A few weeks ago, many developers who publish mature games on Steam said that they weren’t sure if they’d be able to continue selling their creations on the popular platform due to Valve‘s often contradictory policy in the matter of video games that contain adult imagery/themes. Two days ago, the Bellevue-based company issued a new statement, saying that though they don’t always agree with the content that makes it onto Steam, they would allow everything, as long as it’s not illegal or the work of an obvious troll. Instead of removing titles that could be seen as offensive by particular groups or individuals, the company will provide more tools so users can hide the content they dislike (or even report it so the platform holder can take action if there are issues that weren’t seen by the moderation team when the offending creation was uploaded to the store). This move was quickly slammed by a number of journalists (and game developers) who seem to be fixated on the concept that Steam needs stronger curation.
While I can understand some of their concerns, I believe that should the unreleased tools mentioned in the article work as intended, Valve‘s move will actually benefit both developers and users. According to the people who are up in arms with this latest development, there are two big issues that will be exacerbated thanks to Valve‘s laissez-faire attitude; the rise of low quality titles, and a flood of creations designed to spread hate speech through the Steam Community. Claims of “asset flips” and low-effort releases flooding the store every day have been greatly exaggerated so far, thanks to the way the Steam front page works (the average Steam user will click on the “new and trending” tab, which has never shown me an “asset flip”, instead of going out of their way to click two more times in order to see everything that has been released on that day so far), so this new policy should not affect normal users looking for new games to play. The other elephant in the room concerns games created to “trigger” certain groups, and those should be relatively easy to avoid thanks to two things we will discuss in the next paragraphs.
Contrary to what seems to be the most popular opinion out there right now, Valve‘s recent statement is not an invitation for hate groups to spread their bile on Steam, as the Bellevue-based company will still actively monitor content released on their platform, and anything that’s obviously designed to generate outrage will not be allowed on Steam. A very recent (and high profile) example can be found on Active Shooter, a title that would have simulated school shootings, providing the viewpoint of both the shooter and the response teams that would normally deal with these situations. Created by a developer that had already published a number of “troll games”, this title was removed from the store before it went on sale, and according to Valve‘s blog post, it won’t be coming back once the new rules are in place. This means that effectively, users will see the same level of moderation they’ve seen in the past few years, but with the added benefit that developers of adult-themed games won’t have to fear rejection from the platform.
Of course, certain titles might offend different groups without falling under the “troll game” umbrella. In these situations, users who feel that the content sold on the Steam store goes against their values should have some way of dealing with that, but unless the offending item is illegal, there is no point in removing it from sale. According to Valve, once the new policy goes live, a number of tools designed to help players customize their store browsing experience will also make their debut, letting users hide certain games (or topics), even if that overrides the recommendation algorithms that work behind the scenes.
So, why is everyone attacking Valve over this issue? The common theme found in most articles deriding Gabe Newell’s company over their latest statement seems to be that the media believes it’s a sort of endorsement for extremist ideologies, as Steam will accept most games with no questions asked (as long as they are not doing something illegal). Interestingly, the same people who attacked Valve in the past over their lack of consistency regarding video games involving adult content are now going after the company for a completely different reason, even though this new policy ensures that all the mature titles that were in jeopardy in the past should have a place in the Steam storefront.
Bookstores sell all kinds of books and no one ever goes after them. Why should Steam be different?