Steam Finally Adds Official LGBTQ+ Tag For Games

Image: Luke Plunkett

The process of finding games on Steam has become increasingly driven by a tag system. Mouse over, say, Sekiro on Steam’s front page, and you’ll see descriptor tags like 'Souls-like', 'Difficult', and 'Action'.

Click on one of those tags, and you’ll be taken to a hub page for that game category. But that’s just the beginning. Steam’s algorithmic recommendations are often tag-based, meaning that users’ ability to discover new games is, in part, tied to those tags. For these reasons, some Steam users and game developers have taken issue with the fact that, for years, Steam hasn’t had an official LGBTQ+ tag. Yesterday, that finally changed, with Valve adding an approved LGBTQ+ tag after a developer once again shined a light on the issue.

While users and developers have always been able to add their own tags to games since 2014, the tags in rotation have changed significantly in recent times. According to official documentation shared with Kotaku by an anonymous developer, Steam now runs on a “global set of hundreds of approved tags.”

A game’s top 15 tags determine which tag pages games will appear on. The documentation says tags also inform algorithmic recommendations across Steam, which tend to focus on grouping up games according to overlapping tags. For example, when I log into Steam, I immediately see the platform’s top carousel of recommendations, which currently suggests I purchase Day Z because I’ve played games tagged with 'Action', 'Open-World', and 'Survival'.

Smaller games live and die based on that kind of discoverability. These days, developers’ tags carry more weight than those of users, and developers now have the ability to remove tags - something that had not always been the case.

Users can still tag games with non-approved tags, but that information is not visible to other users, and Steam doesn’t use those tags as part of its algorithmic sorting. So, basically, those custom tags are kinda useless.

On top of that, last year, Valve apparently removed hub page functionality from non-approved tags, seemingly as part of a broader effort to standardize the tagging system. This left devs who had previously custom-tagged their games 'LGBT' out in the cold.

“With Steam straight up deleting our lgbt tag, this is a great reminder to put your past and future games on [competing platform] Itch instead if you already haven’t,” said one developer on Twitter at the time, including a link to the official LGBT tag that is on the Itch.io platform.

Valve made no response to the issue at that time, but now, a year later, there’s an official LGBTQ+ tag on Steam. It got added yesterday after an independent developer named Yitz—creator of hand-drawn RPG Nepenthe and upcoming 'visual poem' To The Dark Tower—raised the issue on the Steam developer forums. He’d recently realised an LGBTQ+ tag would make perfect sense for To The Dark Tower, only to discover that there wasn’t one.

“We were trying to interpret a few strange lines in the poem my game is based on (‘Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came,’ by Robert Browning), when we figured out that by interpreting the entire poem as a medieval-era gay man debating if his love is worth potential sacrifice, a number of ‘contradictions’ that experts found could be resolved easily,” Yitz said in a Twitter DM to Kotaku.

“This would have been just a curiosity, had we not dug deeper, and found that the author, Robert Browning, was almost certainly a closeted bisexual, and at the time he wrote it was dealing with almost the exact same problems his fictional narrator internally faces.”

Upon realising this, Yitz contacted Valve directly about the lack of an LGBTQ+ tag, but to no avail. “We’re open to approving new tags on a case-by-case basis that make sense as attributes that can be applied to at least a few games,” Valve said to Yitz in an email, which Yitz showed Kotaku. “If you have something in mind that isn’t already a public tag, please let us know in the Steamworks Discussions.”

So Yitz went there and started a thread explaining his situation. “I thought it would be appropriate to add a ‘LGBTQ’ tag, or at least a ‘Diversity’ tag,” he wrote in the private developer forum thread, which has been viewed by Kotaku.

“To my great surprise, such tags are not given as possible options. Neither is anything similar. The closest you get to a ‘Diversity’ tag is ‘Female Protagonist,’ which while nice, is a very limited subset of what both developers and players are looking for when talking about diversity in games.”

