Around 20 to 30 games release a day on Steam, which means that a lot of games go without much notice from either Steam or the mass audience. Abstractism was one of those games, but enough people did manage to pay attention to notice something was amiss.
Abstractism, a fairly standard indie-platformer from developer Okalo Union, doesn’t command much attention at first glance. The minimal platformer puts the player in the role of a black or white square jumping around black or white platforms. It wasn’t until YouTuber SidAlpha decided to investigate a report of the developers ripping a user off by disguising a game item as a rarer drop on Steam that things really started to blow up.
You can find SidAlpha’s video here (warning for dumb homopohobic jokes from the developer), but the short version is this: developer Okalo Union essentially set up a circuitous plan that involved dropping items at a frequent rate of seven per week. These items would scale up for rarity depending on how long the game has been running, encouraging people to keep the game running in the background consistently so that they could get rare drops and sell them on the Steam marketplace. That, combined with a number of extra services the game was running, made a convincing argument that the game was mining for cryptocurrency in the background.
Valve has seemingly agreed and removed the game from the store and banned the developer.
Last month, Valve clarified their Steam content policies to be significantly more hands-off, deciding to allow anything onto Steam unless it was illegal or trolling. While Valve has never clarified what these things mean (Illegal in what country? Trolling by what measure?), it’s fairly important to note that nothing Okalo Union did with Abstractism is technically against those rules. It’s absolutely fraudulent, but that’s a road that can get extremely pedantic and specific if they want to go down it.
Since the rollout of Valve’s new policy, several games have had to be removed after complaints, meaning that no one besides Valve, or possibly even including Valve, understands what their current content policy is. It also means that, as a rule, their ability to protect people from downloading games like Abstractism can only be reactive rather than proactive.
At the end of his video, SidAlpha explains why he thinks this method of recursive drops and crypto-mining will be the new age of asset flips as a moneymaking scheme on Steam. If so, Abstractism is the first of many, certainly not the last.