According to Steam Database, a Twitter account that unofficially tweets out news they glean from Steam, Valve has strongly recommended that developers going through the process of having their games Greenlit should not offer game keys in exchange for votes. This has apparently become enough of a problem that there are devs who not only view it as a marketing strategy, but feel it might be necessary to make any headway in the Greenlight process, which is outlined in the Workshop FAQ.
Valve says that they are in “a really uncomfortable position,” due to the behavior, and have outright said that this may effect the chances of a game being Greenlit. If a developer offers keys to potential players in exchange for votes (with the assumption that getting a free game may be more likely to yield a positive vote), the process by which the games are picked is skewed. A game may have positive votes simply by virtue of having given away a number of free keys, while games that have relied on more traditional means of marketing may be struggling to be Greenlit. As a result, all games will have to be evaluated on a much stricter scale, meaning that games that receive a large number of votes through word-of-mouth alone may be delayed, as well.
Steam’s Rules of Conduct lists “soliciting, begging, auctioning, raffling, selling, advertising, referrals” as forbidden practices, which applies to all users, and regulates the content posted in reviews as well as other areas of the site. This is an additional safeguard that has always been in place to prevent blatant marketing practices, but has not been explicitly stated to developers as a potentially-outlawed practice, until now.
Do you think Valve is right in this action? Do you think developers have a right to use any advantage they can? Are users who engage in this behavior subject to stricter punishments and/or standards, as well?