It’s not uncommon for Epic Games to screw over their own devs and their own fanbase. Several credit card leaks, info leaks, lack of a shopping cart and sales to screw over the people selling their games on its platform. While Steam has been a glowing beacon in the darkness for PC gamers, many people forget, including myself, that Steam is not the Lawful Good Paladin in this D&D party. If anything, Steam is the Chaotic Neutral sorcerer; he has the most powerful spells but only uses them whenever he wants to and, sometimes, he’ll use his spells so incorrectly and blows up an entire innocent town for no reason. Destruction of towns meaning butchering Skyrim with paid mods, or the hilarious disaster that was Less-Fun-Hearthstone, aka Artifact, or even the time when Valve let numerous CSGO gambling sites exploit and manipulate children to gamble separate from gambling crates (which are literal horizontal slot machines). Even Steam Greenlight, a grand idea on paper, was an immediate disaster when bots flooded the voting boards to downvote any great games and constantly upvote asset-flips and achievement farms. Only for the new Steam Direct to get rid of the voting system and flood the storefront with these two types. However, a constant and somewhat less known battle that Steam fights is not a pay-to-win cardgame or paid mods, it’s censorship. We’ll be looking over at how Steam has had a very strange and inconsistent past when it has come to censoring videogames.
Throughout the past year, Valve Software has been in a very tricky spot when it comes to censorship of games held on Steam. While it doesn’t compare one bit to the likes of Sony bringing out the axe and slicing any game that dares show boobies, Valve has had to become a bit of a fence-leaner for censorship, yet in a very inconsistent way, usually whenever the law gets on their ass.
It began in late May, 2018 when Valve started unceremoniously cracking down on sexual content in Steam Games. The first victim was HuniePot, developer of Huniepop, when on May 17th, 2018 they tweeted out distressing news. “- IMPORTANT NOTICE – I’ve received an e-mail from Valve stating that HuniePop violates the rules & guidelines for pornographic content on Steam and will be removed from the store unless the game is updated to remove said content” (Twitter 1).
So this takedown was sudden and unwarned, unfortunately. Whether it had been mass reports from random users or it was Valve just deciding to do so, it was quite random to take down a lewd dating game for seemingly no proper reason. One of the developers, Lupiesoft, spoke out about this shortly after: “This is not normal, this is not okay. Games are being pulled simply because they look a certain way and there is a stigma behind the look of a game. In the future this could easily extend to anyone who even makes visual novels no matter how ‘sexy’ they might appear to be.
We are not sleazebags making horrific pornography, we’re a strongly queer VN studio that makes sexy games, that is not wrong, that is not pornographic, nudity is also not wrong as a massive amount of Steam’s library has nudity, and Mutiny!! follows those content guidelines!.” (Lupie 1-2)
Not only was this random but Steam had plenty of other games that were clearly breaking the guidelines that Steam had appeared to make up on the spot.
A few months later in June 2018, Steam had agreed to stop censoring any games that weren’t illegal or a troll game in a lengthy office blog post, “Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?” (Hollister 1). The new guidelines in place were to prevent take-down of ecchi Anime games but allow Valve to take down games such as the School Shooting game that came out earlier.
“…we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see… 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.” (ErikJ 1)
So Steam has gone for allowing any games to be on Steam and developing tools that let the players control what they want to see on their storefront. As long as the game isn’t illegal or a troll game, Valve would allow it, even if they dislike the game itself. However, these guidelines really just boil down to the “Whatever we feel like it” motive. This would come in handy for the next few months until this motive becomes transparent that it’s unruly, inconsistent and dangerous to the developers that call Steam their home.
September 2018, Steam announced its first uncensored adult game, Negligee: Love Stories which was a game previously held up while Valve was developing the Store Preferences tool. So, finally, Valve is on track to not randomly censor games as long as players had the choice to not see it. The “whatever we feel like” motive proved very helpful to the community. However, this is until this motive becomes transparent that it’s unruly, inconsistent and dangerous to the developers that call Steam their home.
