Post Valve's 'Hands Off' Games Curation Announcement, Everything Is A Mess

from the shrugging-emoji dept

Back in June we discussed Valve’s somewhat odd announcement that it was getting out of the games curation business, and opening its platform to what it said would be far more games. The restrictions on what type of content would now be allowed on the gaming platform was said to mostly be limited only to games that are “trolling” or “illegal.” As with all things Valve, this apparent announcement aimed at transparency and making sure developers knew what expectations Valve had for games on Steam mostly achieved the exact opposite, with everyone wondering immediately what qualified as “trolling.” Nobody could really agree on where exactly Valve would be drawing the lines on the types of content it would allow. That said, most people, including most of the participants of the podcast we conducted on the topic, essentially agreed that this would chiefly allow more games with sexual content onto the platform.

And, yet, it seems that even that hasn’t been true thus far. Kotaku has a post up discussing the many, many sexuality related games that had been disallowed from Steam, but which were gearing up to be included based on the new policy. It seems the policy hasn’t opened up the platform to many of them after all.

James Cox was finally feeling optimistic about his game’s chances on Steam. Last year, his horror-inspired exploration of what it’s like to look at porn for the first time, You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter, got booted from Valve’s walled garden, but then, earlier this year, Valve said it was getting rid of all the walls. His game was neither illegal nor a troll job, so it should have fit into Valve’s “allow everything” policy. Months and a rollercoaster of policy changes later, however, and Cox has no idea where his game stands. Its release is on hold indefinitely.

Cox is far from alone in his confusion. In the wake of a fiasco in which Valve apparently erroneously targeted a bunch of previously approved sexy games for removal from Steam, the company said last month that it was holding back games with suggestive content from release while it planned a new suite of filtering tools for the Steam store. These tools, which still are not available, will allow users to decide what kinds of games they see on the store.

In our podcast, I pointed out that this would be a problem. Valve essentially rolled its new policy out before it could be put into place, basically doing things exactly backward. If Valve had developed its filtering tools first and then rolled out the policy, allowing these newly allowed games onto the platform, much of the current confusion wouldn’t exist. Instead, it told game makers the good news of the policy prior to them being able to make any use of it. What the hell was the point of that?

And even the policy doesn’t seem to be cohesive within Valve itself.

Except that, according to Cox, Valve is still insisting that developers censor games that contain what the company perceives to be objectionable material. He said he spoke with Valve shortly after the company announced its anything-goes policy.

“I asked Valve if I needed to resubmit the game for it to be reinstated or if it would automatically be unbanned once the content control tools were released,” he told Kotaku in an email. “They told me that they still consider the game to be porn and that they can’t sell or distribute porn or content that is illegal.”

Which is leading us right back to a discussion as to what constitutes porn. Which, if you’ll recall, is where this all started in the first place, as one person’s porn is another’s art. Cox’s title, for instance, is a horror-type game based on the character’s first life experiences with pornography, which is represented in text-based images. Valve told him he had to remove the porn parts of his game, to which he asked if just removing the ASCII art would be enough. It’s been over a month and he hasn’t had a response.

Meanwhile, other porn-y games are currently on the store. Some visual novel style games, however, are not. In other words, this has become a nightmare for developers, their having no idea what is allowed or not on Steam.

“I as a developer have no idea what the rules even are anymore, how to follow them, and what happens on Steam just seems to change day by day,” said Peter Rasmussen, of visual novel developer Lupiesoft, in an email. “If Valve gave us clear guidelines to follow, then we would, as we much prefer the security to what we have now. My biggest fear is that Valve washes its hands of the entire [visual novel] genre because of a few who are abusing it to pump out cheap achievement games.”

Again, adult-themed visual novels were supposed to be the shoe-in for inclusion after the policy was announced.

Honestly, whatever you think of Steam’s new policy, it’s clear at this point that it screwed up the rollout. This has become enough of a clusterfuck at this point that I’m not sure how it gets cleaned up, unless Steam decides to impliment the policy now and rollout the filtering features later. And it will be much later, as Valve recently admitted that the filtering tools are still months away.

