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Why does everyone care so much about Steam's content policy?
Posted: Posted June 8th
Edited June 8th by Famov

There must be something in the water, or else it's pointless ancillary politics.

Seemingly in response to mounting criticism from game journalists and characters like Jim Sterling, Steam attempted to clarify how, in the broadest of terms, it determines what kinds of software are allowed on its platform in a blog post from Wednesday titled "Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store". Here are a few excerpts:


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.



So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn't be the ones deciding this. If you're a player, we shouldn't be choosing for you what content you can or can't buy. If you're a developer, we shouldn't be choosing what content you're allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

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.


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.

https://steamcommunity.com/games/593110/announcements/detail/1666776116200553082
Good enough, right? Essentially, Steam has taken all of this commentary into consideration and come to the determination that, despite all of the furrowed brows and handwringing from people whose opinions count for less than nothing, they would really rather continue to do things the way they have been, thank you very much for your concern.

If you haven't been keeping up on this then you may be confused. Why does anyone care about what Steam has on its store other than Steam itself? I asked myself that very question, and a number of answers seemed to filter through. In the last week Steam was host to a game where the player could take the role of a school shooter. It has since been taken down. There is also the genre of "erotic" visual novels, perhaps of questionable taste, to consider. And finally we have the glut of so called "asset flips", otherwise understood as low effort works that rely on pre-purchased assets and therefore require very little creative input on the part of the "developer". For a variety of reasons all of these games have come under scrutiny, and mostly from assorted industry pundits. This may help explain why someone might not be enthusiastic about a Hunie Pop game, but it doesn't explain why so many are so adamant about having it stricken from a storefront that they don't own, operate, or should have any vested interest in whatsoever. But adamant they are. Here are headlines from the last two days. You may notice that the moral indignation on display is coming from many of the Usual Suspects.

Steam's content policy is both arrogant and cowardly - Oli Welsh, Eurogamer

Valve’s New Content Policy for Steam Is a Triumph of Cowardice Over Curation - Joel Hruska, Extreme Tech

Valve's New 'Anything Goes' Policy Fails To Address Steam's Biggest Problems - Eric Kain, Forbes

Valve gives up on responsibility - Ben Kuchera, Polygon

Valve’s abdication of responsibility over Steam is the worst possible solution - John Walker, Rock Paper Shotgun

Steam's Irresponsible Hands-Off Policy Is Proof That Valve Still Hasn't Learned Its Lesson - Nathan Grayson, Kotaku

There's more where those came from. If you elect to check out the twitter feed of some of these goofballs, not that I know why you would, you will find that they care very much indeed about Steam's storefront. The unresolved question yet remains, however. Why? After all, this is the equivalent of me walking into a convenience store and complaining about the adult magazines hidden behind the counter. What would I stand to get out of their removal, other than a sense of perverse self satisfaction? Moral righteousness derived from something so utterly meaningless as controlling the distribution of digital software.

If the comments on Valve's blog post are any indication, the Steam userbase is, if anything, mostly grateful for the decision not to change their standards, perhaps suggesting that Steam is more receptive to their customers than they are to that strangely detached class of traditional games media. In fact, if you visit enough places where this newest argument is being trafficked you can see all of the same tired culture lines being redrawn once more. With a bit of mercy we'll have forgotten about this one in a week, but I wanted to make the thread anyway. Be aware that all of these self styled consumer advocates are advocating on behalf of, well... something else entirely. That much is evident to me. Anyone have a different take?

“There cannot be greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his discourse.” - John Locke
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There are 5 Replies

Mostly because it makes it harder to find the small games and developers that are actually putting in the time, energy, and money to make real, solid games. The lack of quality control and emphasis on quantity over quality makes it - as a consumer - harder to trust any of the games are any good outside the ones that are explicitly held up as such by outside resources.

Consumers are also free to have values they wish to adhere to. I'm not entirely keen to support a company that doesn't have a problem promoting games making fun of sexual assault, AIDS, and mass shootings. You and they can say, "Being on the store isn't us promoting it" all you want, but it's their store. They don't *have* to let it be on there. They are allowed to care about the quality of product they sell. Fundamentally, by letting it stay on their store, they are saying that they have no problems with their name attached to it. It's on *their* store. *They* are giving it a platform and space to be seen and purchased. I'm not totally sure how that *isn't* them promoting it.

Their hands off approach also isn't just about the increasingly poor lack of quality among the overall majority of games on their store. It also has to do with their inadequate handling of lying, manipulative "developers" who then also engage in harassment to silence critics of their games. That is also part of the equation, even if it isn't really discussed much here.