This generated discussion, not all of it positive. “If you enjoy a game purely for the fact that the protagonist is lgbt than [sic] you don’t really enjoy that game,” replied one developer.

Yitz also asked for advice from queer game dev friends, just to make sure an LGBTQ+ tag wouldn’t cause more headaches than it’d solve. In an ensuing Discord discussion, other developers brought up valid concerns: for one, trolls will almost certainly misuse it, they said.

If you look at Steam’s 'Political' and 'Politics' tags, for example, they’re often applied to games that simply involve some element of representation - no matter how small. One developer asked if an LGBTQ+ tag would attract similar trolls.

“It doesn’t matter if it does,” replied NoHuA, a developer currently working on a farming adventure RPG called Freyr. “You will have those forever.”

“I was thinking about the opposite happening: someone buying my game and getting upset that there is gay stuff,” said another developer, Erik Sheader, creator of The Endless Empty, a “surreal post-life adventure” with earnings donated to The Trevor Project, an organisation providing suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth.

Others raised further issues: People might, for example, try to use it as a marketing trick and apply the tag even when their games don’t contain any LGBTQ+ subject matter. But those are weaknesses of Valve’s current system, and they don’t change the fact that a tag makes it far easier for people to find and purchase games about these topics.

“People are gonna be shitty no matter what,” said NoHuA in the Discord chat. “The tag is important.”

Despite Valve’s silence on the subject over the past year, a Valve employee responded to Yitz’s Steamworks thread quickly and said that Valve had added “LGBTQ+” as a globally-approved tag, with a fresh hub page as evidence. It’s currently pretty underpopulated due to the relative lack of people who know it exists, but it’s there.

Kotaku reached out to Valve for more information about why it only chose to add the tag now, and not at some other previous point, but did not hear back as of this publishing.

Yitz thinks this change stands to have big ripple effects, and he’s happy he was able to contribute.

“Tags like this are important because of what Steam tags are currently being used for—classifying games by various factors that will impact the player’s experience, and recommending games with similar tags to players who seem to like a lot of the given tag,” he said.

“As such, tags are sort of equivalent to visibility, in a way. If I enjoy a lot of games tagged ‘Psychological Horror,’ for example, Steam will show me more psychological horror games. If I want to play more games that challenge traditional gender roles, until today Steam had no way of knowing that.”

Yitz was pleasantly surprised by how quickly Valve took action, and he hopes this trend, a new one for Valve, to say the least, continues in the future.

“The needs of players and developers are determined by us players and developers, and we should try to be more proactive in asking for change,” he said. “I’m glad that Steam responded so quickly to this request, and hope they continue to be more open about changes in the future.” 


Comments

    This is a good thing to be sure, but at the same time, the fact that its newsworthy is a problem.

      Problem seems a bit strong a word/connotation for this, but I get what you mean. We should be past stuff like this already, but the way Valve works means a ton of things get left on the cutting room floor unless you somehow connect with the one person who cares deeply enough to change their workflow/current project to fix it.

        The stuff we should be past caring about Valve's ongoing bullshit or shining a positive light on allyship to a marginalised community? There's a chunk of ambiguity in that sentence.

          No, that it's 2019 and we're still having to push this boulder uphill (and that it's still an uphill push).

            It's the pushing that's the problem though. The pushing makes it a bigger deal than it really is. Valve putting LBGT+ tags in their system is such a small thing overall, it's not worth writing about. Yet we get stuff like this all the time. And the 'its this year, it should be ok by now' mentality is part of the problem. It's ALREADY ok. It's more than ok. The only people who still think it's not ok is, at this point, nitpicking.

            The shots being fired by RPS at CDR over Cyberpunk is either proof or a symptom of the hypersensitive overreporting of things like this. Kotaku and other media outlets need to stop rattling the can they have been ratling for the last 5-6 years whenever a small thing like this happens, because it only goes to make the big things worth less than they should.

              This! I wanted to say this but you articulated this so well. Spot on.

