Steam Bans Misleading Store Page Screenshots

We've heard rumblings of a big Steam update on the horizon, and details are beginning to trickle in. Apparently it's "a couple weeks away" and will, among other things, require developers to advertise their games with real screenshots, rather than art, CGI or pictures of their holiday to Cancun. A member of the Facepunch forums with access to Steam developer posts screenshotted Valve's latest missive. I reached out to Valve, who confirmed what was on the page and sent me an official copy of it. There are two key points: 1) Developers will soon be required to flag screenshots that contain mature content, and 2) images in a game's top carousel will need to be actual screenshots. No more art or pre-rendered stuff.

Here's what Valve had to say about the latter:

We haven't been super crisp on guidelines for screenshots in the past, so we'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some rules in this space. When the 'screenshot' section of a store page is used for images other than screenshots that depict the game, it can make it harder for customers to understand what the product is that they are looking at. Additionally, we're going to start showing game screenshots in more places as described above, and these images need to be able to represent the game.
We ask that any images you upload to the 'screenshot' section of your store page should be screenshots that show your game. This means avoiding using concept art, pre-rendered cinematic stills, or images that contain awards, marketing copy, or written product descriptions. Please show customers what your game is actually like to play.

Valve added that they don't have a spotless record with their own games, offering DOTA 2 as an example. Up until very recently, many of its "screenshots" were concept art. As part of this new effort, Valve's corrected that.

Over the years, there's been a heap of controversy around screenshots proudly touting features that don't exist or impossibly stunning visuals. Recent case in point: Whether you love it or hate it, you gotta admit that No Man's Sky's Steam screenshots are, as Kotaku's own Kirk Hamilton puts it, "hogwash". They have only served to fan the flames of ire lapping at the game's procedurally generated eyeball ankles.

If all goes according to plan, Steam's new policy will keep developers honest. The question, though, is how comprehensively it will be enforced. Will egregious bullshots still be allowed? I sure hope not, but I guess we'll find out in a couple of weeks.


    A 'real' screenshot sounds like a contradiction in terms.

    A game like No Man's Sky was announced early in development, and then went through an extra-long hype/pre-release cycle.

    What, are we expecting developers to rapidly change what the Steam Store Front shows for their game during development, as they keep up with design?

    "Ah, milestone reached! Oh wait, someone better remember to update the crap assets on the Steam page! Even though we're about to announce a delay for the game!"

    That's like Miyamoto constantly dropping down to the local JB-Hifi to restock the art for the un-released amiibo.


    Steam's only function is to facilitate the sale of the game, not over-shadow the need to properly develop said game in the first place. The Steam community around a game like Witcher 3 or Dark Souls 2 which has had the trumped up 'graphics downgrade?!?!' bullshit attached it to before either game was released would also be turned into an attack-squad overnight. I'm not opposed to that for every game, though.

    I don't think anybody should hold Valve accountable for its own games either. It's not like it makes them anymore.

      It is hardly an onerous requirement to ensure that the screenshots you post accurately depict the game you are selling as opposed to showing a 12 month old build of the game before the lighting and mesh detail were scaled back.

      Last edited 02/11/16 11:03 am

      Uploading an image really isnt a huge task. I'm sure they'll manage.

      It seems fair to require that the screen shots on the store page are accurate at the launch date.

      As for pre-release, I'm sure Valve isn't going to request that game developers do something that is physically impossible. But once the game is finished, there isn't really any excuse for leaving fake screen shots up.

      Steam, as a retailer, is part of the process of marketing to consumers.
      And consumer laws are all about making sure that the information provided to consumers by retails is clear and accurate.

      What Steam looks to be targeting with these guidelines is the trending annoyance of seeing mobile-app-store-style 'screenshots' which are actually a composite of a tiny screenshot, a pretty background, some character concept art, and some marketing copy. Either that, or some very pretty stills taken from carefully-arranged developer-only 'photo mode' which are more like dioramas to show off some art assets than an actual reflection on how the game plays.

