Indie Respawn: The question of Steam Quality Control

Indie Respawn is a new weekly feature starting up here at Gaming Respawn where we take a look at the indie development scene, looking at games, interviewing developers and discussing issues the industry currently faces. Our very first Indie Respawn wasn’t planned to talk about Steam, Quality Control or Early Access, but the more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed to kick off Indie Respawn talking about one of the biggest problems I and many others have with the gaming industry and in particular, Early Access.

I’ve sat from a far for sometime now with regards to the whole Early Access issue. I purchase many games that are in Early Access, knowing that they are very early alpha builds and probably won’t work very well or won’t offer me the sustainable fun I may be seeking. I see them as an investment. The way I play Early Access games has changed over the last few years as has my opinion. I’ve never been one to complain on the forums of a game I have purchased which I can’t play or is broken because I know that it comes as part of the deal with Early Access. While a few of the games in my library have been in Early Access for years and show no signs of leaving anytime soon, I luckily haven’t invested in any of the scams which have surfaced on Steam such as The Stomping Land or Towns.

I could go on about Early Access, the pros, the cons. But that is for another Indie Respawn. If you are interested in my thoughts on Early Access in more detail, you can check out this article I wrote when Gaming Respawn just popped out of the internet womb. Instead of Early Access, in this week’s Indie Respawn I am going to discuss Steam Quality Control and why a lack of it, is ruining the industry.

Let’s start with Forsaken Uprising, one of the worst games I have ever had the misfortune of playing. I bought it for £0.19 with some Steam funds I had from selling CS:GO skins. I didn’t lose anything but what struck me was that last year, Forsaken Uprising was in Early Access and would have set you back £19.99. The game is barely worth 19p, let alone 100 times that. Somehow, it left Early Access, presumably so that the developers legally “stuck to their word” and finished the game. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the game isn’t finished or complete. It plays like a pre-pre-pre-alpha build at best so how on earth it got on to Steam’s Early Access in the first place is beyond me.

Forsaken

The game did have a huge price reduction and now costs you £1.99 and is regularly on sale for a lot lot less. The counter argument would be that it is ultimately up to gamers themselves to decide what they buy and don’t buy and that I do agree with. Valve can’t control our wallets, they don’t force us to spend money. We open up our wallets and hand over our cash. However I do feel that as a platform that is advertising these games to us, Valve has at least some responsibility to make sure that what they are allowing to be sold on Steam are actually games and can be played. And function.

Not only is this to protect consumers from the lies, bullshit and laziness by certain developers but it is to also protect the genuine developers who are trying to make a living developing games they care about. Steam and Early Access now have a negative connotation related to it. Having seen and played some of the shit developers are releasing, I am very unlikely to now purchase a game from Early Access. Not because I don’t like the idea of the game, its potential or that I don’t want to play it, but because I can no longer distinguish between who is going to deliver and finish or who is going to jump and run to the bank.

What really annoyed me and utterly shocked me though was the release of Gabe Newell Simulator last week. It was another one of these games using assets the developer purchased and just pasted into his game. Watching various videos showed that the game clearly didn’t work and was just a piece of trash. Nothing new there then. However with the name Gabe Newell in it, the developer claims that Valve’s boss personally signed it off and gave him permission to create it. The fact it is still available on Steam for a whopping £4.79 goes to show he was telling the truth. Valve therefore took a look at it and gave it the greenlight. I get the joke, but the game just isn’t funny. We know Gabe Newell can take a joke as well but if I had any shred of decency or self-respect, I would never have allowed my name to be associated with something as atrocious as the Gabe Newell Simulator.

http://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/407420/ss_3edb8d4845681eea4efd3124ae06d4ed2011a5c9.1920x1080.jpg?t=1445081579

Another game is Operation Z. Costing £7.99, yes £7.99, Operation Z is a game created using pre-purchased assets that once again are pasted in to a game which doesn’t work and has no quality to it whatsoever. There are many many more like it on Steam. These guys aren’t developers or programmers. They can’t programme a game. These games look like the very first games developers make when they are starting out, learning their trade. The difference is that before Steam and Early Access, none of them in their right mind would have considered releasing them to the public, let alone charging for them! Oh, and apart from being awful and made using assets, what do the two games above have in common? They are both in Early Access. Where does it end?

