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

Yesterday, Valve announced a sweeping new policy for Steam: From now on, the platform will allow "everything" except for games Valve decides are "illegal, or straight up trolling". In light of controversies such as the recently removed school shooter game Active Shooter, the announcement came as a surprise to those who were expecting Valve to offer a solution, rather than wash its hands of the task. But that's what Valve does.

Image: Tara Jacoby

Valve's post laid bare a set of ethos that have been driving Steam nearly since its inception, even if Valve rarely discusses them: A desire for openness, a hands-off approach to platform ownership, and an irrational fear of controversy that directly implicates Valve.

In this particular case, Valve's Erik Johnson espoused meritocratic, libertarian-style market openness while pointing to a vague notion of "controversy" as a key factor in Valve's decision-making process. He explained that the company is reacting to controversies surrounding potentially "offensive" content such as Active Shooter and a bevy of explicitly sexual games not by hiring more people to do a more comprehensive job of moderating Steam, but by opening the floodgates even wider.

This is because, he wrote, good moderation of Steam looks vastly different depending on who's doing the looking, and "there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad".

Since yesterday, there's been tremendous blowback to Valve's decision from developers, critics and journalists. "Shit, Valve, if your new platform content policy is the policy even the toxic hellfires that social media are slowly backing away from after years of troubles, that doesn't bode very good for the content of your platform," wrote Vlambeer's Rami Ismail on Twitter.

"A platform that allows 'everything, unless it's illegal or straight up trolling' is ridiculous," said Leaf Corcoran, creator of indie game storefront Itch.io, a Steam competitor. "Please keep your malicious, derogatory, discriminatory, bullying, harassing, demeaning content off Itch.io. Our ban buttons are ready."

Critics' fears that Steam will become a cesspit of gross content aren't just hypothetical: Steam isn't just a store, and Valve has already done similar things with other portions of Steam, often to disastrous results.

"You're assuming this is still some kind of abstract 'slippery slope' hypothetical?" Robert Yang, a developer of queer sex games who's had a bumpy relationship with Steam in the past, said on Twitter in response to the idea that it could be bad if corporations got to decide what was and wasn't moral.

"They're already picking bad moral norms, they're already governing, they're already giving tacit support to steam nazis to call me a degenerate."

In the case of games such as Yang's, Valve's devotion to openness will solve the problem. The lack of clarity surrounding sex games - even ones that try to explore nuanced ideas such as sexuality and queerness instead of falling back on basic titillation - has been a constant thorn in developers' sides. It's good to hear that it shouldn't be an issue any more.

But is it worth it for Yang et al to be able to publish their games on Steam when Valve won't clean up the rest of it?

And yes, ideally, corporations should not be the sole deciders of what is and is not moral and ethical, because that's a one-way trip to an even bleaker dystopia than the one we're already occupying. But that isn't really what this is about. This is about basic safeguards that Valve has consistently failed to provide.

Over the years, Valve's particular brand of openness has repeatedly resulted in messes that, somehow, the company evidently hasn't learned from.

If you need examples from the past, look no further than the proliferation of hate groups in Steam's inconsistently policed community section, the Digital Homicide fiasco, the endless flood of "fake games" taking advantage of an exploit in Steam's trading card system, the normalisation of review bombs as a viable tactic to try and tank games' sales, or the multi-billion dollar underage Counter-Strike gambling ring that sprung up in Valve's backyard.

In those cases and many more, Valve didn't take action until controversy came knocking. Only after sustained user outcry, lawsuits or negative mainstream press does it crack down - whether quietly, or in more legally fraught cases such as the gambling issue, publicly.

When it comes to Steam, Valve rarely acts; it mostly reacts. In the meantime, problems fester and ultimately come to define the platform's caustic, oftentimes abusive culture.

It would be downright bizarre to see Valve throw its hands up at the idea of sifting through Steam's endless game flood - despite having barely tried to do so previously - if this wasn't so similar to decisions it's made countless times before.

Let's not beat around the bush here: Valve is a stupendously wealthy and resourceful company, and it could have taken preemptive action against many of the above issues. It chose not to.

It's a matter of priorities, and Valve has proven time and time again that the particular shape Steam's culture ultimately takes is not a priority. That's a big problem, and it will almost certainly continue to be under Valve's new approach.

The language Johnson used in yesterday's post is telling of those priorities and the ways they actually threaten to undo Valve's dream of a laissez-faire paradise.

"The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content," he said. "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 lumping together so many different types of subject matter and pointing to them all as being controversial or offensive to somebody, Johnson ignores that these things are wildly different. Games with racist leanings do not even remotely pose the same kinds of problems as games about sexuality.

Not only that, these things tend to have knock-on effects. If Steam sees an upswing in overtly racist games, it's unlikely that people will want to put their games with more nuanced takes on race on the same platform, given that racism's whole thing is threatening people of certain backgrounds and identities.

It inherently makes for a more hostile environment for certain types of expression, and as we've already seen in Steam's community, white nationalists and overt Nazis are happy to invade these spaces en masse when presented with an opportunity.

Valve said it will work on providing tools that allow people to hide content that's objectionable to them on their store pages, which, besides being a solution to a different problem, is something that Valve hasn't done a great job with in the past. The tools it introduces are often exploited by malicious users.

It remains to be seen what shape those tools take, but it's hard to be hopeful - especially in light of the way that Valve framed them. It offered the example that a user might choose to hide anime games from their feed, as if that's even on the list of users' biggest problems.

Valve refuses to acknowledge the political context in which Steam exists, even as other social platforms such as Facebook face a cultural and political reckoning after embracing similar technolibertarian ideals.