Posted June 8th by Jet Presto
Jet Presto

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

Dunno how they're gonna decide if something is straight up trolling or not. Trolling is one of those really indefinable things and you tend to not know if people are ignorant, trolling, or if they really do feel/think a certain way. This is really the only thing I have an issue with on their policy info.

In the last week Steam was host to a game where the player could take the role of a school shooter. It has since been taken down.

While probably definitely in poor taste, it shouldn't be taken down just because people may not like it. I'd definitely probably not buy it. It may offend but that's not a good enough reason for it to get banned.

There are also the genre of "erotic" visual novels, perhaps of questionable taste, to consider.

There's a fuzzy line lately with what's a video game or not. Visual novels/walking simulators/"choice" games have much less gameplay or interaction and I think that's where people would have a problem. Personally I also don't care about these erotic games but I'm not looking to have them stricken.

And finally we have the glut of so called "asset flips", otherwise understood as low effort works that rely on pre-purchased assets and therefore require very little creative input on the part of the "developer".

This one I can understand a little more, but it depends on how it's gone about. If it's straight up false advertising and promising things that don't happen, then I'd be alright with the individual games being taken away or until they are properly edited. If it's all about the fact that it's just cheap, shitty, and exploitable, just don't fall for it or buy it site unseen. Do better research. Unless the company is doing unscrupulous things like changing it's name everywhere so people can't do research and they can bait a sucker or two, they probably should also remain.

Posted June 8th by Fox Forever
Fox Forever

Mostly because it makes it harder to find the small games and developers that are actually putting in the time, energy, and money to make real, solid games. The lack of quality control and emphasis on quantity over quality makes it - as a consumer - harder to trust any of the games are any good outside the ones that are explicitly held up as such by outside resources.

Surely Murphy's Law always applies. We wouldn't call them diamonds in the rough if there wasn't a lot of "rough" and if the diamonds were easy to spot, but regardless I'm skeptical that anyone shops for games by buying random new releases they see on the Steam store. The only people that encounter all of this "asset flip" chaff are those that go looking for it to begin with, with the likes of Jim Sterling undoubtedly having made a considerable amount of money reviewing such products.

I realize my buying habits are my own, but I know what I want well before I sign in to Steam. Ultimately I think it's mostly a fantasy to suggest that there are good games that would crawl out of obscurity if only Steam were stricter gatekeepers. Who shops that way?

Consumers are also free to have values they wish to adhere to. I'm not entirely keen to support a company that doesn't have a problem promoting games making fun of sexual assault, AIDS, and mass shootings. You and they can say, "Being on the store isn't us promoting it" all you want, but it's their store. They don't *have* to let it be on there. They are allowed to care about the quality of product they sell. Fundamentally, by letting it stay on their store, they are saying that they have no problems with their name attached to it. It's on *their* store. *They* are giving it a platform and space to be seen and purchased. I'm not totally sure how that *isn't* them promoting it.

I tend to this this is what all this noise is really about. The twitter feeds I alluded to seem to suggest as much.

If they say they don't necessarily endorse the messages found in their products, which is perfectly easy to believe since they sell everything from Gone Home and Sunset to Hatred and Postal, then I think it is unreasonable not to take them at their word. All they care about is money. The school shooter game got removed because they determined that any potential financial benefit from its sale was outweighed by the negative press of allowing it to stay. They clearly did not come to the same conclusion with Hatred. Or the softcore VN porn.

Whatever decision Steam makes with regards to the minutia of what does and does not constitute acceptable content for their platform is perfectly justified, as far as I'm concerned. In that vein I honestly cannot be made to care. I just think it's so strange that so many others do, and particularly those involved with the press. Consumers do have their values, that's true, and there's a significant chunk of Steam consumers that will cry foul on perceived "censorship" (mostly over games they'd never dream of buying, but that's how absurd this argument gets) and who will presumably also vote with their dollars as well. Steam is well aware of this, and it undoubtedly factored into their considerations when they made the announcement. So they've elected to stay the course. The actions of Steam don't surprise me, and it doesn't concern me. What does concern me is the reporting from the press. Why does it matter to them so much that Steam be gatekeepers that filter out certain types of expression that they disapprove of? Well, I think I know the answer and so there's no need to be coy about it: They're political wackos.

It also has to do with their inadequate handling of lying, manipulative "developers" who then also engage in harassment to silence critics of their games

That's only been a few people, right? Digital Homicide et al. They're gone, at least. To the best of my knowledge this "harassment" typically involves twitter meltdowns that involve grown men permanently ruining whatever brand they may have ever hoped to have on Steam. It's probably for the best that they reveal how terrible they are in a public space like that.

It may offend but that's not a good enough reason for it to get banned.

I tend to think that way as well, but there are a few lines that even Steam aren't inclined to cross, and school shootings are probably too hot right now.

