A Valve representative followed up with Gamasutra today to confirm that yes, the company is more closely scrutinizing devs' outsized requests for Steam keys in an effort to combat people using them as "a way to manipulate Steam systems."
This helps explain a recent warning from Valve staffer Sean Jenkin that the company may be declining devs' requests for Steam keys if the request significantly outmatches the game's sales on Steam.
It's a bit of fresh light on what may be a time-worn practice (Valve has reportedly declined to fulfill odd key requests in the past), and a follow-up comment from Valve lays out why it's coming up now: the company is trying to stop people from putting games on Steam for any reason other than to be played.
"Over the last few years, new features and additions to Steam have changed the way Steam keys were being used, for instance as a means for game-shaped objects to monetize on Steam through methods other than actually selling fun games to customers. Most notably, this meant farming Steam Trading Cards," wrote the representative, alluding to the company's recent nerf of the Steam Trading Cards system.
"While our changes did impact the economics of trading card farming for new products coming to Steam, there are still a lot of games and game-shaped objects using Steam keys as a way to manipulate Steam systems. As a result, we're trying to look more closely at extreme examples of products on Steam that don't seem to be providing actual value as playable games-for instance, when a game has sold 100 units, has mostly negative reviews, but requests 500,000 Steam keys. We're not interested in supporting trading card farming or bot networks at the expense of being able to provide value and service for players.
It's completely OK for partners to sell their games on other sites via Steam keys, and run discounts or bundles on other stores, and we'll continue granting free keys to help partners do those things. But it's not OK to negatively impact our customers by manipulating our store and features."
The concern expressed about the volume of games and "game-shaped objects" on the platform is well in line with recent release figures for Steam; over 200 games launched on Steam in the first week of August alone, even as Valve has done away with Steam Greenlight in favor of charging devs $100 a pop to get their games onto the platform via Steam Direct.