      This is a fantastic move for transparency in what's actually being sold, and highly appropriate, given that it is the responsibility of the retailer distributing those materials to make sure that they aren't misleading.

      Last edited 02/11/16 12:14 pm

      I thought you were being sarcastic!

      Flat answer is yes, devs need to ensure their marketing hubs are up to scratch.
      There is no here nor there, no weird exceptions or conflations to be added.
      It's a liability to their business and I would bet NMS was one of the nails in the coffin.
      It's why so many were able to pursue refunds past the various policies of Valve, Sony and various retailers.

        Sorry, not sure if these are all replies to me (new site and all) but largely I agree with everybody, I'm just going off what the audiences of Steam/etc have done before.

        The next big game to get put under the 'downgrade?' microscope will probably have this to thank.

          I think it's more to do with your first couple lines being about the concept of a 'real' screenshot for an in-development game and the subsequent susceptibility to the cries of downgrade etc, etc drama drama who bloody cares... and the far more relevant (to us) purpose behind this screenshot thing being removing the kind of misleading crap that's started infecting the store, presumably transmitted by all those cheap mobile-game ports.

            Again, totally understand that, however this has the possibility for just as much confusion and or abuse, as been alluded to in other comments here.

            This makes me think of the halcyon days of gaming magazines, now.

            For example, if Borderlands at some point was featured on the cover of a magazine, and then under-went its full-scale art style re-design, that's totally up to the developers.

            I know this of course didn't happen and the cel-shaded look of that game was as far as previews go the only way the game ever looked, but as an audience we are voracious and wanting more and more of the game's pre-release information, and even dictate how that goes.

              I've said this before, but there's nothing at all wrong with showing prerelease footage and imagery, as long as A) you let people know if it changes, and B) you don't use it on launch material (store page, back of the box, retail posters) if it's no longer accurate. Neither of these things are hard or time consuming, it's trivially easy to abide by the law and by Steam's policies here.

    Oh, now THIS is good news and something that has been LOOOOONG overdue (in every medium for games). I remember this trend starting a while back, where there was less in game footage and more pre-rendered gameplay. Then were it got to a point where gameplay was entirely taken out.

    Can only hope this will weed out some of the dodgy marketing practices (but will likely just generate new ways of doing it)

      As a Steam fanboy from way back, it's really nice to see Valve finally start taking some steps towards cleaning up the cesspit that the store has become...but I think you're right; we're going to see a new dodgy marketing practice rise to the top.

        Well the dogiest thing they can do is generate all the screenshots with Nvidia Ansell that can take screenshots at photo quality resolutions that make 4K look tiny which is far beyond the native playing resolution.

    We haven't been super crisp on guidelines

    I mean, Valve, ya coulda stopped there as that pretty much sums up everything in seven words or less doesn't it?

    I want to see the images have flags like gameplay, cutscene, preview (pre game release like trailers E3 etc), beta etc and that all pre release images are removed once the game is Gold.

    I hate seeing all the images being cutscenes and not actual game shots.

    I wonder if they'll institute a "game must be running at its target frame rate when the shot is taken" rule, to avoid cases of tweaking the detail to a level where the game can only manage a few fps on top end hardware?

    At this rate I may even visit the Steam store again...someday.

    It's gone from something I once checked every something I looked at once a something I have a brief glance over every few months for a something I just don't really look at anymore.

    Steam is becoming irrelevant to me...never thought that would happen.

    Last edited 02/11/16 12:14 pm

    Hopefully there's a similar policy for videos? I can't tell how many times I wanted to check a game and the only video available was the cg intro or a fancy slide of concept art and glowy text with 300 FXs.

      I agree, even if you ignore the old E3-misleading video stuff, there's games like Payday 2. They have 5 videos on their store page, of those; 2 are live-action, 1 is CGI and the other 2 are in-engine (source-filmmaker-style) videos which 'kinda' show how the game works but... it's not actually gameplay lol.

      I love the game (or used to anyway, haven't played it in a long time) but really, that's just terrible for people who actually want to see the game before they buy it :/

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now