‘Those choices should be yours to make’
Valve doesn’t feel as if it has any real responsibility to police the vast majority of the content that gets published on Steam. In the wake of controversy surrounding the removal of erotic visual novels and a new game that simulates a school shooting, Valve has decided that it will mostly cease any sort of moral decision-making and instead focus on letting Steam act as an open marketplace.
In a post meant to outline its official stance, executive Erik Johnson essentially explains that people will be mad no matter which way Valve acts, so it will err on the side of making more money. “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,” Johnson said. It’s easy enough to imagine what sort of content might be illegal, but the bit about “straight up trolling” is unclear and wasn’t elaborated upon.
Instead of restricting games from its digital storefront, Valve says it will focus on tools that help curate the experience individual users want. For instance, if these new tools were properly implemented, anyone who doesn’t want to see any anime games won’t see any anime games. Steam’s algorithms of presenting recommendations won’t force this genre on that user in any way. For that specific person, it will be like anime games don’t even exist — at least on Steam.
The ramifications of this decision trickle down beyond potentially offensive content. By explicitly endorsing nearly everything, Valve is giving safe harbor to the sort of awful asset flips, blatant ripoffs, and broken experiences that plague all corners of Steam. Those will continue to pollute the storefront, and the genuine gems in the rough will stay buried in the rough.
But this isn’t about helping small-time developers; this is about the role Valve thinks Steam serves for the video game industry. This quote is really the perfect summary of it all: “Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.”