              You only make the big things worth less if you don't cover them, which we obviously wouldn't do. And LBGT tags and what another outlet wrote about Cyberpunk are separate topics, so let's not link people and companies on completely separate continents.

              From a company's perspective - Valve in this case - outlets covering this tells the company that it's something that readers care about (which is why sites and outlets cover things to begin with, because their following cares).

              It also matters a great deal to the people whom it affects and whom it is worth a lot, and it's newsworthy that the world's largest third party distribution platform for games has chosen to add a small feature to support that. Saying it shouldn't be covered because there are other bigger changes that could be implemented is a backwards way of thinking, because covering this doesn't diminish our capacity to write about those things as well. If the little things matter and get coverage, wouldn't that compel a company to support such ventures further?

              We've published over 150,000 stories in the past 11 years since Kotaku AU spun up. What matters is that we continue to cover things, and cover them exhaustively, as they happen. Not covering something isn't good for public discourse, and it's not beneficial for everyone as readers, either. Fully understand if you want to have a conversation about what a company should or shouldn't be doing, and totally understand that there should always be a healthy chat about how something is covered.

              But I don't buy that not covering something at all should be part of the equation, especially the view that doing so is somehow helpful to everyone. It's important to cover shit as it breaks, but some of those hundreds of thousands of stories should also be touching on the good changes that happen, the big and the small. And this is one of the latter.

                i don't disagree with you but to be blunt Nathan Grayson has a history of hate baiting with regards to LGBT things so that might bias peoples perspective whenever he pens and article regarding these topics.

                That might contribute to people having negative reactions...

                So... Um... Well...

                You only make the big things worth less if you don't cover them, which we obviously wouldn't do. And LBGT tags and what another outlet wrote about Cyberpunk are separate topics, so let's not link people and companies on completely separate continents.

                You can also make them worthless if you oversaturate people with that kind of content. Its commonly called desensitisation and it affects everything. With all the media outlets continuing to push and try to make out like small things such as tags for video games on a shop being added is somehow something we should care about, then when something that actually is worth the writing comes along, you end up with people not caring about it becuse by that point its just noise to ignore.

                From a company's perspective - Valve in this case - outlets covering this tells the company that it's something that readers care about (which is why sites and outlets cover things to begin with, because their following cares).

                I really don't think Valve cares as much about this as you think. And if they do, then they, like this article, are making a mountain out of a molehill. As for people caring about this... Comments on this article so far seem to disprove that, so...

                It also matters a great deal to the people whom it affects and whom it is worth a lot, and it's newsworthy that the world's largest third party distribution platform for games has chosen to add a small feature to support that.

                The main word there is small. It's a small fetcher. As I said above, it's making a mountain out of an ants nest. Yes, it's great they added it, but at the same time, this is something that, by the time it's here, has probably been seen on Twitter by everyone who cares anyway or at least cares enough to go looking for it. It would not surprise me in the lest if Nathan had seen this on Twitter before writing the article.

                Saying it shouldn't be covered because there are other bigger changes that could be implemented is a backwards way of thinking because covering this doesn't diminish our capacity to write about those things as well. If the little things matter and get coverage, wouldn't that compel a company to support such ventures further?

                I never said anything about Valve making bigger changes. I was talking about bigger in the context of LBGT+ content in general. Companys should not need carrots to do things either, so saying we should treat them as little kids for being good is, to me, a dumb way to do things.

                "Oh, good job Little Valvey for doing something you should have had since the start here's some candy!"

                Like, really... come on...

                We've published over 150,000 stories in the past 11 years since Kotaku AU spun up. What matters is that we continue to cover things, and cover them exhaustively, as they happen. Not covering something isn't good for public discourse, and it's not beneficial for everyone as readers, either. Fully understand if you want to have a conversation about what a company should or shouldn't be doing, and totally understand that there should always be a healthy chat about how something is covered.

