Diablo 4 is a living game, so the opinion of its players is guaranteed to change from season to season, and patch to patch. The game wasn’t especially well-received at launch, and the pre-Season 1 update caused such a controversy that Blizzard had to reevaluate its entire update process.
We’re now in the middle of Season 2, player sentiment is trending much more positively, with it seeming like Blizzard learned the right lessons from the launch and the reaction to the first season. All of that is to say that user reviews – on Steam and elsewhere – are bound to reflect that changes made to the game.
It’s not particuarly surprising, then, to see that Diablo 4’s Steam review rating has changed from Mixed to Mostly Positive, thanks to all the positive changes made in recent months.
However, some players believe this turn may not have been entirely organic. Reddit user Nodlimax has discovered an unusual trend among some of the positive user reviews posted recently. Nodlimax took a screenshot of what appear to be almost identical reviews, just posted by different Steam accounts.
The reviews were all posted on November 23, which happens to be during the game’s most recent free weekend on Steam. All reviews were posted with exactly 19.1 hours of playtime, which is also little unusual.
What’s more, all of those reviews contained the same exact line “-blizzard”, which has since been changed to “+xxxxxx” – seemingly after the Reddit user’s discovery. Things get more interesting when you look at the accounts in question. We’ve counted 28 suspicious accounts, all responsible for those one-sentence reviews.
The overwhelming majority of them only have a handful of games in their Steam libraries, with most being free-to-play games, and have thousands of hours of gameplay time in each of their top games, which could be a big red flag. You see, while many of us have legitimately spent thousands of hours in one or two of our favourite games over the years, it is quite unusual for all of these to be free-to-play games.
It’s quite striking how similar the profiles in question are without being the exact same. It’s a little amusing, too, that all of them have all of the achievements unlocked for the same games.
All of this might suggest that these accounts are bots, but it wouldn’t explain why they’re leaving positive Diablo 4 reviews on Steam. To understand this, we have to keep in mind a few things. First, voting for the Steam Awards are currently underway. Valve is encouraging Steam users to nominate games in every category by offering them a special badge.
The badge can also be upgraded if the user writes a review, so there’s certainly an incentive to engage with the Steam review system just for those rewards. The other, likely more crucial, element to this is that all of these accounts did not buy the game directly on Steam.
Seeing as you cannot buy a Steam key of Diablo 4 anywhere, the only conclusion that remains is that they were gifted a copy of the game through Steam. Plenty of grey area key sellers online offer Steam gifts of Diablo 4 (and many other games) as a way of getting around the fact no Steam keys of Diablo 4 exist on the market.
This is not the same thing as unlocking access to the game through Steam, something developers and publishers do all the time for known curators on the platform, community members with a large following and so on. These reviews, however, have the ‘product received for free’ tag to denote that fact.
So what’s going on here? It seems unlikely Blizzard would be behind it as a way to boost Diablo 4’s rating on Steam. For one, Steam is not Blizzard’s main platform; Diablo 4 has already made most of its money on Battle.net and elsewhere, so it’s not like Blizzard is eager to turn things around from a citical perspective on Steam specifically.
The more logical explanation, if the accounts do turn out to be bots, may be that someone, or some people, own and operate a number of them as a business. By reviewing multiple games, putting in the hours and so on, they can later sell their services to unscrupulous publishers who want to boost the profile of their games – in the form of Steam reviews.
It could also be a ploy to simply, well, receive free copies of games by establishing said accounts as an authority, however flimsy that may be. Regardless, this is a very interesting development in the world of Steam reviews that’s worth paying attention to.