Four days ago, on September 26th, Polygon reported that almost 200 games were removed from Steam. They were removed because they were cheap and “fake” and the developer behind them is Silicon Echo also known as Zonitron Studios.
This was a result of widespread criticism of Valve’s loose publishing policy. A lot of people were pointing out that you can publish any game on Steam now with no quality checks.
The “fake” games that were removed from Steam are also known as asset flips. These are possible with games made with Unity because there are a lot of community made assets that are either free or very cheap. The devs just buy those and copy-paste into their games.
Caiminds contacted Silicon Echo about this case and this is the response:
Sorry you had to wait – we did want to give Valve some time to explain. We do not hold it against them, only thing we wanted is a fair explanation. Silicon Echo would like to give their statement on the matter of their account termination. This statement contains our side of the story and our opinions on the recent events.
Firstly, we have been getting lots and lots of questions from everybody about the details of what exactly went down with Valve and Silicon Echo. Well, 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. This did not fully explain the reason for complete account and business termination, so naturally we sent an email to Valve politely asking some additional questions. This is a part of the email we have sent:
“Silicon Echo is an account completely separated from Zonitron Productions even though it is connected in some ways and while Zonitron Productions got a warning about some developer naming issues, Silicon Echo didn’t get a warning of that or any other nature ever. We do not believe that we have been deceiving or lying to our and your customers in any way – all of our games’ descriptions were describing the games exactly how they are and the same thing is with the screenshots and trailers which were taken directly from the gameplays of our games. We never insulted any of the customers on the Steam forums or banned them without any reason absconding to answer truthfully about the games. Everyone who has ever bought our games did it by their own choice and everybody knew exactly what they were buying. 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.
That being said, it was impossible for us to ever know that there were some problems with our games mostly because a great number of games sent for reviews were being approved on daily basis (EVEN ON THE SAME DAY YOU HAVE SENT US THE EMAIL ABOUT TERMINATING OUR BUSINESS). Another thing is – why did all the older games which passed Greenlight by the choice of Valve Business Team and Steam users also get banned now? And why were they even approved and greenlit in the first place if there were problems with them all along?
One more very important thing – The Herbologist was supposed to be our first bigger project and we have been working on it for 2 years. It was successfully kickstarted by the community with collecting more than $10.000 which were never used for anything else but for developing of The Herbologist. We have never bought a Steam Direct fee for this game – it had been greenlit months ago and was planned to be released in a little more than a month as it is about 85% finished. Game development can be an expensive business, as you at Valve surely must know, and the reason why we continued to create small games is to found our first bigger game and this dream game was supposed to be The Herbologist. “
Additionally, we have politely asked Valve to give us some answers and asked specifically if they could reply in 2 business days. This was exactly 3 days ago, we got no reply at all. However, we would like to explain things to the public and to all the people who actually bought our games to play them (yes, believe it or not, those people do exist).
We are no heroes, we have indeed sometimes been conducting our business with some practices people may call shady. For example, creating more developer names even though they were on the same account and listed under the same publisher. This was done primarily for easier statistical tracking as we did not believe it to be a problem since all the games were publicly listed under the same publisher and there was no deception included. We did make a mistake here in the beginning by changing the names of publishers as well, but we were warned in time that this was not allowed and have changed it and made it right. Moreover, all the games on the Silicon Echo account have had the same customer support email precisely for people not to be deceived.
We are sure a lot of people are happy because of this, but this can have an effect on every other Steam developer as well. If some of you have games released in the past that can even remotely be considered to be asset flips or even to be using any Unity assets, you must know that there is always a chance for all your games to be simply removed from the store even though you have bought the assets fair and square and did nothing illegal or wrong. This situation has completely destroyed everything we have been working for in the past 3 years and we are forced to give up game development at this point for more that one reason. Mainly because our reputation is destroyed beyond repair, but also for financial reasons. We wish we have been warned about this before, in that case we would focus on a different business plan of development. Unfortunately for us, we have been investing in Steam Direct fees for some time now thinking that our business strategy is being approved by Valve and have been buying fees on daily basis, but the moment we stopped buying them and had about 40 or them unused, our business gets terminated. Not to mention that we have just started getting our first invested fees back. It is just bad luck for us, we guess.
For all of you who are getting ideas about making larger number of indie games to found your bigger projects, a couple of pieces of advice. Your game getting approved by Valve to be released onto Steam does apparently not mean that it is okay for you to actually just go ahead and release it. It may cause the termination of your entire business even after years of it being perfectly fine by Valve and therefore may destroy your bigger project which you have been working on for a long time.
All that being said, we do not hold anything against anyone, especially not against the hating community because in a way, we can understand their frustrations. As for Valve, we have had a good run and can hardly say it was a bad one. Looks like it is all about business, after all.
Sincerely, former Silicon Echo Studios”