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Comments on “Post Valve's 'Hands Off' Games Curation Announcement, Everything Is A Mess”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

I wonder if Steam is still going to restrict games with porn.

A number of games that feature explicit sexual content (or even just pornographic imagery or hentai) — typically visual novels from Japan — have had to create a clean(er) version for Steam release, many of which can be converted into the original version with a file from the dev’s website.

It’s the most obvious censorship of content on steam.

Is that going to change?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: I wonder if Steam is still going to restrict games with porn.

Yeah, On there’s a bushel of erotic games, some of them gay or lesbian adventures, that definitely are more in the game featuring sexuality category than the digital porn toy one, so one would think that they should be acceptable in the same market as, say God Of War, with its casual nudity and QTE love scenes, or Far Cry 3 in which Jason Brody has first-person sex with a high priestess who then sacrifices him.

Maybe our explicit sex has to be AAA or backed by an AAA legal team.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I wonder if Steam is still going to restrict games with porn.

Reminds me of one ESRB bullshit double standard. Remember when Oblivion and GTA San Andreas got their rating raised for crude genitals that required modding to access? WatchDogs 2 apparently had at one point anatomically correct women with open-crotched underwear visible through regular gameplay. Some guy even got briefly banned on the Playstation network when he took a screenshot after an accidental gas explosion from a gun battle caught said pedestrian. No rating raise there despite being far worse in accessibility. Hell Playstation would probably be in the right legally to sue Ubisoft for breach of contract.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Watch Dogs 2 nudity

There’s a woman wearing (only) body paint on Haight Street, and a Peace And Love garden in which the custodians mind the garden in the buff.

Baker Beach is listed (in game) as a clothing-optional beach, though when I visited there in game, everyone there had opted for clothes. Granted it was a foggy day.

Mind you, in (real) San Francisco there are numerous places where clothing is optional depending on the political clime. There are decency activists that keep trying to forbid nudity but a strong nudist base that keeps pressuring to open them up again.

There is a DLC scenario involving a porn studio in WD2, but everyone there was clothed, even in situations where clothes would have been inconvenient.

Regarding the PS4 Sony has been anti-porn since Betamax video tape, and it was one of the reasons that VHS ultimately prevailed. There’s still a notion in the game industry that games (like comics!) are for kids, even though the average gamer is in his thirties (and rising!).

Ralph Bashki fought the same kind of censorship for pretty much most of his career.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I wonder if Steam is still going to restrict games with porn.

There are sometimes “unlock” codes or blank files with certain names in certain directories that once created (by the end user with post-installation instructions) will show the “full” content in the game. The sex is there, but just not “on” by default.

The devs make you look for it so that they can prove that the player made an active decision to see the sex/nudity.

It puts “responsibility” on the user that deliberately sought out the sexual content, instead of it being a “surprise” from the devs. Sort of silly when looked at objectively, but understandable from a “who’s to blame for me/my child seeing this offensive content??” angle.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Explicit Content Unlock Codes

One of the Kotaku articles (I binge read earlier this week) talked about Steam setting a policy that proscribed games having an off-site unlock key or means to unlock explicit content. However, some of the articles are years old, so that may be out-of-date news.

Regarding adult sections, games are now organized both by tag and having age / adult-content gates, so that games not meant for young or sensitive viewers are forewarned what the game is about. It’s really easy on steam to not see content that might offend one’s sensibilities. But it’s also pretty easy to go through those gates to hate-watch them as well.

For those with curious kids, I think there are parent locks one can put on steam accounts. But I’ve never used them.

saivamsi lankipalli (user link) says:

Dental Industry

It’s not your eyes or lips; it is for sure your teeth that get noticed first! Why hide it, when you can smile with confidence. Axiss Dental, India’s leading multi-specialty chain of top dental clinics with over 65 state-the-art dental clinics across the country has been providing good dental treatments in India since 2004.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Computer Generated Porn

Porn law in the US is a mess. In some places porn is heavily restricted, whether CG or otherwise (typically in red-state and bible-belt states) whereas in others, all porn is legal that doesn’t involve models getting exploited, even if it depicts illegal situations (such as child porn). Mind you, talent that is live models and porn stars have to file extensive permits in order to be able to do their work, and to absolutely assure the system that they weren’t underage when they were working in front of the camera. (Of course this lead to a lucrative industry to process and retain all those records, and to assure that an actress who wants to work can.)

