Valve has decided to stop determining which games get to be added to the Steam Store unless it is illegal or trolling.
In a statement on the Steam Blog entitled: “Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?” the company said: “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.”
Recently, some games for sale on Steam have attracted controversy: for example, as we reported, Valve recently removed the school-shooting-themed Active Shooter from Steam.
That decision, and the wider debate around whether Steam should sell games that some find offensive appears to have triggered some soul-searching at Valve, into which the blog post provides lengthy insight. Key excerpts include: “Decision making in this space is particularly challenging, and one that we’ve really struggled with. 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.”
And: “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.”
One thing that Valve is promising to provide is the ability for users to determine what they see on the Steam Store: “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.”
How soon those tools will come into effect – and how effective they will be – remains to be seen. But in effect, Valve has decided that responsibility for what appears on Steam should be passed on to its customers.
The company is upfront about the implications of the move: “So what does this mean? It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don’t think should exist. 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.”
But it also points out: “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.”
This change has received a mixed reaction online, with some praising it for upholding the idea of free speech and open markets, with others such as Brendan Sinclair writing in GamesIndustry.biz taking Valve to task over a perceived abdication of responsibility.