In an official blog post today, Valve's Erik Johnson clarified and expanded on the company's reasoning when it comes to what games are and aren't allowed on Steam. In short, starting soon, Valve will allow 'everything' to be published on the Steam store, so long as it isn't illegal or "straight-up trolling." Johnson doesn't explain what counts as trolling, although Valve did use the word 'troll' to describe the developer of the school shooting simulator which it recently removed from Steam.
Johnson says that Valve's decisions have nothing to do with pressure from payment processors, something which 'Cut Content Police' creator Marusame speculated was the case in a recent PC Gamer feature on the tenuous status of games with sexual content on Steam. (We asked Valve for comment before and when that feature was published, and this seems to be it.) Johnson also says that, contrary to popular belief, Valve does not automate everything, and real people do review "the contents of every controversial title" submitted through Steam Direct.
The problem, says Johnson, is that Valve will always make someone mad with its decisions—whether that's to allow or disallow a game. Furthermore, Valve itself has internal disagreements about "controversial topics," such as "politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on," and what should be on Steam.
"The online debates around these topics play out inside Valve as well," he writes. "We don't all agree on what deserves to be on the Store. So when we say there's no way to avoid making a bunch of people mad when making decisions in this space, we're including our own employees, their families and their communities in that."
The solution, according to Johnson: "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," he writes. "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.
"With that principle in mind, 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. Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see."
That statement contradicts Steam's current Steam Direct policies, which disallow pornography and hate speech. We have contacted Valve for clarification.
To help customers filter out games they don't want to see, Valve will be adding a feature which allows users to override the recommendation algorithms and hide certain types of games (the examples used are anime games and games a parent wouldn't want their kids to see). Johnson also says that "developers who build controversial content shouldn't have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we'll be building tools and options to support them too."
What this means, says Johnson, is that "the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don't think should exist," but conversely, "you're also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist."
"It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values," continues Johnson, "beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create & consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it's almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you."
Valve will still intervene in some cases, though. It will first of all "push developers to further disclose any potentially problematic content in their games during the submission process, and cease doing business with any of them that refuse to do so honestly." Because laws vary around the world, "we will almost certainly continue to struggle with this one for a while," says Johnson.
Additionally, Johnson says that Valve will "still continue to perform technical evaluations of submissions, rejecting games that don't pass until their issues have been resolved." (I am surprised to hear that Valve was doing this already.)
We won't see "significant changes" to what's allowed on Steam until the tools described are built. "We'll be working on this for the foreseeable future, both in terms of what products we're allowing, what guidelines we communicate, and the tools we're providing to developers and players," says Johnson.
We will update this post if Valve confirms whether or not this really means it is lifting its rules disallowing pornography and hate speech.