Clearly, Valve is aware that things such as Nazi groups are a bad thing, given that it's gone on quiet delete sprees each time they have been specifically mentioned in the press. But there still seems to be a disconnect between that knowledge and Valve's understanding of Steam's broader cultural and political influence.

Bafflingly, however, Valve does seem very aware of Steam's influence in other ways. The company clearly understands that being able to publish on Steam is incredibly important for PC game developers - existentially so, even.

"If you're a developer," said Johnson, "we shouldn't be choosing what content you're allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make."

Valve knows it's the biggest game in town - a company of near-monopolistic proportions - but it will only take responsibility for one side of that coin.

Johnson concluded yesterday's post by stressing that Valve does not want games on Steam to be seen as an expression of the company's values.

"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," he said.

"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."

But this decision, and a procession of similar calls the company has made over the years, does constitute an expression of values. Valve just doesn't want to own up to those values or the online environment it has shaped.

The company is happy to turn a massive profit off all of it, but it doesn't care to clean up the dog shit dotting its front yard. It's just going to ask users to hide it. But it will still be there.

If nothing else, it's hard to be too disappointed that Valve refuses to moderate Steam because, frankly, it's hard to believe that such a confused, inconsistent, irresponsible company would do a passable job of it.

There is no good outcome here - the sensible thing would be to use some of Valve's enormous profits to hire more people to do a better job of moderation, but that's clearly not in the cards either.

No matter how you slice it, Valve is the problem. I've given up on hoping that will change any time soon. Meanwhile, earlier today, a game called AIDS Simulator was coming to Steam next week. It's a game where "you're mad and want to kill all Africans that gave you aids to get revenge". I wish I was joking.

It has since been removed from Steam, presumably because it violated Valve's still-nebulous rules around "straight up trolling". Still, that's something, at least.


Comments

    This article paints a very one-sided picture, suggesting the feedback to this change has been overwhelmingly negative. While that certainly reflects Nathan Grayson's Twitter conversations, which this article seems to basically be a copy-paste of, it's not the case most anywhere else. If anything, public response seems more positive than negative.

      Agree with you. The author appears to have indulged in some subjective journalism. Oh well, that's one good thing about the comments section; it'll quickly call out such examples.

        I never understand why people have these complaints about opinion pieces. This isn't a news piece that slips is trying to slip some editorial into it ( a practice I too am not a huge fan of). It's clearly an opinion piece that uses evidence to back up their view.

          Because people can disagree with opinion articles?

            By all means disagree. I like it when people disagree, it leads to a more rounded discussion. What I object to is labeling something like this "subjective journalism" and complaining that the article exists. This isn't "subjective journalism" as DeeK called it, where you skew a news article due to your opinion, it's editoralising.

              Thats fine, but it's a poor quality opinion piece which tries hard to push an agenda by misrepresenting the argument made against it.

              Unfortunately if you disagree here you get downvoted which puts you in moderation purgatory. It kills discussion when it gets abused.

                Honestly I don't like the idea that being downvoted means you get moderated. The idea of censorship because you get downvoted is pretty ridiculous imho. Both of us have been around a long time, we've been upvoted heaps, downvoted heaps and seen the place change over time, but nothing hurts this place more like you said, when discussion is killed off by that moderation.

          It's my view that this article deliberately misrepresents the facts to support its opinion. Even for an opinion piece, that's bad writing. To quote New York Times guidance on opinion writing:

          It is a common mistake to believe that columns and editorials, unlike news articles, do not need to be thoughtful and measured. In truth, writing a column or editorial takes more reporting, not less. While the reporting for a news article needs to continue until all reasonable sides can be adequately represented, the reporting for an opinion piece needs to continue until the writer can judge reasonably which side has the strongest case. That takes more work, not less.

          The editorial needs to be fair, just as news articles should be. If the other side has a good case, the editorial should state it as well as possible.

            Also sorry @snoweee, I initially misread your reply as being to me, not to DeeK. Although since you did downvote my comment, I feel like you deserve the explanation of my reasoning.

            I disagree that the article misrepresent facts, and succeeds in checking off everything listed in your first quote (the second quote I have more to say on than is worth going into), but honestly, I'm happy for us to live in "agree to disagree" land, otherwise this will just devolve into one-upmanship while we both bury our feet into the sand.

            I think my biggest gripe is that I see too many comments that dismiss opinions they don't agree with by calling it bad writing without going any further into it. To me, that's just a lazy rebuttal.

              That's perfectly fair. For my part, I have no problem with the article expressing Nathan's opinion, although obviously I disagree. I take issue with the way the facts behind the opinion are represented. For me, all he had to do was say "public reactions are mixed, but I hate it and here's why" instead of just pretending like it has no support at all.

              Hmmm. Yep, you have a point. I didn't go into the article with an opinion piece mindset. I agree that the author can certainly air their opinion.

              Still, there's something about the language used which isn't quite right. For example, instead of it being "a number of negative responses", it's "tremendous blowback". The whole tone of the piece seems to suggest that the general feedback on this decision was negative. It's horribly one-sided; there's not even a tacit acknowledgement of another argument.

              I know this is just opinion, but still, I believe a good opinion piece should try to weigh up both sides, or at least acknowledge another side.

            I don't think it is a misrepresentation, merely a different interpretation of the facts than you have. When you say "misrepresent" you're implying malicious intent, which with the existing evidence is merely your assumption; or more exactly, your interpretation.

            It is possible to have a different opinion than you without it being a coldly calculated manoeuvre to further an agenda.

      All the positive feedback i've seen has been by ppl who forget that Steam is a business & not a samizdat underground newspaper fighting against totalitarian censorship.

