Valve has finally taken some time to address a few controversies that have been rocking the Steam store, namely the removal of content consider to be extreme, such as Active Shooter, a school-shooting simulator.
There’s a whole lot of confusion as to what is and isn’t allowed on the Steam store, with various visual novel and dating game developers recently being told their games could be removed, only to be told a few days later they were fine. For now. Valve’s guidelines on the matter just aren’t clear enough, but in a new blog post, they’ve addressed exactly what gets to be on the Steam store.
“Decision making in this space is particularly challenging, and one that we've really struggled with,” explains Valve. “Contrary to many assumptions, this isn't a space we've automated - humans at Valve are very involved, with groups of people looking at the contents of every controversial title submitted to us. Similarly, people have falsely assumed these decisions are heavily affected by our payment processors, or outside interest groups. Nope, it's just us grappling with a really hard problem.
“Unfortunately, our struggling has resulted in a bunch of confusion among our customers, developer partners, and even our own employees,” says Valve.
What’s most surprising here is that Valve has admitted that there is no automation in regards to what goes on the Steam store. All those asset flips and troll games have been approved by a person at Valve, which backs up Valve’s new claims that there is essentially no curation whatsoever on Steam.
Anyway, in an effort to clear up what developers can and can’t release, Valve has basically opened up the Steam store to almost everything.
“If you're a player, we shouldn't be choosing for you what content you can or can't buy,” writes Valve. “If you're a developer, we shouldn't be choosing what content you're allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. With that principle in mind, we've decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”
The only blurry line now is what Valve considers ‘trolling’. Active Shooter falls under this umbrella, and it likely to extends to any games with overtly hateful or controversial content. For most of the customer base, it should be fairly simple to tell the difference. In the same way ‘you know it when you see it’ in regards to the boundaries of what is or isn’t pornography, the same is likely going to apply to the content of games. There’s a huge, huge difference between a game showing nudity or being grotesquely violent, and a game that exists purely to explicitly incite violence or hate against a particular group of people. Valve’s job is going to be to attempt to tread this line, although it’s not going to be particularly easy.
“The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content,” Valve explains. “Instead, it's about whether the Store contains games within an entire range of controversial topics - politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on.” Now, this is really quite a weird thing for Valve to say. Rather than express that racism is bad, for example, it’s a ‘controversy’. As if both sides have a valid argument. There’s a big difference between a game that contains racism (as plenty do, it’s perfectly valid) and a game that actively encourages racist or hateful behaviour. It’s all a bit Stone Age, but there we go.
“It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don't think should exist,” sums up Valve. “Unless you don't have any opinions, that's guaranteed to happen. But you're also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist.
“It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values, beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create & consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it's almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you.”
We’ll have to see how this one shakes out. Based on what Valve’s saying, the floodgates are pretty much open now. They’re leaning even further away from curation, which is absolutely distinct from censorship. A private company such as Valve dictating what it does and doesn’t sell on its own store doesn’t ever amount to censorship, it’s merely the act of curation. That curation is basically being thrown out of the window, propping up a welcome sign to asset flippers, spammers, racists, homophobes, and sexists. It'll be interesting to see how, or if, this going to impact the type of games that crop up on Steam.
What are your thoughts, should Steam be an absolute free-for-all? Is this going to make it more difficult to find the content you actually want? Let us know below!