Valve has quietly delivered a new edict: No NFTs or cryptocurrency on Steam. The recently updated Steam distribution onboarding guidelines specifically ban any "applications built on blockchain technology that issue or allow exchange of cryptocurrencies or NFTs."
In short, NFTs are unique digital receipts (stored on a blockchain, a sort of irreversible ledger database) that are typically correlated with 'ownership' of a jpg file or some other piece of digital media. NFTs are typically purchased with cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum (also blockchain transactions), which can be sold for US dollars and other national currencies at exchanges.
Valve hasn't explained why it's banning NFTs and cryptocurrencies from Steam, but the decision doesn't appear rooted in any of the recent scandals or controversies around blockchain tech: NFTs have been used to scam people out of millions of dollars in exchange for what amounts to a receipt for a JPG, it's led to theft of art designed for other games, and the environmental cost of blockchain ledgers remains a controversial issue.
A series of tweets from Age of Rust developer SpacePirate gives us a little insight. Age of Rust assigns NFTs to unique items and gear, and even missions. SpacePirate tweeted Thursday that the company was notified that Steam would be removing all blockchain-based projects, including Age of Rust.
SpacePirate says that Steam's ban on NFTs and cryptocurrency is an extension of a general ban on items that have a real-world monetary value.
Community: A few minutes ago, we were notified that @Steam will be kicking *all blockchain games* off the platform, including Age of Rust, because NFTs have value. Behind the scenes, we've had good communication and have been upfront with Steam. #blockchaingames #NFT 1/4 pic.twitter.com/W4pR3Xl63qOctober 14, 2021
Valve hasn't made a statement clarifying its reason (and hasn't responded to a request for comment), and we haven't found a ban on items with real-world value written out anywhere. On September 30, the CEO of Satoshis Games said that their blockchain-based game Light Nite was pulled from Steam, but didn't elaborate on why except to say that Steam "will not be shipping crypto or NFTs games."
If the rule about items that have monetary value exists, presumably it only refers to items that retain monetary value once owned by a player, since tons of items are sold as DLC on Steam. Even then, though, Steam is all about users buying and selling digital collectibles for real money. For years, Steam has let users collect digital cards by completing certain challenges in numerous games, and then sell them to other users for Steam Wallet funds. In CS:GO, weapon skins sold by players can go for thousands of dollars. Valve's attempt at building an economy in the trading card game Artifact failed, with the game launching in late 2018 and going free to play in early 2021, but it wasn't far off from the visions being presented by NFT evangelists today.
One possible explanation behind Valve's choice to ban NFTs and cryptocurrencies is the legal trouble the company got into in 2016 for failing to curb gambling on CS:GO skins. At one point, Valve banned seven players for intentionally losing a match in order to win thousands of dollars worth of CS:GO skins. Valve ended up issuing a rare statement afterwards, saying that pro CS:GO players shouldn't gamble or associate with any gambling entities or provide information that might influence CS:GO betting. Two popular YouTubers who promoted a CS:GO gambling site without disclosing they co-owned it were also ordered by the FTC to not do it again and provide records of compliance for the next 10 years, but otherwise got off scott free, which angered plenty of folks.
The world of NFTs and cryptocurrencies has thus far been fraught with scams and shady dealings, and it's possible Valve doesn't want its platform to be used by any more gambling businesses or other schemes that could put it in legal danger.
So, what kind of games won't we be seeing on Steam due to the new rule? A couple examples include CryptoKitties, in which you buy and "raise" cats to earn cryptocurrency, and Spells of Genesis, a trading card game where each card is on the blockchain. Neither of those games were on Steam to begin with, though, as games with NFT or other blockchain elements tend to be more available on mobile devices or their own independent websites.
However, many blockchain and NFT-based "games" are better described as marketing campaigns or virtual economies that only promise there'll be something to play in the future. As just one recent example, the infamous "Evolved Apes" fiasco saw someone sell NFTs of characters that they promised to put in a fighting game before running off with $2.7 million worth of cryptocurrency. Needless to say, there's no fighting game.
Over on the Epic Games Store, CEO Tim Sweeney's messaging has been a bit mixed. Earlier this year, he said Epic wouldn't get involved with NFTs.
"We aren’t touching NFTs as the whole field is currently tangled up with an intractable mix of scams, interesting decentralized tech foundations, and scams," Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney tweeted last month.
After news broke that Steam was changing its guidelines, Sweeney tweeted that the Epic Games Store will in fact welcome the use of blockchain tech.
"Epic Games Store will welcome games that make use of blockchain tech provided they follow the relevant laws, disclose their terms, and are age-rated by an appropriate group," Sweeney said. "Though Epic's not using crypto in our games, we welcome innovation in the areas of technology and finance."