Valve is implementing some big changes to Steam Trading Cards in an effort to combat “fake games” and improve the overall Steam Store experience.
Added in 2013, Steam Trading Cards are collectibles that players could collect and trade with friends. They became more popular over time, and with that popularity came some bad eggs who wanted to take advantage of the system by releasing “fake” games on Steam to cash in on demand for cards.
“These fake developers take advantage of a feature we provide to all developers on Steam, which is the ability to generate Steam keys for their games,” Valve said in a blog post today. “They generate many thousands of these keys and hand them out to bots running Steam accounts, which then idle away in their games to collect Trading Cards. Even if no real players ever see or buy one of these fake games, their developers make money by farming cards.”
Valve of course wants to put an end to this, but it hasn’t been easy or without issue.
“We could restrict the ability for developers to generate Steam keys for their games, but we hate to degrade tools that legitimate developers are using to make their players happy,” Valve said. “We’re also not certain it would actually solve the problem–there are many ways a bad actor could try to get their game owned by all their bot accounts, and they just need to find a way to do it that costs less than they’re making from selling their Trading Cards.”
Part of the reason why Valve is taking action is because the abuse of the Card system negatively impacts the Steam Store’s algorithm that aims to spotlight the games you might be most interested in.
“The algorithm’s primary job is to chew on a lot of data about games and players, and ultimately decide which games it should show you. These Trading Card farming games produce a lot of faux data, because there’s a lot of apparent player activity around them,” Valve said. “As a result, the algorithm runs the risk of thinking that one of these games is actually a popular game that real players should see.”
As such, Valve said it has decided to “remove the economic incentive” of the Card system first by not releasing Cards until a game has reached a “confidence metric” that demonstrates that a game is actually real.
“Once a game reaches that metric, cards will drop to all users, including all the users who’ve played the game prior to that point,” Valve said. “So going forward, even if you play a game before it has Trading Cards, you’ll receive cards for your playtime when the developer adds cards and reaches the confidence metric.”
This confidence metric is derived from “a variety of pieces of data” that Valve did not disclose.
“You might wonder why the confidence metric will succeed at identifying fake games, when we weren’t being successful at using data to prevent them getting through Greenlight,” Valve said. “The reason is that Greenlight is used by a tiny subsection of Steam’s total playerbase, producing far less data overall, which makes it more easily gamed. In addition, Greenlight only allows players to vote and comment, so that data is narrow. Steam at large allows players to interact with games in many different ways, generating a broad set of data for each game, and that makes identifying fake ones an easier task.”
If this system works, the people releasing fake games will have less of an economic reason to do so, which should in turn help fix the problem. Some games (“a small number,” Valve said) will see a delay before their Cards arrive, but overall, the company said this change should have “little negative impact on other developers and players.”
“On the positive side, it should significantly improve the quality of the data being fed into the Store algorithms, which is a good thing for everyone,” Valve said.
Today’s announcement is the second of three parts in Valve’s blog post series explaining the goals and objectives of the Steam Store. The first post covered Valve’s thoughts on making a store that works for everyone and the challenges associated with that.
The third post will talk about the publishing fee for the Steam Greenlight replacement, Steam Direct. This was announced in February, and at the time, Valve said surveyed developers suggested prices ranging from $100 to $5000 per game. Presumably, Valve will announce the final fee value soon.
We’ll report back with more details as they are announced.