        I'm positive about it, and I haven't forgotten what Steam is. Please don't make blanket assumptions like that.

          Out of all my comments, You reply to the one comment where i'm less reasonable so you could speak down to me instead of engaging me in discussion about the topic at hand, Bravo, You're a class act.

            You left this comment as a reply to mine, why do you think it's unreasonable for me to respond?

            And for that matter, what part of "please don't make blanket assumptions" is talking down to you? I feel like my response was polite.

              I'm going to be devil's advocate.
              Although you are factually correct, polite and all the rest. There is sometimes something about your responses that doesn't sit well, I can't put my finger on it.
              It could be just a matter of you are to formal in your responses. Giving an authoritarian feel. I dunno I can't pick it.
              It's not a dig at you. We have had discussions before were we both agree and disagree. But I'm sometimes left with a "You didn't have to say it like that" kind of feeling.
              Maybe I'm just to precious.

                My language certainly comes across authoritative sometimes, and I know I can also come across argumentative as well. Neither are my intention, of course. In this case (my comment from 1:59pm), do you have any suggestions on how it could have been more amiable?

                  I can't honestly pick anything wrong with that response. It seems fine to me. His counter argument did make my mind wander to other discussions from times past, hence my reply.
                  Also take this as a compliment, I made that statement not just based on how I feel but in the knowledge that you would take it as a constructive comment in good faith as opposed to how some other commenters do react.

      Grayson has only ever wanted to push a political agenda - he was like that on RPS and has imported this blogger style hand-wringing to Kotaku US.

      Grayson isn't worried about actually racist material on Steam, because on some level he knows that it'll get removed or shunned. He's worried that content he doesn't like will be on Steam - and wants to push his idea of 'acceptable' as the standard for gatekeeping.

      Even if you celebrate the idea of controversial games being given a major platform, this is still a bad policy.

      One of the biggest issues Steam has faced over the last few years is the continual wave of low-effort garbage vomiting onto the store. This new policy is Valve saying that they are going to do nothing to address that problem. Instead they'll give us some curation tools and hope we can sort it out.

      That's a bit like giving someone who is neck deep in sewerage a bucket. Given Valve's history, I'm pretty sure that the bucket will have a hole in it.

        So who decides what's low-effort? What qualifies as above low-effort?
        Everyone has the equal opportunity to submit a game, we consumers can filter and purchase what we want. I don't need Valve to be my dad and decide what I want.

          That's a bit like saying that Woolworths should let anyone put anything on their shelves. People can work out which poorly labelled tins are food on their own.

            If the game doesn't do what it says on the store page, it's false/misleading advertising which is illegal. You will continue to have the same legal protection from that in the future as you do now, the new system won't change anything in that respect.

            No it's nothing like that. A more apt comparison would be anyone can sell what they want on Amazon or Ebay and people can work out what they want to buy.
            We have standards on food because it damages your health, not your feelings.

            Again, who decides what is low-effort? One man's trash is another man's treasure.

            It's not the same since Woolworths has limited physical space and that creates a much higher pressure for products to be profitable. But since you're going that route, they already do that. Look at all the cheap, shit products on the shelves. The home brand, the even cheaper home brand, the various knock-off brands. Last time I looked there were something like 40 different brands of tomato sauce.

            They do EXACTLY what you're saying they don't do. And they let the customers decide whether they want to spend $1 on a bottle of home brand sauce or $6 on a bottle of fancy sauce. The only difference is if they find the $1 bottles aren't selling they pull them from shelves, but again this is because of physical limitations and perish-ability. Something that digital distribution doesn't suffer from anywhere near as badly.

            Woolworths is a bad example.
            They would do that.
            They have removed high quality, selling items off their shelves because the margin on selling them wasn't high enough.

        Valve never wanted to fix this. I initially took the same perspective but what is or isn't "quality"? What's the objective standard?

        This is fixed by having a decent store front and good discovery - and not leaving it entirely to the community.

          I don't see how that absolves Valve of responsibility.

            What, exactly, do you want them to fix, and by what objective measure?

              I think I've pretty clearly said that the problem is low-effort games flooding the store. There is no "objective measure" to deal with this. It's like pornography, you know it when you see it.

              Valve is a multi-billion dollar company. I dare say they have the resources to take a crack.

                They did. Everyone hated it. Steam Greenlight was supposed to fix it. Everyone hated it. Fact is nobody likes curation whenever they feel it doesn't cater to them and Valve got too much backlash for their previous efforts. The next step is to stop and hope the community figures it out.

                I doubt that this approach will be much better but I don't think the alternatives work.

                  The next step is to try something else.

                  Nobody ever said that running something as huge as Steam was easy. To give up because their past efforts weren't good enough isn't going to get anywhere.

                I quite enjoy janky sim games because I think they're funny, but others like yourself might consider those games "low-effort garbage". Why should your standard be the de-facto one, and not mine? Why should I have to find those games I enjoy on a different platform just because you personally don't like them?

                As you acknowledge, there is no objective measure for this. Their choice is to apply a one-size-fits-all standard that some people will like and some people will hate, or give you the ability to hide games you don't want to see so you can apply your own personal standards yourself. The latter seems distinctly better than the former, to my mind.

                  Except I'm not complaining about janky sims. I'm complaining about asset flips, achievement farmers and other such nonsense.

                  To say that one person's standards are too high is a terrible excuse to have no standards.

                  @adamwells The principle is the same. Just because it doesn't meet your standards doesn't mean it doesn't meet everyone's standards. Like I said, you acknowledge that there is no objective standard that can be applied, so the question remains - why should a game that doesn't meet your standard be denied to others who don't share that standard? What makes yours more worthy than theirs?