December 2018, not even 3 months later and Steam had already banned an adult anime game, Cross Love – Episode 1 because it featured “child exploitation” despite the developer in question had stated that “…- there are events ingame which literally state the characters’ ages as being over 18” (TopHatStudiosEN 1). Valve had apparently fallen for the “any anime girl that has a round head counts as loli” trick that pro-censorship slugs use as an excuse to censor the anime that they dislike. Top Hat Studios Inc. continued onward:
“So either you didn’t play our game and are lying to us because you dislike the art, or you just don’t want to ship a game which contains a crossdressing dude, right? You can ship whatever you want on your platform – sure, we understand and respect that. But can you at least be honest about why you don’t want us on your platform? We’d respect that for future reference. Oh yeah, also, we’ve found multiple games on your platform which explicitly have characters that are <18 or with literal bodies of children again stated to be under 18 in their source text you’ve allowed on your platform. But a game with some dudes who are over 18 isn’t cool?” (TopHatStudiosEN 2-4).
Top Hat Studios addresses Valve in a harsh but understandable and true manner. What was the threshold for this game to not be allowed yet other adults with teens under 18 were showing their bodies? Why was just this game taken down when several thousand asset-flips and achievement farms aren’t? Further and further it seems as if Steam’s new guidelines were less consistent and much more vague to the point where it really did seem like it was a “Whatever we want” motive. Some adult games are allowed, but some aren’t. Lou Contaldi, a journalist on Duel Shockers, reported on this take down. “While Valve can pick and choose the developers they publish on their platform, the obvious question is does the rationale hold water — is this “themes of child exploitation” and is it being applied evenly” (Contaldi 1). His quote holds much value to this situation. Valve is picking and choosing and it is questionable on its rationality.
To make things worse, not even a day later and another adult anime game was taken down. “Hello, Good-bye,” a visual novel, had been taken off of Steam on December 5th. NekoNyan posted on Twitter shortly afterwards with a statement,“Many of you guys have already noticed that the store page for “Hello Goodbye” has been deleted by @steam_games. This is NOT a technical problem as some of you have speculated. We have reached out to Valve for clarification” (NekoNyanSoft 1) Hello Good-bye became a target for Valve along with Cross Love now. It would later prove that these were not the last of the games for Valve to suddenly take down.
In late January, 2019, and yet another Steam game had been censored, but this time, before it was even released. Huniepop 2 is to be released in a censored format as confirmed by HunieDev on Twitter. “I’ve been mulling it over ever since the censorship issue last year and I’ve decided that HP2 will launch with nudity censored on Steam just like HP1. Valve said it was fine but it’s become quite clear since then that it’s not. We cant help it if some madlad drops patch though” (HuniePotDev 1). ‘Valve saying its fine when it’s become clear since then that it’s not’, that sums up this entire situation. Valve’s cherry-picking method has caused even more confusion and more inconsistencies within the community and fellow developers. When there were questions asked if Valve had taken back its “Everything but illegal and troll games” guidelines, Huniepot had responded with: “Officially, no, but there’s been some shady shit going down. Several devs have had their games pulled or made more difficult to discover on the store. It sucks, but, hey, I give them credit for still giving us a home at all. I’m sure they are facing pressures we don’t understand” (Huniepot 2). It seems as if Valve’s pick and choose is more about outside pressure than it is from Valve just deciding they don’t like a certain game. This theory is ever more present in the following months where Valve had no choice but to take certain games down.
February 2018, the game Devotion was selling quite well before Chinese players quickly realized that an easter egg in the game was mocking the president and refering to him as Winnie the Pooh (for context, in the past a meme comparing the president to Pooh spread throughout the internet, the President had put a ban on Winnie the Pooh for good). The game was quickly taken off of Steam as requested from China. This is a prime example Valve having to act upon law to remove a game off of Steam, understandably so. The latest case, however, proved that just peer pressure and reputation without any laws can definitely get Valve to censor a game.
The largest situation of the topic comes from the infamous Rape Day game. A game where you murder and rape women and, yes, it is every bit disturbing and disgusting as it sounds. This was, however, the first game ban where popular media actually noticed, mostly because many sides had told Valve to take it down already, all to no response, because that’s how Valve is usually. After much discussion from the developer himself, the game doesn’t really break the rules of “trolling” or being illegal. In this case, Valve had banned the game purely from peer pressure and reputation and not because of any law or higher power force them into it.
As you can see, Steam has had a rough and complicated couple of years when its come to censorship. From community pressure, to writing guidelines and then decided to do away with whatever they like, to appeasing a dictator government or even just saving its reputation. It’s all to say that Steam is not the Lawful Good of the PC Gaming Industry, it’s the Chaotic Neutral that does whatever it likes.