Indie dev takes aim at Steam’s BROK-en curator system

For many indie developers, a lack of exposure can spell disaster for their newest release.

It may sound exaggerated or even disingenuous — and as a longtime freelancer, I can attest that I’m not paying any bills with goddamn exposure — but all it takes is a little bit of word-of-mouth, here and there, to create a groundswell of interest.

In much the same way that the media proves a necessary evil, we then end up with a reliance on curators. Consider them to be an equivalent to influencers if you’d like, anointing releases with their blessing and therein spreading the word among their many followers.

Ergo, devs will supply free keys to curators, in the hopes that they’ll respond with a positive review. Ideally, it’ll generate subsequent revenue, and everyone comes out a winner. Whether it’s a symbiotic relationship or a parasitic one, is really a matter of perspective.

Recently, one such dev has flagged something troubling in this process, and it has quickly led to a widespread discussion about legitimacy, accountability and the seedy underbelly that is the digital marketplace.

French solo developer Fabrice Breton, who tweets under the company nom de plume COWCAT, began a Twitter thread claiming that curators were review bombing his recent release, BROK the InvestiGator.

Since its launch last week, the beat-em-up/point-and-click title has attained a ‘very positive’ review score on Steam, with 98% of the 104 user reviews (as of the time of writing) providing their recommendation.

A handful of curators, on the other hand, were not nearly as enthusiastic.

“The game promises much, but rather fails to deliver in most respects,” opined one review that Breton had linked in the aforementioned thread.

“Hurts to look at, hurts even more to play,” another chided.

“You definitely shouldn’t be playing this,” a third declared.

Sounds harsh, but not unreasonable, right? The twist, however, is that the keys Breton had supplied these curators with were for the prologue version of the game, not the full release that these reviews were somehow still directed at.

Breton went on to state that though some of the recipients came back to him to query why these keys were not for the full release, most did not, confirming his suspicion that they had never intended to even play the game.

So why the chicanery? To prove a point and weed out the dubious curators? Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that many of these keys end up landing on websites to be resold, with dodgy curators pocketing the profit.

Courtesy of COWCATGames

Breton’s theory is that when the keys were eventually redeemed and the purchaser had ended up with an incomplete product, they voiced their displeasure with the curator who had sold it to them. In turn, said curators (some of who Breton claims had originally given positive reviews) commenced review bombing BROK the InvestiGator.

“I can’t exactly prove it but I don’t see any other reason my game would be the only one targetted [sic] like this,” Breton laments. “Maybe it’s even one single person behind all those fake curators.”

The Twitter thread quickly took traction, with various news outlets reporting the allegations (and/or alleGators), including Kotaku, TechRaptor and PC Gamer.

Had this matter ended right here, Breton would have had convincing, albeit somewhat circumstantial evidence to back up his averments. What came next was a classic example of scammers telling on themselves.

As mentioned in the PC Gamer article, a Reddit thread from user darklinkpower investigated the chary nature of the besmirched curators. They called into question the similarity of the dates these accounts were created, follower counts (with the possibility these were inflated by bots) and the number of games they had recommended.

A later edit revealed that each of the curator groups shared the same administrator, all but confirming Breton’s grievances. Once this began blowing up in their faces, the outed reviewers changed their tune, suddenly rejoicing in how wonderful BROK was.

The game that promises much, yet fails to deliver was now, “a breath of fresh air in the classic adventure genre”.

No longer did it hurt to look at and hurt even more to play, instead it, “stands out from the competition due to an exciting storyline and great voice over”.

Should you definitely not be playing this? Why, no, friend! Emphatically, “you should definitely play this!”

…Side note, I am totally reading that username as Dark Kink Power. It’s much more enjoyable to believe an arbiter of justice undertook this analysis while chained to a wall somewhere.

Though none of the above news outlets had received a response from Valve as of the time of writing, clearly they are taking note: upon trying to locate these curators on Steam, it appears as though their accounts have been removed from the platform.

I’ve reached out to several of the accused curators directly, but as of yet, I have not received a reply. It’s also worth mentioning that, as of the time of writing, BROK the InvestiGator now has zero negative curator reviews on Steam.

The major takeaway from this is, as always, to exercise caution when relying on the opinions of others. There are those out there who would use their perceived influence for personal gain, and when mass review bombing occurs, it’s worth a little sleuthing to uncover whether there’s an agenda at play.

Feel free to point out the irony that that statement right there is, in fact, my own opinion and therefore just as subject to suspicion as anyone else’s.

But hey, kudos to those who dug a little deeper to reveal the truth. BROK would be proud.

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