Valve’s struggles to apply any kind of consistent, common sense policy about what content is suitable for distribution through Steam took another turn today. In a post at the Steam blog, Valve’s Erik Johnson said that the company would now let “everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.” They’re basically opening the floodgates, and letting the users sort through whatever comes their way.
This change comes one week after Valve removed a game about a school shooting from the Steam store, and less than three weeks after Valve threatened to remove certain adult visual novels and eroge games.
The company’s current process, where employees review potential games before they’re listed for sale, will be replaced by a more hands-off approach, according to Johnson. In lieu of curation, Valve will provide nebulous “tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see,” allowing users to “override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in.” Johnson doesn’t get into any specifics about how these tools will work, what kind of information will be made available about games that would let users “hide” them from their storefront, or how that information would be collected without actual humans at Valve overseeing some kind of review process. Would developers be expected to detail every aspect of their game that could possibly be considered controversial? Would players add content tags to games, and if so, would anybody at Valve review those to make sure they’re accurate? Who will define “trolling,” and how will Valve prevent those games from showing up on Steam? Will openly racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or sexist content be considered “trolling,” or will it be welcomed on Steam for anybody to purchase? Has Valve really thought that deeply on how whatever system they’re planning could be used to promulgate hate or propaganda, or exploited to target games for political reasons? If they have, does that mean they just don’t care about how irresponsible this is?
Johnson tries to head such complaints off the pass in his blog post. He writes:
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.
So basically all disagreement is equal in the eyes of Valve. To them it’s all just controversy, without any context. As long as they get their cut, they have no problem selling almost anything on their store. Who cares if that’s a short-sighted abdication of their responsibility as a marketplace—Valve will make their money and can now officially point to this new hands-off policy whenever anybody complains.
Johnson’s post tries to position Valve, as a company, as not having any kind of ethos or value system when it comes to content. It basically argues that Valve is an agnostic, impartial service that will treat all games (outside of ones that break the law or engage in “trolling”) equally, and empower the consumer to decide for themselves what is and isn’t appropriate—that Valve itself makes no moral judgments, and thus can’t be held accountable for whatever kind of content passes through its store. That’s absurd, though—if Valve’s allowing a game on Steam, and sharing in its revenue, it’s effectively endorsing that game’s values, no matter how much Valve wants to argue that it doesn’t reflect the beliefs of the company or its employees. This decision underscores that Valve is a company that cares only about making money, with no concern for any responsibility it might have as a retailer. Valve fails to understand that claiming to not have any kind of value system is in itself a value system, and one that doesn’t make the company look good.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.