution platform in the world after being caught attempting to manipulate reviews.
Insel Games, which is based in Malta and is behind titles like Wild Buster and Guardians of Ember, has had its entire library pulled from Steam after it was revealed that CEO Patrick Streppel had practically ordered his staff to write a positive review about their latest game, the aforementioned Wild Buster.
The gaming scandal has been picked up by many major gaming publications such as PC Gamer, Polygon and Kotaku.
A representative of Valve, the company that owns Steam, wrote in the Steam forums that “the publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games.”
“This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously. For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library,” the representative said.
This came after Mr Streppel’s email to employees was released. In the email, Mr Streppel says “Wild Buster’s revenue has so far not met expectations,” before asking his employees to do either of the following: “buy the game and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be reimbursed within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this.”
And apparently it worked – the email was sent on December 14th, around the same time a stream of positive reviews for Wild Buster appeared on Steam.
The email reads:
“Sadly Wild Buster’s revenue has so far not met expectations and it will be even more difficult to turn things around during the weekend as the first day is usually the strongest. One of the major issues: the fact that we do not have a review score. [In] fact we have currently 6 reviews. If I alone count the people in [publisher] IME and Insel… I count more than 6 people.
“I had [sent] an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me pretty disappointed. Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year. So I am asking you either of do the following: buy the game and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be reimbursed within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you and will follow up.”
Mr Streppel released a statement in the wake of his company’s entire library being pulled from the biggest digital gaming distribution platform.
In his statement, he said that he would be appealing the company’s decision. He also said that his email was meant to “rally people’s support, including advertising the game to their family and friends, in the hope to simply get more reviews. It was never intended to threaten anyone but just state the importance of reviews for the whole company.”
“No staff has received penalties for not buying the game or writing a review. There also never were texts or instructions provided for reviews. We sincerely apologise for the misleading wording in the email and the practice in general,” he said.
Insel Games’ banning comes as the company clamps down on rogue developers attempting to manipulate aspects of the platform. Last year the indie game Art of Stealth was pulled after it was revealed that the developer behind the game had created multiples accounts to create positive reviews.