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The games industry reacts to Valve's divisive Steam Store curation policy

Steam's new 'anything goes' policy is doomed from the start, reckons Tyler. Valve's decision to no longer police games on Steam—except for those that are illegal, constitute "trolling," or fail to meet technical quality standards—is a contentious one, which the publisher spent 1,000 words attempting to explain yesterday. 

As Tyler posits, implementing this will be difficult. As reported by VG24/7, game designer Brenda Romero supports Valve's "open platform", as she perceives it, and that as a creator she wants access "to the full range of the human experience" when making a game. 

"I choose to leave stuff I consider hateful and horrible on the table. I don’t want Steam to make that decision for me," Romero tells VG24/7. "In the history of games, some of our most important works have been deemed highly offensive by broad swaths of the world. Games like GTA, Wolfenstein, Doom, Mortal Kombat, Bully (same sex kiss), God of War (sex), The Sims (didn’t allow same sex characters to become a couple in early versions). 

"To me, it comes down to this: I may not like your game, but I support your right to make it. Since Valve controls such a huge percentage of the game ecosystem, these are non-trivial decisions." 

University lecturer and indie game developer Robert Yang—whose work on the intersection of art, videogames and gay subculture has been banned on Twitch for its sexual content—suggests so-called 'good' moderation is difficult, but the prospect of zero intervention risks giving hate mobs and scam artists de facto control. Yang also says Valve is "one of the few companies in the world that can literally hire 200 people" to work on moderating its storefront, and thus should be doing more to prevent creators being "intimidated off the platform."  

Bennett Foddy, the creator of QWOP and Get Over It, is on the other hand concerned about the implications of allowing corporations, like Valve, to become "enforcers of moral principles." Foddy reckons giving distributors gatekeeping powers has scope to encourage bad decision making on their part.

This Twitter exchange between Foddy and Yang raises some good points. 

Naomi Clark of the NYU Game Centre bills the overarching "censorship discourse" as "low-grade". She questions Valve's suggestion that it's ethically bound to sell every legal product without curation—something which in turn can impinge on transparency.  

"This is more of an argument against monopolies, right—it’s inevitably a privatized dictatorship, unless you forcibly change that," says Clark on Twitter. "If we’re inevitably going to have to yell angrily about something, an acknowledged process with transparency is preferable. Which is part of why content moderation is usually veiled in unaccountable secrecy. 

"This may point out that transparency of policy is the real issue. But part of what I read in Steam’s blog is a (not uncharacteristic) insistence that 'there isn’t even going to be a policy to discuss, just use our automated filter system'. To me this is a move even further away from transparency than the existing cloister, but I guess we will have to see how they end up banning certain games or shadow-delisting them." 

To this end, as games critic Jim Sterling details in his latest video, Steam is set to launch a game named AIDS Simulator next week. Despite Valve's deference to filters and algorithms, this is but one problematic example an unmoderated Steam now faces in the days, months and years to come.