Did you buy Prey on Steam? Not the 2017 version from Arkane and Bethedsa: I'm talking about the 2006 version from Human Head Studios and 2K Games. If you didn't and want to now, you can't—the original Prey was quietly removed from Steam a few years ago. If you own it, you should still be able to play it, and if you can find a physical copy you may even be able to register the CD code with Steam. But you can't buy it on Steam anymore.
Prey isn't alone: games vanish from Steam all the time. Sometimes they reappear later, but other times they're just plain gone—and this can happen for all sorts of different reasons.
Publishers were "abusing" Steamworks tools
Not long ago roughly 1,000 games abruptly vanished from Steam (opens in new tab). Many of them appeared to be what I'd describe as 'extremely indie'—games few had ever heard of or played (at least judging by the number of Steam reviews). Some, however, had been on Steam for years and had hundreds of positive reviews at the time they vanished, so this mass removal didn't appear to be one of Valve's purges for asset-flips or scams.
The issue in this case seems to be tied to publishers, not the developers of the games themselves. Many of the removed games were linked to a sole Russian publisher, Dagestan Technology, that appeared to be operating under a number of different names. A statement from Valve read "We recently discovered a handful of partners that were abusing some Steamworks tools. We emailed all the affected partners."
That's not all that much of an explanation, but we hope to someday learn a bit more about what really happened. Meanwhile, some of the removed games have reappeared on Steam (at least one with a new publisher), while others are still gone.
Disney stops paying for SecuROM DRM
The peril of DRM can raise its ugly head years down the road. A good example is Tron: Evolution, which recently became unplayable after nine years because its publisher, Disney Interactive, apparently stopped subscribing to SecuROM (opens in new tab). With the DRM service inactive for Tron: Evolution, the game has become a lock with chewing gum stuck inside it. Players currently aren't able to verify their serial key, so the game simply won't launch.
This obviously isn't just a problem for Steam users but people who bought the game elsewhere, too. At any rate, Tron: Evolution has been delisted from Steam. Hopefully, Disney will eventually release a DRM-free version to the admittedly few people who still want to play a nine-year-old game we scored at a 29% (opens in new tab). But frankly, it doesn't matter how few people play it or how bad the game is. If you buy a game, you should be able to play it forever.
An exclusive deal was made with Epic Games
The Epic Games Store arrived with quite a splash late last year, luring developers to its marketplace with a better revenue cut than Valve offers, as well as revenue guarantees (opens in new tab). It doesn't hurt that millions already use Epic's launcher to play Fortnite, either. As a result, a number of developers and publishers have agreed to exclusive launches on the Epic Store.
Metro Exodus is the most notable example, as it took preorders for months on Steam before going exclusive on Epic just weeks before its launch. Those who bought the game on Steam can still play it there, and they will receive any updates and patches, but Exodus can no longer be purchased on Steam.
Many of these games with Epic exclusive deals will eventually arrive on Steam and other digital marketplaces (Maneater, for instance, (opens in new tab) will come to other services a year later, as will Exodus), and these games still have store pages on Steam. Some, however, have ditched Steam entirely. Satisfactory, the first-person open world factory building game, no longer has a Steam store page. The Epic Store will be the only place you'll be able to buy it (opens in new tab).
It contained a Winnie the Pooh reference
Censors in China have banned Winnie the Pooh due to memes that used pictures of the fictional anthropomorphic teddy bear to make fun of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Yeah, this is a real thing that happened because the world we live in is fucking stupid.
Red Candles, the developer of Taiwanese horror game Devotion (opens in new tab) included a reference to this Winnie the Pooh meme and other assorted commentary on China, which led to heavy review bombing of Devotion (opens in new tab), as well as another game by Red Candles, Detention.
Red Candles apologized and removed the Pooh reference, but it didn't end there. The developer's ties to its publishing partners were severed and Devotion was abruptly removed from Steam (opens in new tab). Hopefully, it will return.
A DMCA notice was issued
Stardock, maker of Star Control: Origins, was issued a DMCA notice from the makers of the original MS-DOS game Star Control, in a recent development of the long-running and semi-exhausting legal wrestling match (opens in new tab) over the copyrights and trademarks of the franchise. As a result, Origins was removed from Steam.
It's back up now (opens in new tab) after several weeks, during which time it remained available on Stardock's website (opens in new tab) (since DMCA notices only target the digital host of the alleged violator, such as a website or ISP, not the game itself). We still don't have the details on why Origins was able to return to Steam, though we're sure we haven't heard the last of this legal battle.
Music rights expired
You can buy Alan Wake on Steam—but for a while, that wasn't the case (opens in new tab). The reason had to do with music. It's common for a game developer to pay for the rights to songs for a certain period of time—seven years, in the case of Alan Wake—and when that time expires, the game can no longer be sold if it still contains those songs. Grid, Dirt 3, F1 2013, Tony Hawk Hawk Pro Skater HD, and numerous other games have vanished from Steam and other digital marketplaces due to music licenses expiring.
