Update, October 2: After having their entire library pulled from Steam, Silicon Echo Studios have shut down.
Following widespread criticism of their business practices, Valve pulled nearly 200 games developed by Silicon Echo Studios from Steam last week. That seems to have been enough to force Silicon Echo to shut its doors, as they’ve announced the studio will be shutting down.
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“We are no heroes,” a studio spokesperson tells Polygon, “we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady.” Here the studio refer primarily to the alternate names they’ve done business under. Despite being open about their practices being questionable, they’re rather unhappy about the way Valve chose to take action.
“The only information we have been given is that our games were consistently at the top of user reported titles primarily for practices that are deceptive to the customers,” they say, implying that this information is insufficient. Mostly, they’re upset that Valve offered no warning before pulling the studio’s games from Steam.
What about accusations that the studio were asset flipping – that is, purchasing assets from the Unity store and repurposing them in low effort games sold primarily to give people inexpensive access to Steam trading cards for resale? Well, in their email to Valve, Silicon Echo had this to say: “People who are calling us asset flippers are correct only partially because we always made our own levels using the basic assets provided for us when we bought the asset kit and all of the kits had licenses allowing us to use them in commercial purposes. We have all the required bills to confirm our purchases on the Unity Asset Store.”
Silicon Echo also question why their older games were taken down despite having passed through the community curation of Steam Greenlight. They have a point, but it’s one that serves more as an indictment of Valve’s unwillingness to curate their own store rather than an exoneration of the studio. Silicon Echo say “our reputation is destroyed beyond repair,” and if that weren’t already true it certainly would have been ruined by their own statements today.
Original Story, September 26: It seems that Valve are finally taking steps to stem the tide of shovelware ending up on Steam – at least in certain cases. Polygon report that nearly 200 games developed by Silicon Echo Studios have been taken down from Steam after allegations that they were created largely for trading card farming, which Valve have in turn confirmed.
Silicon Echo’s games are largely built out of pre-made parts from the Unity store, which in itself is fine, but the high volume and low quality of these games has led to accusations of ‘asset flipping’ – essentially, taking easily available game assets, putting them together in low-effort products, and profiting off the results.
In theory, the low quality of these games should be enough to starve them out entirely, but Steam’s own trading card system complicates the matter. Many of Silicon Echo’s titles (or those of its alleged pseudonym, Zonitron Productions) have been made available in very cheap bundles, which would in the end allow players to profit by idling in-game to get trading cards and then sell those cards on the community market. The developers profit, players profit, and Valve even profits on both ends of the transaction, assuming you discount the damage done to the Steam storefront.
“This person was mass-shipping nearly-identical products on Steam that were impacting the store’s functionality and making it harder for players interested in finding fun games to play,” says Valve. “This developer was also abusing Steam keys and misrepresenting themselves on the Steam store. As a result, we have removed those games from the Steam Store and ended our business relationship with them.”
If you’re a big fan of games like SHAPES and Grim Banana, worry not, because they will remain in your Steam library. You just won’t be able to collect trading cards from them. But you were just playing them for fun, right?
Valve have been aware of games built for trading card farming and addressed it explicitly earlier this year, saying they would take efforts to keep low-effort games from being able to use the card feature, and more recent information has suggested they’ve been limiting such developers’ access to store keys for resale. Valve seem largely disinterested in any kind of hands-on curation, but with Steam on track to host over 5,000 titles this year, the need for measures like this seems inescapable.