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.
Following its recently announced updates to Steam store curation and game discovery, Valve announced today that it would be taking steps against "bad actors exploiting the store algorithm for financial gain." Specifically, Valve says it will start targeting game makers that use phony accounts and the addictive collectability of Steam Trading Cards to try to cash in on content-free titles.
After Steam Trading Cards launched in 2013, Valve says "demand for cards became significant enough that there was an economic opportunity worth taking advantage of." Once that happened, developers started creating "fake" games with little to no content and forcing them onto Steam by exploiting the Steam Greenlight process.
At that point, the "bad actors" could generate and give away thousands of free codes for their fake game to bot accounts. Those bots would then earn Trading Cards in the fake games and sell them on the Steam Marketplace for an easy profit.
"Even if no real players ever see or buy one of these fake games, their developers make money by farming cards," Valve says. And even though gamers generally ignore these "fake games," their mere existence on the storefront damages the recommendation algorithm that Valve sees as key to Steam's ongoing success, the company says.
Valve has tried to fight these titles by detecting the ways they game the Steam Greenlight voting system to get on Steam in the first place. Instead, Valve is now trying to "remove the economic incentive that's at the root of the problem."
From now on, Trading Card titles will now have to "reach a confidence metric that makes it clear it's actually being bought and played by genuine users" before dropping cards. Once that metric is met, even earlier players will receive cards for their prior play time.
Valve is confident that analyzing "a broad set of data for each game" will let it detect "fake" Trading Card farming games on Steam more effectively than it could detect fake vote-brigading on Steam Greenlight. More than likely, though, "bad actors" will start working almost immediately to figure out how to beat Steam's algorithms and continue raking in unearned Steam Trading Card cash. We also hope that unpopular but legitimate games don't generate "false negatives" as mere card farms.
In any case, the move continues Valve's apparent efforts to use the power of automated tools and crowdsourced user data to clean up what has turned into a massive, sprawling storefront. That's certainly cheaper and easier than hiring actual experts to monitor and evaluate what amounts to dozens of new games every day, but we'll have to see if it ends up as effective.
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