In the latest blog post from Valve, they address the issue of what should be on the Steam store. I think most of you will agree that there is so much rubbish on Steam that it makes it unbearable to browse most of the time.
Valve has now attempted to clarify that they don’t want to dictate what they allow on the Steam Store because gamers enjoy different things. What they want to do is improve tools that will give gamers more control over what they see. They also reiterate that the system is not automated and the Valve team does a certain amount of curation but they will be asking developers to highlight any content that could cause potential problems.
The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content. 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. In addition, there are controversial topics that are particular to games – like what even constitutes a “game”, or what level of quality is appropriate before something can be released.
Common questions we ask ourselves when trying to make decisions didn’t help in this space. What do players wish we would do? What would make them most happy? What’s considered acceptable discussion / behavior / imagery varies significantly around the world, socially and legally. Even when we pick a single country or state, the legal definitions around these topics can be too broad or vague to allow us to avoid making subjective and interpretive decisions. The harsh reality of this space, that lies at the root of our dilemma, is that there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad.
In addition, Valve is not a small company – we’re not a homogeneous group. The online debates around these topics play out inside Valve as well. We don’t all agree on what deserves to be on the Store. So when we say there’s no way to avoid making a bunch of people mad when making decisions in this space, we’re including our own employees, their families and their communities in that.
This update from Valve is a typical noncommital response to recent complaints about some of the games that have appeared on Steam. However, in a world where you can’t please everyone, there’s really not much else they can do without angering someone. As long as they remove some of the rubbish that are either scams or asset flips it will improve Steam no-end but they have so far failed to do that. Giving users more control seems to be their approach moving forward.
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. Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see. We already have some tools, but they’re too hidden and not nearly comprehensive enough. We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in. So if you don’t want to see anime games on your Store, you’ll be able to make that choice. If you want more options to control exactly what kinds of games your kids see when they browse the Store, you’ll be able to do that. And it’s not just players that need better tools either – developers who build controversial content shouldn’t have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we’ll be building tools and options to support them too.
By taking a more open approach expect to see more rage posts from gamers who object to certain games which appears to be something Valve are prepared to put up with. Valve believes that offending some people is inevitable and they are probably right based on some of the garbage that appears on Steam being passed off as games. Take the school shooter simulator Active Shooter. It was removed from Steam, not because of the content, but because the developer was deemed a “troll”. It’s great it was removed but their reason for removing it is quite shocking. In the future, a ‘game’ like Active Shooter would likely pass Valve’s checks. That is simply wrong.
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.
To be explicit about that – if we allow your game onto the Store, it does not mean we approve or agree with anything you’re trying to say with it. If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it.
The bottom line is, Valve is not going to be making any changes now with regards to what appears on Steam but half-heartedly commit to making the rules a little clearer at some point. That is unlikely to happen as they are firmly sitting on the fence.
In the short term, we won’t be making significant changes to what’s arriving on Steam until we’ve finished some of the tools we’ve described in this post. As we’ve hopefully managed to convey, navigating these issues is messy and complicated. Countries and societies change their laws and cultural norms over time. We’ll be working on this for the foreseeable future, both in terms of what products we’re allowing, what guidelines we communicate, and the tools we’re providing to developers and players.
It’s business as usual over at Valve and Steam based on what’s been discussed in the post. There will be great games, there will be rubbish games, and there will be games that offend some gamers. Valve’s position is clear. They want to keep taking their cut of sales no matter how unsavory a game is and that’s a huge problem for everyone.