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Steam game mines cryptocurrency without players' knowledge, sells TF2 scam items as DLC

The lack of curation on Steam, something Valve is happy to continue, has made it possible for another nasty "game" to slip through the cracks.

Update: Following the publication of this report, Valve has now taken Abstractism off the Steam store. The game's developer and publisher have also had their pages removed.

Needless to say, the fake TF2 items the game created have also been removed, though it's not clear if Valve has installed safeguards to prevent against the same occurring in the future.

You can check out the original story below.

Original story: This itself is not really news, as games with hateful messages and other questionable content have had an easier time launching on Steam as of late.

However, while most other developers are content with publishing asset flips and poorly made projects to rile people up, some have taken this lack of oversight into a more sinister direction.

Okalo Union, a Steam developer whose only game launched on March 15, has been up to some pretty devious scams. Its game, Abstractism, is described as a "trivial platformer" and looks no different from a thousand other minimalist platformers.

Last week, players discovered that the game triggers a service called steamservice.exe upon launch, which many anti-virus programs have picked up as malware. If you're thinking this service name sounds familiar, it's because it is.

The difference is that the official steamservice.exe is located in Steam's main folder, and shouldn't be found inside of individual game folders. Some hackers and developers with malicious intent have taken to hijacking the service name for their nefarious needs, which is done through a fake steamservice.exe file found within their game folders.

In Abstractism's case, this has been found to load the CPU and GPU in a way that suggests there's a cryptocurrency mining operation running in the background. The developer's response, which is amusingly highlighted as the official answer to players asking why the file keeps getting blocked by various anti-virus software, is that it's a critical part of the game that needs to run alongside it.

"These applications (steamservice.exe and abstractismlauncher.exe) are game launchers, that Abstractism need to drop items," the developer wrote.

"Abstractism does not mine any of cryptocurrency. Probably, you are playing on high graphics settings, because they take a bit of CPU and GPU power, required for post-processing effects rendering," the developer told another player in a review comment.

As if hijacking PC resources without players' knowledge weren't enough, Abstractism is also pushing a different scam at the same time: fake Team Fortress 2 items.

In case you're unaware, trading is a big part of many Valve games, including Team Fortress 2. Certain items are more valuable than others, with prices starting at a few cents and going as high as hundreds of dollars.

Abstractism's developer decided to tap into this economy by creating a number of fake items for the game, all of which can be traded and marketed on the Steam Market. The trick, as one player found out the hard way, is that they bear the name, description, and image of these desirable Team Fortress 2 items.

"I'm a pretty reputable and experienced trader but jeezz, this one guy got me pretty good," user PoorAsianBoy said on Backpack.tf.

"There's a game called [Abstractism] on Steam where you can get an identical version of an item like the one in Team Fortress 2." The screenshot they shared, seen below, shows how easy it can be for unsuspecting players to fall for this scam.

If you don't pay attention to the game name, you're not going to notice the item is a fake.

The Steam Market listing for this particular item is now gone, but the URL remains, showing it had indeed been called Strange Professional Killstreak Australium Rocket Launcher at one point.

Abstractism has dozens of these items. Some are are useless images of online memes, including the usual troll ones, while others exist to scam TF2 players. There's also an assortment of homophobic and racist items, in case the other ones weren't brazen enough.

This has been going for a while, too, as seen in the sale history for some of the items. The sheer volume of these would be hilarious, it weren't sad. Valve will likely take care of this when alerted, but the lack of curation on its part will keep the door open for developers like this one to scam players.

About the Author

Sherif Saed avatar

Sherif Saed

Staff Writer

Whether it's news, reviews, or interviews - Sherif is always eager to tell you about video games. He plays shooters more than a sane person should, and occasionally has the skills to show for it.

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