If someone wants to waste their money on such games, that is their prerogative. I am not trying to protect people from wasting their money. They can protect themselves. My issue is that it is bringing down the quality of the industry, giving it a bad look and worst of all, it is doing a disservice to those developers who put in hundreds and thousands of hours into developing their games that they care about, trying to perfect them before they release them.

How far should Valve and Steam go? It’s hard to say. They have tried handing over quality control to consumers via Steam Greenlight. We vote for what we want to see in Steam and it is scary that somehow, these are the games getting greenlit. I can only assume that either foul-play is at work or that people are being misled by “buzzwords” into voting for these types of games.

For example, let’s take the opening few lines of Operation Z from the Steam Store.

Operation Z is an open-world first person shooter. Kill zombies, destroy zombie bases, collect mutagen to upgrade weapons, complete procedural objectives and do everything you can to survive.

Open-world. A term used way too often to describe a world in which you can simply walk around in. Technically, Operation Z is open-world. The world is open but what people imagine open-world being is not what Operation Z is. Far Cry, Grand Theft Auto and Ark: Survival Evolved are open-world games. Operation Z and the like just aren’t. Buzzwords such as procedural objectives makes the game sound dynamic and flexible but in reality it is anything but. How can developers get away with this type of bullshit?

Valve once again added another feature for buyers to make use of before buying as another form of “quality control” and that was Steam Reviews. The principle is that if there are games which are just awful and not worth the money, other gamers will leave a review telling you that so that you can stay away. On paper, it sounds like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work. Trolls leave positive reviews moaning about the game or just plain old trolling. As a result, it gives the game a higher rating as the rating isn’t determined by the words written in the review but by how many positives or negatives it has. A game like Operation Z should have one of the worst ratings on Steam but instead it is “Mixed” due to these positive ratings. But yet, someone who was either brainwashed or held at gunpoint by the developer gave Operation Z a positive and stated, “Not masterpiece, but pretty fun. Next update’s description seems pretty interesting. Yet 7 violet babys out of 10.” A troll or someone being brainwashed by buzzwords? You decide.

We live in a world where common sense is hard to find. If common sense was allowed to prevail, anyone from Valve or Steam could see these games for exactly what they are. Cash grabs. Although let’s face it, they are probably hardly raking in the monies as we speak.

Valve have been known to take action though on a few rare occasions. Batman: Arkham Knight for example was pulled from Steam for the state the PC version was in when it released. I would argue though that these pathetic excuses of games are in worse playable states than Arkham Knight was, and that was still pretty bad. If Valve are able to take action against big AAA games like that, why can’t they do the same and remove this junk from Steam?

Another reason why Valve needs to do more is the false advertising which is rife throughout Steam. Buzzwords are of course one, but what about screenshots? PES 2016 was sold on Steam when it launched using screenshots grabbed from the PS4 version of the game. The PC version does not look like those screenshots. Konami are at fault for deliberately trying to mislead PC gamers but at fault are also Steam. The videos and screenshots have since been replaced, however it took Steam long enough to act before the change was made. Most purchases of the game were made when PES 2016 was advertised falsely. Even before the game launched there were countless posts in the forums calling Konami out, but yet their shouts went unheard.

So should Steam do more to prevent all of this happening on its platform? Most certainly in my opinion. Although are we all to blame for voting for this crap, trolling reviews and opening our wallets? If we can’t rely on each other, then who can rely on?

Written by

Stephen is Gaming Respawn’s Editor-in-Chief and takes care of the day-to-day running of the site. You’re most likely to see him chilling in the news section where he happens to spend most of his time covering the latest news.