                  I don't get the impression the absence of a standard is the actual issue you have. It seems like if Steam did implement a standard but it was one that allowed things you don't like through, your issue would still be there. If true, that would make the issue for you that their standards don't meet yours, not simply whether there is one or not.

                  Yeah true, but the surge of low quality games includes a number of developers releasing games in bad faith. If it was all low-quality but earnest attempts at games, sure, go nuts. But a massive company like Valve should be taking the time to protect it's customers from predatory business practices (or straight up trolling for that matter). It should not be up to us to police their storefront for them. And sure, someone may still like a dodgy game anyway, but that doesn't change the developer's intent.

                  @derrick They are protecting against trolling though. Their announcement wasn't 'no standards at all', it was just limited standards on legal and technical grounds.

                  @zombiejesus yeah they did say that - you'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical about the efficacy of their approach at this stage. With trolling being subjective as well, my guess is only the most egregious stuff will get caught pre-release.

                So... by "no objective measure" you're saying it's subjective. So in essence it's up to the whim of the observer whether it's an issue or not?

                That very argument supports Valve's approach.

                 It's like pornography, you know it when you see it
                Do you really want to open a can of worms on the fine line between art and pornography?
                Like bad games there are easy examples to pick out. But there are also extremely debatable ones.

                "You know it when you see it," is entirely the problem.

                It's not good enough for the global distribution default. It's what you or I might use for ourselves, or even want for others, but it's not good enough. That's why sex-positive, mature and intelligent games were getting banned. Because knowing it when you see it is different for everyone, and someone else knew it and saw it... and banned it. It's why developers get confused over what they can and can't do. It's not OK to invest in design then roll the dice on whether you can use the world's largest distributor or not, because you won't know if they'll know until they see it. You can't design around someone knowing it when they see it. Storefronts need rules. Defined rules. Objective rules. Contestible rules.

                We've seen this with our own issues with the government censor. It's not enough to say that 'portraying hate speech as good is bad'. We have that with sex or drugs, for example, but there are positive elements to every drug; the high, that's why people take them. It's pointless and dishonest to avoid showing that when you're trying to demonstrate how long-term drugs are bad, and examine why people take them. That's where art - useful, mature, socially-responsible art - finds itself banned. The government puts the 'we'll know it when we see it' wiggle room in, and says 'context matters' as an exception... and then they fucking ban We Happy Few, because clearly no-one explained to them what context is.

                People want Steam to 'take a stand,' and the people I associate with, the authors I read want that stand to be a left-leaning stand. Sex-positive (unless it's exploitative; you know, nothing with huge age differences, anything illegal, abuse of power as anything other than role-play device - IN-GAME roleplay, mind! - or anything that's a 'little bit rapey' or makes people uncomfortable unless it has something useful to say and isn't just for 'gratification'; actually there should be trigger warnings too), diversity-friendly, shutting down hate groups and the more grotesque examples of violence...well. Against those who can't fight back, or who are already marginalized... er, for being who they are, not for their behaviour/beliefs. Er... except for islamic extremist beliefs. But only extremists, because-- oh, well, depending on your idea of extremists and where you're from, because well gee this got complicated I wonder why they're finding this so hard.

                The Supreme Court of the United States can't even figure this shit out. But Valve can because... money? No. Private businesses have done this by setting their own rules based on what's going to piss off fewer customers and earn them the most money.

                We want them to pick a side. Our side. Surprise, surprise, there's another noisy-as-fuck opposing side of customers who want Steam to take their side. Steam just wants out of the fucking culture wars, and I can't say I blame them.

                  Dude I love this comment so much I'd give you a fucking diamond if I had one.

                  Just to clear things up a little, "I know it when I see it" is about the standard that I'm happy with.

                  This is not an easy issue to solve. It's not one we're going to solve arguing in the comments and it's not one Valve is likely to solve any time soon. I see it as their responsibility as the owner of one of the world's largest digital platforms to at least try. Opting out of the culture wars isn't an option when they're directly profiting from it.

                  Concrete rules with an appeal system would be a fantastic place to start. The blog post saying they'll get rid of outright trolling is the exact opposite of that.

                  So, I agree with you.

                  If valve was the government, beyond straight up illegal content, they should publish it.

                  But valve *aren't* the government. They should take responsibility for the content they profit off.

                  This policy is Valve saying "we aren't selling this, don't blame us!" And then selling it to you.

                  The problem is they can't have their cake and eat it, either they are selling you a product, or they aren't.

                  If they are selling you a product, they need to take responsibility for it.

                  Valve can't pretend they aren't getting their 30% and they have nothing to do with the content on their store. The opinion - the ONLY opinion - that should matter about what goes on the store is valves. They get to make the rules.

                  They can't make a rule that says anything goes, and not own that responsibility.

                  If they want to split the store into sponsored and unsponsored content, where valve take no profit from "unsponsored" content, I could give them the benefit of the doubt. But as it is, this policy is Valve dropping the ball in favour of dreck.

                  And the only opinion of what is dreck that matters is Valves opinion, since they are selling the product. They are sticking their name on the Tin at sale time. They can't pretend they have nothing to do with it.

                  Best comment yet. The one thing that riled me up about this post was the lack of examples that other companies have tried to fix this problem. How does itch.io deal with these ethical issues? What about Steam's other competitors? Wait, what is itch.io?

                  Slamming a company for bad practice works best when you have an example of better practice. While the idea of throwing more moderators at the issue was raised, that does nothing to solve the overall issue of the mind-numbing grey zone that is the ethical debacle transientmind has pointed out; and moderators can't moderate until they have clear rules and structures to moderate with.