Postal is a series no one takes seriously anymore, and they shouldn't, but there's an interesting bit of trivia I learned in Noah Caldwell-Gervais' youtube retrospective on it (titled Postal, Hatred, and Weighing the Worth of Asshole Simulators. It's worth a watch.). The first Postal has none of what passes for humor in the sequels. It really is this self serious, isometric shooter about a guy who picks up a gun and kills everyone he meets. The ending sequence involves the player showing up at a school playground. For some reason none of the bullets will connect with the children that are at play, at which point it is revealed that the player character has actually been institutionalized and is dreaming up the whole thing. This sequence is quick to reassure us that the rest of the carnage was real, but evidently Running With Scissors (the developers) knew better than to include a school shooting. Postal came out in 1997, two years before Columbine. Children, it seems, are almost always off limits.

Posted June 8th by Famov
Famov

I don't care about 'offensive content'. Didn't care when it was Hatred, don't care now that its School Shooting Simulator or AIDS Simulator. So in that regard, this new policy shouldn't bother me.

But it does, just for a different reason that's somewhat hard to explain. I've been using steam for over ten years, so I've seen it grow and change quite a bit since then. At that point in time, you could still objectively refer to Valve as a game developer without getting laughed out of the room or crucified by someone wearing a Half Life 3 shirt. Back then, it felt like a game ending up on Steam meant... something. Hard to define, but generally that it met a certain standard of quality. Consequently, the store was much smaller and had a much tighter selection. This slowly broadened over time as the Indie Game scene took off, but it wasn't overwhelming. Which brings me to this:

I'm skeptical that anyone shops for games by buying random new releases they see on the Steam store.

At least for me, this was absolutely a thing. I ran across Terraria when it originally released in 2011 because I was bored one night and looking for something to play with my friends. Same thing with FTL and Killing Floor. The ratio of diamonds to rough was at least reasonable at that point. Of course it didn't happen very often, both for financial reasons and lack of options, but it was part of the 'experience'.

At some point, I'm not entirely sure when, the slow steady drip of games onto steam became a torrential downpour. Suddenly it was no longer feasible to even attempt to find something on the store unless you knew what you were looking for. And along the way, Valve went from game developer to the Amazon of gaming.

None of which would probably be a problem if, for lack of a more eloquent term, it felt like Valve gave a shit about anything other than making money. I don't mean that in a generic anti-corporate way. I'm glad they've been successful. But at the same time, the only way to really see proof of that success would be to visit Gabe's underground vault of gold or look at the millions of games on Steam. Steam's user interface has stayed largely the same. Certain features are constantly buggy (Every time I receive a gift it freezes my client. Doesn't matter what computer / operating system). Other features have gotten less generous over time (you used to get extra copies of games if you bought, say, a bundle where you already had 1 of the 5 games in the bundle, so you could give it to a friend). They don't make games anymore (I'm deliberately pretending DOTA doesn't exist, or their shitty card game) and don't have the decency to tell their few remaining fans that no, they aren't working on Half Life 3 and probably never will because it could never match the hype.

So at the end of the day, for me, this policy really is just more proof that Valve doesn't care anymore. And of course, they're not obligated to. But that doesn't make it any easier to accept for those of us that were with them from the start. Ultimately, I don't mind Underage Panty Quest XVIII being on Steam. I just wish it still meant that Underage Panty Quest XVIII was worth my time. And that it wasn't sandwiched between ten thousand other nearly indistinguishable anime tentacle fisting simulators.

Edited June 8th by Count Dooku
Count Dooku

I'm skeptical that anyone shops for games by buying random new releases they see on the Steam store.


I used to and I've found some really nice games that way. It's not worth my time to bother anymore though.

I stopped doing that long ago because Valve stopped caring about what actually made it onto the store. This latest thing I don't care much about because it's more focused on genres than actual quality... But it is nice to see them admit they can't be bothered anymore.

To your point about diamonds in the rough, so there needs to be a rough. The issue for me is there doesn't need to be a rough at all, or at least not to the extent it exists on Steam.

I'm also not a fan of companies saying "We can't be bothered to manage our store so here's some tools, do it yourselves." Because the internet is fickle. I've seen good games get "review bombed" because they don't happen to like some dumb detail. I've seen terrible games get masses of positive reviews because people thought it was funny. Imagine what can happen when Valve gives the masses even more tools. But also that's a company outsourcing their work to their userbase free of charge. Of I tried that with my job I'd not have a job for long.

There needs to be a balance because I do think more user tools could genuinely help as well. But Valve needs to do SOME quality assurance on a game before selling it to help cut out load of "fake" games such as "asset flips". Currently they do none, to the point that they were selling a game that was missing its exe file at one point.

Posted June 9th by Moonray
Moonray
 
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