Valve Decides To Get Out Of The Curation Business When It Comes To 'Offensive' Games
from the the-good-and-the-bad dept
As we’ve said in the past, Valve has always had a tricky line to walk with it’s Steam platform, having to straddle the needs of both the gamers that use the service and the game developers that make it worthwhile. Frankly, it’s walked this line fairly well for the most part. The platform, which was always popular, has exploded as the place to release a new game title online. As we noted way back in ye olde 2016, this popularity has also presented a problem for Steam: saturation. There are now simply so many games available on the platform that blindly wading into it and expecting to find new content you didn’t know you wanted is a dicey proposition at best. More content is an undeniably good thing, but it would be silly to suggest that the deluge of new games released in the past few years hasn’t also had a deleterious effect on the usability of the platform.
Our solution? It won’t surprise you. We advocated that Steam empower the gamers that use it to act as curators. If done properly, this would allow an ecosystem of trusted advisers among gamers that share interests to tell them which titles they should be looking at. To that end, Steam subsequently employed a curators program within the platform that attempted to build exactly this ecosystem. To date, it’s been mediocre at best.
But this isn’t the only publicized problem Steam has had in recent days. In addition, the platform has been in the news for its wishy-washy but ultimately heavy-handed approach to games that have either mature sexual content or are offensive to large swaths of people. Combinations of so-called sex-games and games that make such topics as school shootings central to gameplay have been banned, or not, often to much critique from every side from gamers.
The concept of empowering its community to serve as its own filters and the no-win situation when it comes to offensive games has now collided, causing Valve to announce that it’s getting out of the game content moderating business entirely.
In a blog post musing on the difficulty of deciding on a case-by-case basis what should and should not be allowed on Steam, Valve’s Erik Johnson explained that the company does, in fact, have a team of humans that looks at “every controversial title submitted to us,” and employees frequently disagree like Steam users do. “The harsh reality of this space, that lies at the root of our dilemma, is that there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad,” Johnson wrote.
“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,” said Johnson. “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.”
There are two reactions that leap immediately to mind. First and foremost, this will be a good and useful experiment by Valve. Empowering customers and communities is almost always the right approach. Acting as a gatekeeper or the warden managing the walled garden is not an approach we believe in. Moreso, an approach by a company that puts its trust in the everyday customer is typically an inherently consumer-friendly one. The ideals behind this kind of move are a good one. Censorship sucks, choice is better.
On the other hand, the other immediate reaction has to be that Valve had damned well better have its user tools in order when it rolls this out en masse, because two things will happen otherwise. Most directly, gamers who are being inundated with games and content they find horrifying, offensive, or otherwise view negatively are going to be fully up in arms. It’s easy to imagine families that game together, between parents and young children, losing their shit if the Steam homepage is suddenly full of games laden with overt sexual content or school shootings.
Even more so, if you thought the floodgates had been open when it came to the sheer volume of titles on Steam previously, this is going to introduce a potential tidal wave of new games onto the marketplace. If Valve isn’t supremely prepared to empower users now with far better curating tools than it already has, the platform is likely going to take a severe dip in its usability as a place to discover games.
In other words: decent idea, assuming Valve has put a ton of thought into how this will impact its platform.