                  I logged in purely to upvote this comment. What a fantastic way to summarise everything wrong with what Nathan's saying in his opinion piece.

                  Steam is not here to hold your hand. If there's something you dont like on there, dont buy it. If nobody buys it it wont survive. If everyone buys it, you're in the minority, and that's the kind of stuff people want to play. Valve's only motivation here is to make money, not to pander to a certain point of view. It's YOUR job to figure out what you should spend your money on. By the same token, it's not YOUR job (and by extension it's not Valve's either) to figure out what everyone else should spend their money on. We're all adults here, use your adult brain.

                  We want them to pick a side. Our side.

                  Every single opinion piece I've seen on this topic can be summed up as this.

                  @transientmind - your comment caused me to create a kotaku account so I could upvote it. I worry that the "know it when you see it" crowd don't understand the nuances of censorship.

                I don't often see low value games on my steam storefront... I also don't often look at the steam store front because I know what I want to buy.

                I have no problem with it. Only an idiot would buy some of the truly low effort crap.

        You've just contradicted yourself with that statement "valve doing nothing" and "valve giving us new curation tools". By it's very nature valve giving us new curation tools is them doing something. And quite frankly I'd much prefer to be in charge of deciding what I do and don't want to play than some random person working for Valve.

        On a different note, I can't see racist games remaining on the store. If it's outright racist and full of hate speech I'm pretty sure that's illegal, at least in the US. So it's either not going to be published in the first place, or it'll be pulled as soon as they become aware of it.

        I thought it was about the uproar from sex scenes being banned in games from smaller publishers but not from large publishers.
        So valve said look we will stay out of it and let you make your own decision.

        Out of interest, do you have the same complaints about Amazon? If you go searching for it, you will find many "asset flips", where someone has uploaded Wikipedia articles to a print-on-demand platform and listed them on the site.

        Personally, it doesn't bother me much on Amazon because you only find that kind of thing if you actively go out searching for it. Amazon is happy to list products like that, but isn't going to market them to people who don't want them.

    I’m less worried about the moral panic of allowing games and publishers you don’t agree with/are offended by.

    I’m more concerned with what sort of malware protection will be in place.

      I don't think this'll impact their treatment of malware. That kind of thing is probably already a violation of their terms/EULA/contract/whatever, and they'll come down on anything like that like a ton of bricks to protect themselves from liability.

    So we would rather valve continue to play the moral police on our behalf?

    Where sex scenes in AAA games get a free pass but on indie games they don't?
    Where our morals are set by who can yell the loudest or has the most revenue?

      Where our morals are set by who can yell the loudest or has the most revenue?

      Hey - we wanted games to be treated with the same level of respect as every other form of art. And that's what we're getting.

    Ugh, the moral police with their version of whats right and wrong, and what should or shouldn't be allowed is here :\

      Steam is selling a game called Aid's Simulator, Your response to this shouldn't be "If you don't want to play Aid's simulator, Then don't buy it" That's the version of Steam that exists.

        That should be my exact answer.

          So no standards, Homophobia is allowed, It's a business, If a publisher published a homophobic or racist game that would be a bad thing but Steam can sells Aid's simulator & that's a okay in your mind. This isn't a censorship issue, It's a lack of responsibility issue, Steam is opening the floodgates & will make more cash by doing even less.

            It is indeed a censorship issue. As much as I detest homophobia and racism, it is our job as a society to inform and change others opinion as to why its a load of crap, rather than playing with censorship. As with censorship, it is always vocal minorities and their priorities that influence what can and can't be seen, rather than the majority.

              Steam is a video game storefront with no standards, Responsibility or due care to their customers, Not a platform for social change, Again it's a business like any other.

                Indeed, it isn't a platform for social change. Thanks for validating my argument.

                  I fell asleep sorry, A hospital is not a platform for social change but it has standards thank god, Don't need to break it down any more than that, I don't see this a censorship issue but as a quality of service issue, I look at the fact that Aids simulator is in the store as a reflection of the bile and hate & other bs lengths that ppl will go to & i don't see a quality service that allows this, The otherside to this is ppl seeing Valve championing free speech, I don't see it the way.

                Dude, I'm not sure I've *ever* seen someone fuck up and defeat their own argument in one go like you just did lol. Well done.

                  You disagree with what i have to say, That's a difference of opinion, Maybe read what i said or don't & just continue to not add anything to the discussion.

                  I think you need to re-read the last thing you posted mate... you shot your own argument to hell. Seriously @hardtobeagod.

                  Argue against censorship, exploit the downvote system effectively censoring me, Irony, I said it wasn't a "censorship issue but a quality issue".

                  Last edited 10/06/18 2:38 pm

            Here's the thing, if it's bad enough that everyone (or at least a large enough part of society) thinks it's not on then laws are made and it becomes illegal. If it's NOT illegal then enough of society agrees with, or at least doesn't care about it. So if a game doesn't breach the law then there is a sizeable portion of society that is either happy with it or doesn't care one way or the other.

            Now, I said this before, but I'm pretty sure there are already laws in place in the US about racism and hate speech, including ones about homophobic comments. So if a game breaches those laws then it won't be published or it will be pulled as soon as it's realised. If it doesn't breach those laws then there is no reason to restrict it from sale.

              Yeah i agree, I guess it's the part where Valve makes money by selling anything & everything & only doing something about negative stuff once a uproar has happened, I can't think of any other business where this is seen as a acceptable way to operate but you are looking at this from a different perspective than i, Doesn't make what you have to say wrong & so i'm not dismissing it.

                Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the games are low value rubbish, or outright rip-offs, or hateful propaganda. And I wish I didn't have to sort through that dross when I'm looking for something good.

                I just think it's better to rely on user discretion because inevitably once people start banning stuff they end up banning more than they should.

            Those examples would fall under hate speech in a lot of countries. Valve still are filtering out games which are illegal.

              Yeah i don't put much faith in Valve's algorithms ha ha but yes they're beholden to the law still so yes you're right.

        AIDS Simulator was removed, so at the very least the version of Steam that exists right now is one that does remove those titles. Unfortunately, the version of Steam that exists right now is also one that removes confrontational games about sex or identity, such as those by Robert Yang.

        I'm sure you can appreciate the problem on display there - someone else made both of those choices for you, even though you agree with one but presumably disagree with the other. Their standard doesn't align with yours, and the consequence is that games that deserve to be on the platform don't get to be there.

        Don't you think it would be better if both games were on Steam, but you could choose to never see the ones you don't like? At least then the games you do like are there, and aren't being deplatformed because they don't conform to someone else's standards.

          Hey look, I was rude to you before, Sorry, I will go through & read your replies when i have time, You're always pretty level-headed so i shouldn't dismiss your view on this, Your perspective is different than mine which is exactly why it's important etc

            All good mate, we all get a bit heated sometimes on topics we care about. Your replies only just came through now, guess they were stuck in moderation for a bit, which is exactly what I was hoping wouldn't happen with all the downvotes.

        I'm giving you an upvote because I think it's important that everyone has a voice on this issue and I don't want Kotaku's auto-moderation to stop you from being able to participate in the conversation.

          My friend she articulates things better than i, " I don't like censorship but there has to be a line, A responsible shop owner takes it upon themselves to set some standards" I see ppl saying who defines the standards then?, I've failed to describe why i think racist or homophobia should be a obvious standard, I see this as a quality of service issue but it's hard to have a discussion about the quality of a storefront when my examples of said lack of quality are issues like racism & homophobia etc which are so easy to dismiss under the umbrella of censorship, I think a service that will sell anything aslong as it's not a crime deserves scrutiny.

        There kind of IS an 'Aids Simulator'. It's called Plague Inc.

          And even then, who's to say there couldn't be some kind of meaningful AIDS Simulator that explores what it's like to live with the disease, and why should that not have a place on Steam?

    How is it irresponsible of them to let ADULTS choose what they want to play or pay for instead of doing it for them.This should have been done long ago in my opinion. Oh whats that a game is offensive or derogatory to something or someone, then DONT PLAY OR BUY IT simple as that.

    Valve doesn't have an obligation to act as a moral arbiter for game content. Sure, racist content might disgust me, but why should its existence on the platform bother me? The games themselves are a totally opt-in affair. and drawing no line in the sand at all is far more straightforward than trying to work out exactly where that line should sit.

    Their lack of policing for low-quality content (asset flips being the main thing I'm talking about here) is, in my view, far more outrageous and far more devastating for the overall quality of the platform. Allowing the occasional game with a disagreeable moral message is nowhere near as much of a problem.

    I don't quite understand these doom and gloom reactions suggesting there will be a massive influx of garbage games which only exist to offend. I'm pretty sure anything like that would be quickly dumped in the "straight up trolling" bucket.

    Personally, I'm all for being treated like an adult rather than have nanny valve put their hands over my eyes whenever something offensive appears. We get enough of that shit from the ACB ... who I think would still have a lot of power to make sure certain games fall into the "illegal" bucket and disappear from the store anyway.

      It's a shabby response from valve to basically say "sometimes our content reviewers get it wrong, so we'll just get rid it".

      I'd much rather see them put in a system where developers and users can easily and quickly contest any instances where they disagree with the ruling Steam makes.

        But what standards do we hold up as "right"?

          Well, that's the question for Steam to ask itself, really. Steam doesn't and shouldn't have the responsibility to decide what games we play overall, only what games they offer on their system. I just see it as passing the buck when they say everything that can legally go on here, will go on here and we'll let you figure it out.

          (Also, as an aside, sorry for the poor edit job on my comments, new phone and I'm still not used to the keyboard).

            I'm genuinely curious what your thoughts are on the obviously subjective notion of standards. You seem to be saying that Valve has the right to choose its own standard, which if so we agree on that. And I think we can probably safely say that no matter what standard they choose, it's not going to exactly align with yours or mine or the majority of people, really. So it seems like we end up with these possible outcomes.

            - Valve chooses a higher standard than you or I like, which pushes games we think are deserving off the platform. Maybe it's Robert Yang's confrontational works, or maybe it's even something as innocuous as a dating simulator because it tries to address the topic of sexual assault.

            - Valve chooses a mixed standard that still has elements neither of us like, which leads to games like AIDS Simulator or School Shooter Simulator being accepted but that dating simulator trying to genuinely approach the issue of sexual assault is barred.

            - Valve chooses a lower standard than you or I like, which lets all three of these games on the platform, even though we think AIDS Simulator and School Shooter Simulator are disgusting.

            In an ideal world, Valve's choice would end up being whichever of these three you have the least problem with, so I'm curious how you feel about each of them and which you'd prefer given it's likely they're the only possible outcomes. In the real world, it's Valve's choice and I'm curious if you respect their right to make that choice, or if it must be for you the one that closest aligns with your own standards.

              It doesn't have to align with my standards at all. The further from my standards theirs the less happy I'd be about it, but I'd respect them more than this announcement, because it reads as them saying it's not up to them to have standards (except when they are legally bound to).

