Valve will no longer restore lost and stolen items

Since December, Valve has taken a number of drastic steps to improve their customer relations. One of of these steps has been an attempt to improve security for their 125 million active users. However, some users believe that the latest security implementations are a step in the wrong direction.

Acknowledging that account theft has been around since the beginning of Steam, the prevalence increased twentyfold with the introduction of Steam Trading. In December, Valve reported that an estimated 77,000 accounts were hijacked and looted each month. The industry giant implemented the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator, also referred to as two-factor authentication. Instead of authenticating a transaction through a personal computer, which is easily compromised, the goal was to confirm each trade on a separate device (mobile phone) to complete the transaction. This meant that in the end, those using the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator to confirm trades were able to continue trading without disruption. If a user did not have the Authenticator enabled, items could be held by Steam for up to three days. Valve admitted that they understood that increasing security made it more difficult to use their products, but aimed to create a more functional system. Within three months Vive co-developer reported that 95% of users had adopted the Authenticator system.

Unfortunately, it appears the situation was much more severe than the team originally anticipated. The company announced that as of March 9th they will be implementing further changes, specifically that Steam Support would “no longer restore items that have left accounts following a successful trade or market transaction (a process that previously created duplicates or original items).”

Valve’s statement, which was quietly folded into a low-key community news update on March 1st, explains that item duplication is one of Steam’s oldest and biggest problems. With their current system, a support team member manually restores any lost item of a compromised account. The side effect of this is that the restored item is effectively a duplicate, meaning that in cases of rare and limited items, they become more common and consequently dilute their value. This also creates an alarming reward system for those faking hijackings.

Additionally, the previous update gave users who have yet to adopt the Authenticator three days to cancel any fraudulent transactions. However, Valve argued that the system failed to protect users that seldom log in. Now, all trades will be held by Steam for 15 days to allow users whose accounts may have been compromised plenty of time to cancel these types of trades. This 15 day hold period will also apply to all Steam Community Market listings. However, just like with trades, Market listings will be instantaneous if users have the Authenticator enabled.

The Washington based company added, “We recognize that today’s changes will be inconvenient for users who have yet (or are unable) to use the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator. But if you’re a high volume trader (who our data shows is likely using the authenticator already), or a trader who likes to exchange items with friends, these changes won’t really affect you at all.” However, Steam users ague that they would more readily use the Authenticator if an official mobile app existed for their device, namely the Windows Phone. Other users express frustration, feeling as though they were being punished for not having a device compatible with the Authenticator.

Though there are reasonable complaints about the impending changes, the Half-Life creator believes that these steps will ensure the security of the majority of their users. While the notoriously silent giant seldom gives long statements, they have addressed many of the past user complaints. After receiving an ‘F’ rating for poor customer service by the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization which focuses on business conduct, Valve quickly began to implement changes.

In a rare interview granted back in October of last year, Valve business authority Erik Johnson explained to Kotaku that the company was taking steps in order to improve customer relations. Since then, the company has reported “significant” increases in their support team’s size, as well as improvements in ticket response times.

At this point, hopefully Valve hears the outcry of frustrated users unable to authenticate their accounts. There could be an alternative just along the horizon.

ZAM has reached out to Valve for comment on this policy change but has not yet heard back.

Nick Garcia is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @GeezNick if you’re into that sort of thing.