Valve has declared they will allow ‘everything’ on Steam… but at what cost to indie developers?

When a company can use their policies to decide whether or not to do business with a developer, those developers deserve transparency.

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Valve has declared they will allow ‘everything’ on Steam… but at what cost to indie developers?

When I sat down a few days ago to write about Valve, I had a particular angle in mind. But more changes to their Steam policies has forced an expected bend in the river.

Last month, a number of developers received warnings regarding their content on Steam being deemed ‘pornographic’. Despite these warnings since being retracted, developers—particularly independent developers who don’t have publishers to fight on their behalf—have been nervous about the future of Steam policy updates.

One of the reasons for this nervousness stems from not knowing what Valve will deem ‘pornographic’. With sexuality often being synonymised with sex, there is a real risk that queer games will be censored for being too sexualised when adult content in games comes under fire.

But since these warnings were sent to developers, Valve has done a one-eighty. On 7 June 2018, Valve released a blog post describing the content that they will be allowing on the Steam platform going forward.

Valve has indicated that they haven’t just been debating whether they allow games with ‘adult or violent content’ on Steam, but that they have also been discussing whether to allow ‘controversial’ topics: ‘politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on.’

Excuse me, Valve, but whose sexuality and identity is controversial? And can they really be so controversial that they’re being positioned alongside racism in terms of the potential problems they could cause?

Anyway, at the end of the day, Valve has determined that the answer is to allow ‘everything onto the Steam store, except for things that [they] decide are illegal, or straight up trolling’. Valve has also specified that developers will be expected to ‘disclose any potentially problematic content in their games during the submission process’.

Wait, so, are those controversial topics listed earlier considered ‘potentially problematic’? Are people going to need to disclose the presence of ‘sexuality’ and ‘identity’ in their games when they are submitted to the Steam store, or risk Valve ceasing to do business with them because they have ‘refused [to disclose] honestly’? Do developers need to disclose when their characters are heterosexual or is it just us sneaky non-heteros who are controversial and potentially problematic?

Okay, so I have some feelings on this, if that isn’t obvious. And I’m not the only one. Leaf Corcoran, the creator of itch.io, called Steam’s policy ‘ridiculous’. In response, he shared itch.io’s ‘Acceptable Use’ policy update from 2014 on his Twitter, stating that it’s ‘especially appropriate’ after Valve’s comments.

Hilariously, people have been replying to the 2014 itch.io update over the last couple of days, discussing the validity of this policy change as if it’s new. The update has been called ‘SJW propaganda’ and people are concerned about ‘censorship’. There are no comments on the update from when it was originally posted.

It’s difficult to tell exactly what Valve’s policy change will do for Steam and the developers who use it to make a living, and the only way we can find out is to wait. In the meantime, I commend itch.io for their long-term commitment to prohibiting ‘bullying, intimidating, harassing, demeaning, doxing, stalking or threatening of others’ and the posting of ‘unlawful, misleading, malicious, incendiary, obscene, inflammatory, defamatory, derogatory or discriminatory content’. In an industry overflowing with harassment, these are the policies we need.

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