‘Typical Valve style’
[Update 05/19/18 9:55 pm: Huniepop‘s developer has recently posted a Tweet that they received word from Valve apologizing for the confusion and telling them to disregard previous e-mail about Huniepop’s violations. The game is currently under re-review and Valve will follow up in short order. The good news doesn’t end there as Lupiesoft and MangaGamer have also received similar e-mails with apologies from Valve.]
Over the last few days, developers and publishers of H-Games, eroge titles and more adult visual novels have been hit with takedown notices from Valve. From out of the blue, certain games are now in violation of Steam’s rules and guidelines for appropriate content on the platform. Valve is threatening to remove these games unless they are heavily censored, though that is baffling as most of the games are already censored. Crazier still, the publishers and developers in question have already worked with Valve to make sure their games don’t violate any of Steam’s content rules, so these issues should not even be happening.
While it could possibly be explained for titles that are relatively new and haven’t had a once over by Valve, the most famous title that is being targeted is Huniepop. For those unaware, Huniepop launched on Steam in January of 2015 and has been allowed on the platform unchallenged for over three years. Why Valve would suddenly want one of the most popular games on its service gone is puzzling, but Huniepop isn’t the only game in the crosshair. Kindred Spirits on the Roof, which is published by MangaGamer, is also under fire as is Mutiny!! by Lupiesoft.
Other games getting hit include multiple titles by Sekai Project (Re;Lord 1 and Tropical Liquor), Obscurasoft’s Coming Out on Top and Dharker Studio’s Battle Girls. The only common theme among these games is that they feature nudity, but that does little to shed light on the real reason behind this. As a matter of fact, Kindred Spirits doesn’t even classify as an H-Game. It mostly seems like a particular type of game is being singled out instead of ones with mainstream appeal.
I got in touch with John Pickett, PR Director of MangaGamer, and Peter Rasmussen, owner and main artist of Lupiesoft, to figure out just how little they knew before getting hit with these surprise demands.
MangaGamer issued a PR statement that contained a bunch of information of what Valve had told them. They specifically stated, “It is dangerous for every small, indie development team when a major entity can just cut off the revenue streams they rely on like this…If this is more than just a major short-sighted error on Valve’s end, it could be disastrous for visual novels and the advancements in expression within gaming made in recent years.”
Pickett confirmed everything. According to him, MangaGamer actually suffered a takedown notice a few months back for its game A Kiss for the Petals ~Maidens of Michael~ (in March of 2018). They tried to appeal the notice to Valve for weeks, but got complete radio silence. Now, a similar thing is happening to some of its other games and Valve isn’t being clear on what these titles are in violation of.
Regarding Kindred Spirits, Pickett said, “what sexual content is present in the game is no more explicit than games like Dragon Age or the Witcher series, and we had the title thoroughly reviewed directly by one of Valve’s representatives before publishing it on their storefront. Their representative gave us full approval and assured us the title was acceptable and fell within the standards for the Steam Marketplace at the time of publishing.”
Lupiesoft is in the same boat. Peter Rasmussen stated, “There’s been no policy changes, they hit us out of the blue. One day Mutiny!! was okay, then suddenly it’s not. No reason at all…they decided to just force a bad decision onto everyone in typical Valve style.” John confirmed that last part, saying, “To my knowledge there haven’t been any changes to its [Valve’s] terms regarding game content. At the very least we received no such notice that content standards have changed.”
While researching all of this, one group took to the internet to surprisingly claim responsibility for getting these games removed from Steam. The “National Center on Sexual Exploitation” posted a blog titled, “VICTORY: Steam to remove sexually explicit and violent videogames from platform.” They are claiming that Valve’s decision to remove these games has come about after a two year campaign by the NCSE. While this could be the possible answer, Rasmussen doesn’t think the answer is that easy.
“There’s anecdotal rumors I’ve heard,” Rasmussen claims, “that suggests Valve is receiving a lot of pressure to remove any and all mature content from its platform. Maybe that group isn’t directly to blame, but likely had a strong hand in this decision.” That last part is mostly speculation, but this is all the developers and publishers have to go on at the moment. With Valve remaining mum, it is anyone’s guess as to what is going on.
To give some background, the “National Center on Sexual Exploitation” (which, for a period, was called “Morality in Media”) is a group that sprung out of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” campaign a few decades ago. They have been big backers of the recent FOSTA/SESTA acts, which are attempts to curb sex trafficking both online and off. While this may not have anything to do with Valve’s current efforts to remove specific sexual content from Steam, the NCSE has always been eager to call any sexual content “exploitative,” so I don’t believe their claims of forcing Valve’s hand are false.
As for the future of these games, MangaGamer is looking to start its own platform to help sell adult visual novels for anyone affected. At the moment, everything is still in the planning stages. John told me they have made great strides, “on a rather significant revamp of our current website and the storefront there, which will be the first step toward a full platform,” so the dream is that publishers of less mainstream titles won’t need to rely on Valve.