Valve has made some big changes to the online conduct rules and rules and guidelines for Steam, which now break down in much greater detail what people are and are not allowed to do while using the service.
"Beginning today, you’ll see we’ve made some updates to Steam's Rules and Guidelines and Steam's Online Conduct Rules," Valve said in the announcement of the rule changes. "These updates are intended to add context and specificity to how we already apply these in practice to all behaviors and content across Steam."
Unfortunately, Valve did not say anything in the announcement about what had changed, so for that we need to rely on the eternally useful Internet Archive. The rules and guidelines page as it existed in March 2023 was very general, perhaps reflecting a more innocent time, with short lists of general rules and content rules, and a warning against "backseat moderating." Users are asked to report rule-breaking posts to moderators, and repeat offenders are warned that they'll be banned from the community.
This is the full list of Steam's general rules at that time:
Do not do any of the following:
- Flame or insult other members
- Bypass any filters
- Abuse or encourage abuse of the Post Reporting System
- Post personally identifiable information (i.e. name, address, email, phone number, etc.)
- Bump threads
- Derail a thread's topic
- Post links to phishing sites
- Post spam (i.e. +1, 10char, rickrolls) or Re-post Closed, Modified, Deleted Content
- Repetitively post in the incorrect forum (example: trade requests belong in trading forum)
- Openly argue with a moderator
- Manipulation of the User Review system or voting/rating systems
Now, however, the Rules and Guidelines page provides specific expectations of users—be respectful of yourself and other players, be constructive and avoid off-topic content, commercial content is not permitted, don't discuss or engage in unlawful or prohibited activity—and individual examples under each category. Some of those examples are duplicated from the old rules, but overall it's much more granular: Instead of "don't flame people," for instance, the new rules state that "interactions with other players should not be abusive, disparaging, or inflammatory, nor create an environment that is unwelcoming," and breaks that down further as:
- Insults or harassment
- Threats or encouragement of harm
- Trolling or baiting arguments
- Bypassing word or content filters
- Public accusations towards others
There are also now separate sections on the rules page for user reviews, user-uploaded images, and Steam community groups, and an FAQ on how the rules are enforced. The online conduct rules, meanwhile, have been expanded considerably to cover everything from "unlawful activity" to harassment, cheating, and violating intellectual property rights, with similar specific examples of what each means and includes.
One interesting change that really highlights the long-overdue need to update Steam's rules relates to the presence of adult content. Previously, Steam forbade "porn, inappropriate or offensive content, warez or leaked content or anything else not safe for work." The new rules still forbid the uploading of sexually explicit content, but exempts "game content posted in its own game hub," reflecting the widespread presence of sex games on Steam.
The surge of adult content on Steam isn't the only reason for the changes, nor even the most important. A rise in abusive behavior amongst the gamer community, directed at both other players and game developers, is a very real and persistent issue: 91% of respondents to a 2023 GDC survey said abuse from players is a problem, and in the face of that, vague "don't be a dick" rules just don't cut it anymore.
More explicit rules forbidding that sort of behavior is a start, but the real question is how Valve will go about enforcing these updated guidelines. We said in 2018 that Steam has a hate group problem because Valve refuses to enforce its own rules, and it doesn't seem like much has changed in the intervening years: In December 2022, US Senator Maggie Hassan sent a letter to Valve boss Gabe Newell asking what the company was doing to address Nazism, white supremacy, misogyny, and other "hateful sentiments" shared on the platform. Hopefully this more comprehensive approach to Steam's rules is a sign that Valve is ready to start taking them seriously.