                Not saying to don't cover it. What I am saying is to pick what you are covering in each category better. Under both 'Valve did something' and 'Yay LBGT+' categories, this does not even want a second look as far as I am concerned. And the extent of the article for something so small makes it look like it a bigger deal than it really is. Like, this is something more akin to those round-up articles of the industry, a small mention, but nothing really that spetial compared to everything else. This is not a watershed moment in any way, yet the article is treating it like it is. It's just so out of proportion to what actually happend.

                But I don't buy that not covering something at all should be part of the equation, especially the view that doing so is somehow helpful to everyone. It's important to cover shit as it breaks, but some of those hundreds of thousands of stories should also be touching on the good changes that happen, the big and the small. And this is one of the latter.

                I get what you're saying. New is news. But the news also has weight, and giving so much weight to something so small, as Nathan has done here, is to my view a waste of time. As I said above, people will most likely have seen this on Twitter already, or even on sites that focus on LBGT+ topics. A roundup article would be more appropriate for this, along with other small things. Not a full-blown essay.

                  A big part of your issue with this news is that you are seeing them exclusively from your perspective as a (I'm assuming) straight person, and that of people you identify holding the same perspective. However, I invite you to place yourself in the perspective of an LGBTQ person. From that perspective, all these news do not feel like a constant, unwelcome bombardment, but as small wins towards finally having to stop worrying.

                  You yourself may feel as though "It's ALREADY ok. It's more than ok. The only people who still think it's not ok is, at this point, nitpicking." but that's because you are not on the receiving end. You may think "hey, it's been a while since I heard about gays being bashed to death in backwater towns! Yay for us!", failing--understandably-- to notice that day after day they have to deal with discrimination or abuse that it's simply not "big" enough to make it into the news. The fact that we have managed to get the worst, most hateful elements of society to grudgingly stop acting violently towards them only really means that those same elements are now labouriously seeking ways to abuse, diminish and curtail LGTBQ's rights in more underhanded ways.

                  @pylgrim, I am not straight, but unlike most, I do not agree with saying what I am and using it as a weapon to be wielded in battle, when talking online. We are, after all, meant to be equally treated. There is no ewxpetion to that rule you know. You eather treat people with the same respect or you don't. I do not like it when people to be asking me to justify my opinion based on my sexual preferences. I expect it, but I think its the worst thing someone can say in a discussion. It shows there being bigoted as they're basing what they think of someone on their sexuality and not actually thinking about what's being said on its own.

                  Nice 'save' btw with the aiming in the brackets... But if you don't know, then don't base your whole argument on it. Like, come on...

                  Alright, but let me call out to this:

                  but unlike most

                  Here you admit that you know that your perspective on this is different than "most" (your word) other LGTBQ people, which is, btw, perfectly fine. You all don't have to agree and your disagreement doesn't mean that you are wrong... but neither does it mean that /they are wrong/.

                  I don't know much about your experience, so I can only make assumptions, but it seems to me as though that you are privileged to live in a progressive enough environment where you can feel as though things are "ok" and that talks about discrimination are overrated and unwarrantedly whiny.

                  I personally don't believe that your position is wrong. It's just a little too premature, at least generally speaking. It'll still be a bit of a while for /most/ people before they can start getting concerned about being made "too special" as they're still dealing with being discriminated.

                  @pylgrim The hell... Dude, you can't just take that out of context like you just did. Do you even understand how important the context is? You just picked something out that, in context, does NOT mean what you are trying to make it mean. Like, really? I was pointing out that I don't use my sexuality as some kind of thing to lord over people, and you take one part of that whole thing out of context and make it into what you want to think I said. WTF are you trying to do? Like, really? Stop being so moranic in your arguments. Take whats said as a whole and stop nitpicking. Like, this is the exact kind of shit I was talking about. Context of what someone says is important, and to ignore all that just to take that one small thing I said and make it into the whole point is fucked.

