A week ago, a game on Steam by the name of Active Shooter made the headlines for being in poor taste. Labelled as a school shooting simulation by its creators, it put players in the role of a school shooter and due to this, it was met with severe backlash from gamers and non-gamers alike and rightly so. After much public outrage, Valve, the company behind Steam finally decided to remove the game from sale. At the time, many assumed that Active Shooter made it to Steam in the first place due to automated processes it had in place. Now Valve has confirmed this is far from the case, with each game seen by groups of people. What’s more, now it states that it’s going to allow everything on Steam with few restrictions.
“Contrary to many assumptions, this isn’t a space we’ve automated – humans at Valve are very involved, with groups of people looking at the contents of every controversial title submitted to us. Similarly, people have falsely assumed these decisions are heavily affected by our payment processors, or outside interest groups,” says Valve’s Erik Johnson on the Steam blog.
According to Johnson it results in a situation where Valve has to decide if Steam should not only contain games with adult or violent content but if Steam should have games “within an entire range of controversial topics – politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on”. It’s then compounded by “what even constitutes a ‘game’, or what level of quality is appropriate before something can be released.
Due to the perceived complexity of the issue and Valve’s anything goes, laissez-faire ideology it believes the right approach is to well, “allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”
For the company this approach works out because it lets it build tools to “give people control of what content” is seen by them.
“So if you don’t want to see anime games on your store, you’ll be able to make that choice. If you want more options to control exactly what kinds of games your kids see when they browse the store, you’ll be able to do that. And it’s not just players that need better tools either – developers who build controversial content shouldn’t have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we’ll be building tools and options to support them too,” says Johnson.
That said, Valve is going to push developers to let the firm know of any problematic content in their games during the submission process and cease to do business with them if they refuse to do so honestly while rejecting games that don’t pass technical evaluations.
“So what does this mean? It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don’t think should exist. Unless you don’t have any opinions, that’s guaranteed to happen. But you’re also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist,” says Johnson. He then adds that Valve is not responsible for the content on the store, with it not being representative of the company’s value system. A convenient way to shield itself from any possible scrutiny and portraying a rather naive thought process as it’s human nature to perceive quality of content with the storefront in question.
“It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values, beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create and consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it’s almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you.”
“To be explicit about that – if we allow your game onto the Store, it does not mean we approve or agree with anything you’re trying to say with it. If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it.”
The entire post pretty much confirms what some of us hoped were untrue. Valve lacks any sort of code of ethics or moral code to govern its curation. While the number of games on storefronts like PS Store, Microsoft Store, Nintendo eShop, and GOG are nowhere close to what Steam has to offer, each of them hold themselves to a higher standard, which is why a game like Active Shooter or Fight of Gods never land up on their stores.
And while allowing you granular control of what you see is a welcome touch, it’s simply a bandaid on a larger problem. Simply put, this post from Valve indicates an adversity towards change or any meaningful curation. The fact that its controversies occurred with human supervision makes it even worse. Perhaps its hoping regular sales and deep discounts are enough to keep you satiated. That is until another Active Shooter finds its way to Steam.
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