A week or so ago I found out about Steam’s newest policy, announced via a blog post on the Steam Community boards, that would allow anything to be posted to the Steam storefront unless it was blatantly illegal or obvious trolling. It’s a policy change that came almost immediately after Steam’s removal of Active Shooter, a game where you could fill the shoes of a school shooter, and the further removal of all content that its developer had put onto the marketplace. Those that argued that Active Shooter should stay up on the marketplace said that free speech had a part to play, that by taking down a game where you could shoot civilians in a school, you were stifling the developers freedom to express themselves.
Now with this new Steam policy, Valve seems to be appeasing those that argued for Active Shooter.
This new hands-off approach to filtering the Steam storefront is, simply put, going to make Steam look worse. The digital marketplace has already had issues with countless low quality titles made by using the assets of other games, known as asset flips, or games made through the Unity engine. Not to mention the countless rip offs of Minecraft, DayZ and PUBG, or the nearly pornographic visual novels that take up a surprising amount of space. Titles like these are in full view on Steam Greenlight, where users can vote a game through to the marketplace.
Steam Greenlight has been home to titles such as Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells before their release... as well as some obvious rip offs.
Greenlight used to be the barrier between these low quality, low effort titles and the front page of the Steam store, but it is also being done away with, to be replaced by Steam Direct. Direct, which launched June 13th, is a more streamlined approach to launching titles that smaller developers will have. A new developer only has to fill out some paperwork and pay a $100 fee for each game they seek to release, which is paid back once the game itself makes $1000. While this does serve as a barrier to entry for some developers, others with some small disposable income will still be able to have their games published directly to the Steam marketplace with nearly no oversight and very few quality standards set forth.
Steam Direct is already available to developers, but may not curb the tide of low-quality games.
To me, the laissez faire approach that Steam and Valve are taking to games coming to their storefront is incredibly irresponsible. Steam has a place as the number one online games distributor, with millions of users each day. These users range from children just getting into PC gaming, to experienced gamers that are used to having to dig through the heaps of shovelware to find anything good. Not to get all Spiderman-y, but with great power comes great responsibility, and Steam has a responsibility to all of its users to only allow content onto its storefront that is of quality, inflammatory and most of all, fun.
I also find it of some importance to say that the issue of not releasing a game due to its content does not also align with an attack on that developers freedom of speech. Valve is a company and Steam is their product, which operates in hundreds of countries across the globe. When content is released in their marketplace, it reflects, in some part, their values. To put titles such as Active Shooter onto their marketplace is to accept the idea that profit can be made off of morally bankrupt ideas. If Steam and Valve do not want this reflection placed upon themselvesm, they should take more regulatory action, instead of keeping their hands off and saying “it’s not our fault".