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Insel Games removed from Steam for strong arming employees to review its own game

Maltese video game publisher Insel Games has been under fire recently, as an employee email leaked suggesting that it was pressuring its staff to write positive emails on its latest title Wild Busters. Strictly prohibited in Valve’s terms and conditions, this has led to the studio being forcibly removed from selling any products, prior or new on the Steam marketplace.

The publisher was exposed in a trending Reddit thread that detailed a screenshot of an email sent out by Insel Games’ CEO and co-founder Patrick Streppel. While the email rightfully has all personal information redacted, the CEO can be seen concerned about the success of its crowdfunded MMO, title Wild Busters.

“Sadly, Wild Busters revenue has so far not met expectations and it will be even more difficult to turn things around during the weekend as the first day is usually the strongest,” explains Streppel. “One of the major issues: the fact that we do not have a review score,” Streppel wrote. “I [sic] fact, we have currently 6 reviews. If I alone count the people in IME and Insel… I count more than 6 people.”

The remainder of the email details how Streppel has personally addressed the fact that staff need to review their own game prior, and in tackling it again here, he emphasises that they do so or “discuss this individually and privately” the following day otherwise. This strong-arm method correlates with a spike in positive reviews for the title on Steam, with many of the accounts only ever having reviewed Insel’s titles.

Valve, of course, caught wind and promptly removed the developer from its Steam platform. “The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games,” wrote Valve release manager Jason Ruymen on the store page for Guardians of Ember, another of Insel’s recent games. “This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously. For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store.”

Insel has addressed the issue in a statement that can be read in full below, admitting fault but dismissing the ill intentions that the wording of the email implied. The publisher plans to appeal Valve’s decision and continuously work with the company to continue improving its own practices. For those concerned that they won’t be able to access Wild Busters, the title will be available through Insel’s own channels and purchased games will remain accessible through Steam libraries.

“At the day of EA launch in December an email was sent to everyone in the company telling staff (about 20 people including freelancers) how important reviews are in the Steam ecosystem and that a failure of Wild Buster would mean the company was in jeopardy. It was meant to rally people’s support, including advertising the game to their family and friends, in the hope to simply get more reviews.

It was never intended to threaten anyone but just state the importance of reviews for the whole company. No staff has received penalties for not buying the game or writing a review. There also never were texts or instructions provided how to write the review. We sincerely apologize for the misleading wording in the email and the practice in general.

We, the complete team behind Insel Games, will keep working on improving Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster which are still available through other channels. We hope to regain the trust of players through our future actions and are further in discussion with Steam about this incident.

Until then current Steam owners or those in possession of a Steam key can continue to play normally.”

KitGuru Says: Valve is often unforgiving in this department and it is unlikely that it will repeal its decision as it might set a bad example for other exploitative developers. The wording of the email also says to me that Streppel knew what he was asking was wrong, even if there was a clear intention of simply saving the company rather than greed for more profit.

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