              Especially since their wording about "trolling" makes this whole thing still opaque. They're open to everything, except when they aren't.

                Hmm. It sounds like you'd be more happy (or less unhappy, at least) if Valve had a strict standard that denied important but sometimes controversial topics like gender identity, sexuality, etc. than a weak standard of only barring illegal or trolling games. That even a bad standard is better than none (or one as close to none as that)?

                I'm not questioning your position, in case it sounds that way. I just want to be sure I've understood it.

                  Considering how poor of a job Steam often does in terms of separating games that handle games that tackle controversial subjects maturely from those that don't, I suppose I do.

                  The best analogy I can think of is a spam filter letting everything through because in the past it caught a few things that aren't spam. I'd rather see them put more effort and resources into improving their filtering.

                  I'm not as opposed to what steam are doing in itself as it comes off, more opposed to their reasons come across as them trying to remove as much accountability as possible from themselves

                  @snoweee Thanks for expanding on that, I think I understand a bit better. The spam filter analogy is a good one, I suppose it comes down to how important the content is, which is another enormously subjective thing. For example, I know if I was waiting on an email for a big job offer that was really important for my career, I'd rather have no filter and get spam than risk losing the important email if the filter is overactive.

                  The reason I mentioned sexuality and identity games specifically is because I really feel like they're important. I keep coming back to him but I think he's a great example - Robert Yang uses things that at surface level seem silly or dumb (giving guns blowjobs, for example) but the ability to create that expression and message is important.

                  Is a hundred shovelware titles or an edgelord school shooting simulator worth it to ensure Yang's games can get on the platform too? Right now, at least, I have to say yes. And that's the kind of question I keep asking myself when it comes to trying to figure out where the line should best sit, not just for myself but for everyone.

                  I see it as the difference between, "Do I want to see this?" and, "Do I think no-one should be allowed to see this?"

                  There's a yawning fucking gulf between the two, but a lot of folks are arguing against one on the basis of the other.

                While trolling is pretty vague I take that to mean stunts like putting up a game where there is no game. It's a exe file that when you click on it says "I got your money sucka!" and that's all. But it could also be taken to mean games like "aids simulator" since it could be seen as trolling - just trying to gain controversy and sales because of that.

                As for the standards, I see it as Valve saying their standards are the legal ones. No more, no less. Which to me is about as good as it gets. Society as a whole sets the laws (well close enough) so they're the ones that should be followed.

              The point is Valve has chosen the lowest possible standard, and is telling people that they haven't chosen any standard at all!

              It is an abject lie to say on one hand "we aren't involved" and on the other hand "therefore we will sell you this content".

              Valve cannot sell something and simultaneously claim it isn't their fault.

              If they are performing the sale then they should take responsibility.

              The article author isn't actually against the policy, so much as against valves attempt to characterise it like they have no control anymore.

              They still have control over what gets published, they should own up to the fact that they are choosing to publish basically the worst possible barely acceptable content. Since that is their true policy now.

            So you want choice but only what Valve arbitrarily chooses for you, and everyone else?

            No sorry this is an awful idea.

              Not to belittle how much sway Steam now has on a smaller games being successful in the PC market as a whole (a complete other issue), but O personally had heaps of choice. Both Itchand GOG are great alternatives if Steam choose not to host a game.

          Typically standards and morals have been set by government or society at large. So why not let the same happen here.
          Valve said no illegal content so that's the government covered then the users through their purchasing power can decide as well.

        I'd rather not give more power to users to influence what other users can or can't buy since people are generally more likely to speak up about something they hate which would lead to a lot of seemingly one-sided arguments where the most vocal group wins.

        If people can individually flag and hide stuff they don't like to curate their own experiences then that sounds good enough to me.

          I don't mind other users being able to influence my decisions, whether it be a ratings system or reviews, or just comments on a forum. As long as their decisions can't override my own.

            You make a good point. I was thinking more from the "decisions overriding my own" perspective but simply seeing what other's have to say about a game is often an important part of the decision making process. If part of Valve's new approach is providing new/better tools to improve that process then that can only be a good thing.

    The whole thing is a bit contrived if you think about it.

    Out of nowhere Valve issues cease notice to game developers in the genre they not only had no previous issue with, but are also on record saying they were surprised and welcoming of the popularity of visual novel titles... only then to go absolutely silent fir a week while the storm brewed.

    When it reached peak, they pull a GabeN and issue a vague apology for lack of communication and tgat its being re-reviewed...

    ... which results in them again declaring "we are an open platform who refuses to police content"

    So did they occastrate all of this drama just to reiterate existing business practices? Were anime tiddies really reviewed... or were they an easy target to spin the community cause they were seeing griwing complaints about Steam Direct?

    Its dodgey. The whole setup of this drama.

    Your yelling me Valve cant innovate a robotic solution that can screen for the classic signs of a trash game... determine Unity asset library originality, sound quality, screen shot and teailer quality to determine... out of these 200 games on Steam this bit recommends a human checks this janky piece of crap.

    Ifcustomers have a bad experience buying a game on steam, they are less likely ti spend more or take risks on new games... that hurts everyone. You need to deliver a hreat customer experience and the first thing you need to do is stop treating publishers as custoners... and treat them as business partners and hold them up to the same Quality and Customer service standards.

    Fucked if they do, fucked if they don't. It's not hard to have some empathy for Valve in this if you have a memory longer than a goldfish.

    Valve actually used to curate the content on Steam. But the gaming media embarked on a pretty sustained quest to harangue Valve over that policy and the fact that it meant diamonds in the rough were getting denied access to the world's biggest distribution platform.