This isn't unique to gaming—we've seen it happen to TV shows like The Wonder Years and WKRP in Cincinati, which can't be re-broadcast or sold once the rights to the music used on the shows have expired. The music either has to be removed from the show and replaced with something else, or new deals with license holders for each song need to be made. Years after a show or game has wrapped production, it's extremely difficult for either of those things to happen. Happily, in the case of Alan Wake, Microsoft was able to renegotiate the music rights (opens in new tab) and get the game back on sale with all of its original soundtrack intact.
The same situation has occurred with other games, too: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was pulled briefly off Steam and other digital marketplaces in 2012, only returning after several songs had been removed. On the plus side, if you already own these games prior to them leaving Steam, you can still play them and enjoy the original music.
Because of fake reviews
Reviews causing a stir is nothing new, but it's entirely another matter when a developer tries to boost its Steam review score and word of mouth with fake reviews for its own game. We've seen it a few times now: Acram Digital's board game adaptations were pulled from Steam by Valve after it came to light that a staff member of Acram had been posting positive reviews of their game using different Steam accounts.
Something similar happened in February, when publisher Insel Games attempted to 'encourage' employees to post positive reviews of its game Wild Buster. When Valve got wind of it, they pulled the game from Steam.
It contained 'sexual content'
House Party, an Early Access game from 2017, quickly rose to popularity before it was suddenly yanked from the Steam store. That was due to complaints of 'pornography' in the game being sent to Valve, though that's as vague and hard to define as the term 'sexual content.' House Party returned a few days later having added a 'censor bar' to certain scenes, though cleverly provided a patch players could use to remove it if they wanted the game to remain uncensored.
House Party isn't the only game targeted with complaints about 'pornography'—several anime-style games, such as HuniePot and the visual novel Mutiny!! were recently warned that they're in violation of Steam guidelines and given deadlines to alter or censor their games, or face being taken off Steam. The tricky thing is that these guidelines are confusing and inconsistent, and it's not clear why these specific games are the subject of complaints, while others that feature sex or nudity aren't.
It's been replaced by a remastered version
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition will be leaving Steam on May 25, when Dark Souls: Remastered Edition arrives. As with a few other examples above, this doesn't mean it'll vanish from your Steam library if you own it, but you'll be unable to purchase the older version once the remaster arrives.
This is almost true of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The original version of Skyrim won't come up in a search of Steam, just the other versions (VR and the Special Edition). It is, however, still there. It appears Bethesda is just hiding it, hoping newcomers will buy the Special Edition instead.
Batman: Arkham Knight is maybe the most well-known example: after launching on PC, the port was widely criticized by due to performance issues, after which publisher Warner Bros. suspended digital sales.
Five Nights at Freddy's World creator Scott Cawthon withdrew his own game from Steam as well, stating he wasn't satisfied with the ratings and reviews it was receiving and apologizing for its state at the time of release. He even offered refunds to Steam users, no matter when it had been purchased or for how long it had been played.
In September of 2017, Valve removed 173 games from Steam, all from the same single developer. These games appeared to simply have been added in order to mine Steam trading cards for profit. "They generate many thousands of [Steam] keys and hand them out to bots running Steam accounts, which then idle away in their games to collect Trading Cards." A clever ruse, but one Valve is now wise to.
Another developer, the creator of Active Shooter, was removed from Steam for similar reasons (opens in new tab). "Ata is a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation," a Valve rep said. "His subsequent return under new business names was a fact that came to light as we investigated the controversy around his upcoming title. We are not going to do business with people who act like this towards our customers or Valve."
The game isn't good
Lots of games aren't good, but they usually stick around anyway. Not all, however. Afro Samurai 2 was taken off Steam by its makers, and future episodes canceled, because "The game was a failure," according to general manager of developer Versus Evil Steve Escalante.
"If you look at the reviews, it wasn’t that the game was broken or buggy, people just didn’t like it,” he said. Fair enough.
The game wasn't finished
The first Early Access game I ever bought was Under The Ocean, a survival game, way back in 2012. I know Early Access is a gamble, but I enjoyed the game and was willing to be patient as it slowly wound its way through development. Until, eventually, it simply didn't. Issues arose between members of the team, the money ran out, and the developer removed the game from Steam. He is still, however, working to complete it, judging from recent posts on the game's community page.
The developer threatened to kill Gabe Newell
This is the first and only example—at least I hope—but worth noting to round out the list. As a general rule: don't ever threaten to kill anyone, ever. And not just because it may get your game removed from Steam. Because, like, it's a criminal act and a shitty thing to do.
Paranautical Activity was taken off Steam in October of 2014 after a member of the development team made death threats to Gabe Newell. The developer responsible resigned, then rejoined the studio, then sold the rights to another distribution company, and the game re-arrived on Steam.
They ran out of digital copies?
I began this article with 2006's Prey, and I hoped by the time I finished I'd have found the reason Prey is no longer on Steam. It's not entirely clear, though. In 2009, Kotaku reported that Prey had sold out during a Steam sale (opens in new tab), which is a weird thing to happen, all things considered. I've seen some speculation that Steam codes were tied to physical CD-ROM keys provided by publisher 2K, and that's what ran out, though I'd expect more could be generated without much fuss. At any rate, it's now gone, apparently forever. If I find out more, I'll update you.