                  As for your assumptions... wow... stop assuming shit. Like, I just told you to stop that. IF you don't know, don't say it. Like, what the hell... Got to love how you changed your tune as soon as I said I was LBGT+. Like, WTF. If you agreed with me, then why even say what you said other than saying it because you tight I was right? Do you understand how patronising that kind of that is? This is why I dislike the pandering that this article provides. It only goes to fule more pandering shit from people who think it works. Sigh...

      I think it's not news worthy. And I mean that in a good way.

    The only question that matters: does genital jousting get the tag?

      I'm glad someone is asking the hard questions.

    I definitely want to see more tags. More granularity, more up-take by developers.
    (If only so I can filter out all the PVP-only MP games without simultaneously filtering out single-player games that happen to offer a multiplayer option.)

    It comes down to improving the holy grail for devs, the thing that they always hope will be solved by being the first to a new store-front: discoverability.

    Being a big fish in a small pond isn't a sustainable solution, because the pond always grows. But tailoring visible games to the players most likely to buy them? Now THAT'S the winning discoverability formula. And with more diverse, specific, meaningful tags, Steam's a step closer to solving that problem for devs AND players.

      One thing I was thinking about recently is that extended tooltip descriptions could help too - I remember all the confusion over Local Multiplayer tags (LAN? hotseat? splitscreen?.. and 'confusion' being rants about 'devs lying about online multiplayer'), and can never quite filter things how I want because pornographic visual novels can't be filtered out without losing serious games with adult themes like The Witcher (though another more complex way to address it could involve filtering by specific combinations of tags like [Adult Content+Visual Novel] instead of anything under [Adult Content] or [Visual Novel] with the current system).

      I'm also trying to find games suited to tabletop displays (top-down orthographic, controls based on rotation instead of direction) - but can't tag something as 'Tabletop' without either making an overly long descriptive user tag which gets truncated, or assumption it relates to a subgenre of boardgames!

      Building on that PVP-only MP filtering, similarly it's hard finding MP games (bot support and/or offline mode) vs MP-only games (game is dead without a human playerbase and active servers) for someone who likes cathartic bot-stomps and horde modes like Unreal Tournament and Killing Floor, but doesn't want to bother with ones that require humans in all roles to be playable in the first place!

      Last edited 21/06/19 12:17 pm

        A little off-topic: yeah, Steam is a fucking elephant's graveyard for that whole human-MP-only genre... Many of which I used to play and enjoy. Some had legs for ages, like Savage2 or Loadout (but they all eventually die).

        Some of them were dead on arrival due to playercounts, and it was the biggest shame. I feel like the worst loss was Shattered Horizon. Really, really novel concept. FPS combat in space-suits, in space. Newtonian physics, silence apart from feedback through your suit, and some of the most gorgeous graphics for the time that I had ever seen. No bots. No players. Dead. Pointless. Drift around in this gorgeous, novel, utterly empty and pointless engine.

        So many hard-working creators have spent ages on their art, their physics, their game mechanics but because they didn't want to commit to making a soloable game out of it (something I often call 'a REAL game,' by which I mean campaign, AI and level design), it was doomed from day one. Showdown effect was another one that had some really interesting combat systems that could've made for a phenomenal 2D-platformer that I totally would've played. Instead... Steam discussion page, "Don't buy, game is dead, no population." And it was true. And when it wasn't, it was a bunch of beta-test veterans looking desperately and hungrily for some n00bs to pub-stomp, effectively killing off all casual, passing interest.

        I've got dozens of these fucking things in my own library, and there's got to be a hundred or more that I hadn't bought. The sheer waste of it drives me nuts.

    It looks like a worthwhile if perhaps overdue addition. I do feel concerned that adding a tag is going to be more like putting a set of crosshairs on them though

      Well the handful of anti LGBT bigots that exist and i do mean handful can go get bent, this tag is as much a benefit to them as it is to anyone else now they can ban the tag and stfu moaning about people "pushing the gays on my vidya gamez". =)

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