After a Reddit thread surfaced claiming Insel Games' CEO Patrick Streppel was forcing employees to purchase and leave positive reviews of its games on Steam last year, Valve announced it was removing all of the publisher's titles from the platform.
According to an internal email uploaded to Reddit, Insel's most recent game, Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan, was under-performing compared to the studio's other titles. The cause of this, Streppel detailed in his email, was a lack of reviews – of which, before being pulled from Steam, the game had only six.
"I had sent an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me pretty disappointed," the email reads. "Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If [Wild Buster] fails, Insel fails ... and then we will all have no job next year."
Streppel goes on to ask employees to buy and leave a review of the game by the following day. If done, the CEO says, each employee would be reimbursed within 24 hours.
Catching wind of the situation, Valve called the CEO's email "unacceptable behavior," adding the company had used multiple accounts to manipulate review scores. "For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel
Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have
previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam
library," Valve said in a statement. It appears the games were immediately removed, as searching for Insel on Steam results in nothing.
As VG247 points out, Insel's games can still be purchased via Humble Bundle, which, ironically, sends buyers a Steam Key. We've reached out to Streppel about the matter and will update the story should we hear back. A Malta-based company, Insel games was founded in 2015. It's since published four games.
Update: A representative from Insel responded to our request for comment. Their response, in full, is as follows:
"At the day of [our early access] 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 for reviews. 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 while still providing access to our games 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."