    Valve said, "Well clearly we don't know what you people think is 'good' because we thought we were doing that. So since we clearly can't do it, YOU do it."

    But that was also unacceptable. Greenlight was fucking slammed as being a popularity contest with an entry fee. Too easy for the immoral to 'game' entry with fake accounts and bots and brigading.

    Valve responded by relaxing the barriers to entry, but then discoverability became the new problem. With the gates open for everyone who wanted to create a game, the gates were open for everyone who wanted to create a game. The flood of titles made it impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff. More tools. Curators. Visibility sorted by ratings, popularity, games you've played before, sales numbers, friend recommendations. Algorithms for fucking DAYS.

    It's not Valve's fault that they thought in as objective terms as possible about responding to whatever generated the most noise. They've expressed very fucking clearly in their last post that they're internally conflicted about what's good and what's not, what's controversial and what's not, and the best indicator they can get of 'as close to objectivity as possible' is what generates the most noise. Cue the complaint brigades, generating noise over sex-positive games.

    Now...

    Well, now we've come full circle. We want them to curate again. We just want them to curate to guidelines about what WE like, and they still don't understand what goes into that. And the heart of the complaint I'm seeing, really, is that many people feel like Valve SHOULD understand what goes into that, because 'it's obvious, right? If you don't get it you must be a monster.'

    I really am put in mind of Valve as being similar to the autistic in not understanding why everyone's so angry, because what everyone really wants isn't communicated in the purely objective language of what they want, but is wrapped up in an emotional language they don't understand, full of assumptions they've never learned.

      Just for context... There is, no kidding, a 'Do you hear Laurel or Yanny?' product (which I refuse to call 'game') on Steam. It was up there a week ago.

      I saw some pretty colourful reactions to that. I nodded along as people yelled, "Surely this has to be the point that you realize no-one wants this shit! There is no reason to have this on the platform!"

      But as I thought on it more, I remembered... no. That's wrong. There is probably an audience out there who do actually want that. It's a sign of the motherfucking end times, but we cannot say there isn't a demand for this virtual diahorrea.

      We need to understand the kind of information that Valve is looking at.
      We need to understand: We live in a world where Logan Paul's subscriber count INCREASED to fifteen FUCKING MILLION after the suicide forest outrage.

      We don't get to say that 'no-one wants this shit', because that's just denial of reality.
      Idiots want shit.
      Millions of them. We have the proof. Valve didn't understand back when they rejected the first 'rough diamond' indies that they thought were shit, and they probably still don't understand, they just want to curl up in a ball and for everyone to stop being angry at them, becuase how the fuck are they meant to understand this shit?

        Hear hear.
        Yes, Steam is flooded with crap. We know this. But it's not up to Valve to judge what's crap and what's not. It's up to us. Valve can (and should) provide better tools to help us to decide, but not decide for us.
        Personally, the tools I use are sites like Kotaku. And I think a lot of the frustration at Valve's decision comes from people who run sites and blogs like this because filtering through the dross is their job, and a decision like this makes their job harder. I get that.

        Clearly they're not meant to understand... They're simply just meant to bow down and do precisely what the "That's offensive to ME personally, so it shouldn't be allowed!" types want without question or hesitation.

        And if they don't do that? That crowd starts chanting, "If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem, and that makes you WORSE than all the racists, sexists, etc!" even though Valve have quite clearly tried to remain neutral here.

        Most people see what they want to see in order to throw their own ideals or morals around, Mr Grayson especially if this article and his twitter are anything to go by.

        Personally? I'm surprised it has taken this long for Valve to go "You know what? We tried it this way, you bitched and moaned... We tried it the other way, you bitched and moan. So fuck it.", and just throw their hands up in the air to go sit on the fence.

        And let's be honest, even if they did come down hard for the side of the so-called 'good' and please all the self-appointed morality police for the time being... Those people are never happy. So you can guarantee it'd only be a matter of time before the line of what's not allowed started being pushed to insane degrees.

        "I'm sorry, is that a woman being threatened with violence in that new Tomb Raider game? No, we can't have that... Remove it now, Valve!"

        I've always thought you were one of the better commenters on Kotaku, but literally everything you've said in the comments here is exactly correct.

    I had a few games that i wanted to play that were blocked from the platform. Hope they get added now.

    So is Censorship good or bad?

    I'm confused because a few weeks ago it was bad because the Australian government banned We Happy Few from releasing. But no it's Good because Valve should be Censoring games on its store?

      This isn't a censorship issue at all. Games not being put on Steam is not banning a game from being sold. Plus, I don't think anyone was advocating the government to disband the ratings board, it was to review what they deem suitable for consenting adults.

        Except, lets face it. Steam is the biggest distribution platform. Banning it from Steam reduces the potential audience drastically. It may *only* be "Steam censorship" not "government censorship" but it's still censorship.

          That is similar to the points raised in the Facebook hearings in the US.
          Steam has so much influence over the industry and people that it should be treated as more than just a private company.

    After reading the article. I'm just going to say: Good work Steam your decision have my full support :)

    Honestly I don't see the fuss about this being a completely bad thing. True that means more rubbish will inevitably flood the store but at least now you can't get stupid take downs on a game because its "offensive" and as I've mentioned on another article...

    A proper Tag system done by Steam is all that's really required here. Steam puts an official (not community adopted one for obvious reasons) Tag on every game that gets to be sold and let the user just weed out the Tag from search or what appears. It's technically the most minimal effort curation in comparison to full curation.

    It's the same as marking everything in an aisle on a store and cordoning off the 18+ aisle for people with the right ID to get in. If i don't want a banana I avoid the banana aisle.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now