A collection of simple and poorly made indie games have been receiving lots of positive review scores lately. How is it possible if they’re poorly made? Well, with the help of bots.
Kotaku in Action and PC Master Race both have threads up that details how a series of review bots have been seemingly brigading the review pages for select indie games, giving them thumbs up and short reviews indicating that they’re games worth playing.
The sleuths on Reddit figured out that there was a connection between each of the games and that the hundreds of bots were reviewing the games in packs of three. The pattern would sometimes change with some other indie title mixed in, but most times the bots would review three games, and each bot had a developer’s badge. There’s an archive for one of the bots showcasing the three games reviewed on its profile.
The titles were typically ZombieRush, Base Squad 49 and Lands of Devastation. The one thing each of these little known games had in common was that they had hundreds of reviews on file even though they’ve received practically no coverage and have not been widely featured on Steam or in games media outside of Steam.
The reviews in an archive of the ZombieRush page shows that a bunch of bot-named users were posting things like “Don’t Serious It’s Fun” and “funny and basic game”. Hundreds of these kinds of reviews were on the game’s page, drowning out the handful of negative reviews from the only few real humans who actually played it. At one point ZombieRush had managed to gain an Overwhelmingly Positive score thanks to all the bots.
User balkep managed to screencap a group of the bots playing an upcoming game called Electric Zombies!, which is supposedly due to release soon. It’s made by Rai Studios, the same group behind Base Squad 49 and Lands of Devastation. As you can see in the image below, there are nearly 1,000 members in the group and all of them are playing Electric Zombies!… well ahead of the game’s release.
This would allow the bots to have some play-time on their profile and would enable some to post pre-release reviews while others would presumably have post-release reviews, just like with ZombieRush and Base Squad 49.
The tactic would inevitably catapult a game like Electronic Zombies! high up the ranks with hundreds of positive reviews, so that it would likely end up in the recommendation list of those who regularly play zombie survival titles.
Following the pitchfork and torch phase on Reddit, this little scheme managed to catch the eye of the chart-tracking statisticians, Steam Spy. They took to Twitter to let people know that some indie devs have wizened up and figured out how to game the system with bot reviews.
Looks like someone figured out bot reviews on Steam pic.twitter.com/AiGWnnaWbD
— Steam Spy (@Steam_Spy) June 10, 2016
Following this little escapade the folks on Kotaku in Action put together an e-mail campaign to Valve owner Gabe Newell, as well as the staff at Steam to let them know about the bots being used to promote these games through fabricated reviews.
This has become one of the roles of #GamerGate now that it works as a watch dog over video game and media related scandals.
Following the e-mail campaign many of the bot reviews have been removed from the aforementioned titles. Some of them still have several hundred reviews on hand, but most of the positive reviews are no longer visible or have been deleted altogether.
In the case of Lands of Devastation and ZombieRush, both games are no longer available for purchase, and the same applies to Base Squad 49. And even though there are still some bot-style reviews on hand for Base Squad 49, the majority of the positive reviews from the bots have been cleaned up and removed.
While Valve appeared to be quick in responding to the issue, the problem is that now some developers with less-than-stellar products will be attempting to use bots to game the system and get their game more visibility on the popular digital distribution storefront.