The problem is, what is legal or isn’t can not only vary from state to state, but even county to county. In California, if you download lolicon from the web, you’re safe. In Louisiana, it’s regarded as child porn, but it’s up to the police and the DA of your county (some of whom are more understanding than others) whether or not it counts. In Illinois, it may be safe in your home county, but if you visit a friend in another county, and take your laptop loaded with Simpsons cartoon porn featuring Bart and Lisa, you can be convicted of possessing (or even trafficking) in child porn.

Oh, and literary porn is the same thing, meaning that libraries of 70’s era airport smut which featured teenages getting it on are all criminal if you’re in the wrong county.

Mind you, we are in an era where simulated children can not only be convincingly realistic, but are used by law enforcement to entrap online predators and convince them they’re talking to an overeager child and not an FBI agent. If you are busted with hyper-realistic CGI child porn anywhere it’ll probably be a long uphill battle convincing a court that you’re innocent.

Darkness Of Course (profile) says:

Internal divisions?

I’ve wondered whether some of this is Valve personnel having differing opinions on what is porn/dirty/too sexy/etc versus Valve actually having a policy. Them not having the filter functional to support the policy, surprise – not.

It does remind me of Amazon epub deciding to remove ebooks from their customer’s devices because someone inside Amazon decided they were porn/over the line/whatever. One such, IIRC, incest related self published collection. The subject is difficult to support but really, what is the point of pushing some employee’s viewpoint to restrict what others find reasonable/funny/and lets not forget whatever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Internal divisions?

Valve are usually well-meaning in what they do and they have got some excellent ideas. Following through though… They are known for messing up (think ie. the Counterstrike 1.6 update that made the beta of steam mandatory. Resulting in inevitable crashes and a large part of the community staying on Counterstrike 1.5 untill they were forced to upgrade. Yes, that unstable junk was 2 years later starting the trajectory to become one of the biggest online game-sale platforms in history!).

Valve are also a company with some severe time-optimism that originated with the release of the demo for Half-Life. Soon(tm) was mockingly used about Team Fortress 2 as it took several years from its promise to delivery…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not interested in obtaining Valve’s “permission” to play whatever porn I feel like, I’m not going to them to get it in the first place. Actually, I’m not going to them for any reason whatsoever seeing as how games I’m willing to pay for may not depend on some remote server for installation, under any circumstances. Any developer tying their fate to a platform that openly does not want them is an idiot, frankly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Multiple catalogs?

I wonder if Steam and others might be served via different catalogs which are essentially storefronts with varying restrictions or lack of them. Say a “Steam AfterDark” for porn, SteamKids for ones curated to be suitable for all ages and know that Fuzzy Bunny Teaches Algebra isn’t going to turn into a creepypasta that rapidly goes darker until it features a recreation of horrifying scenes from the Holocaust with cartoon rabbits.

Granted acting like that is likely to be a thankless job especially when the inevitable arguements break out like if a game about a girl with two lesbian moms qualifies as no longer SteamKids appropriate.

ryuugami says:

GOG's FCK DRM initiative

A request: can someone with better access than me (an Insider, maybe?) bring this to Mike’s attention? It seems like something he may want to comment on.

The FCK DRM initiative

DRM-free approach in games has been at the heart of GOG.COM from day one. We strongly believe that if you buy a game, it should be yours, and you can play it the way it’s convenient for you, and not how others want you to use it.

The landscape has changed since 2008, and today many people don’t realize what DRM even means. And still the DRM issue in games remains – you’re never sure when and why you can be blocked from accessing them. And it’s not only games that are affected, but your favourite books, music, movies and apps as well.

To help understand what DRM means, how it influences your games and other digital media, and what benefits come with DRM-free approach, we’re launching the FCK DRM initiative. The goal is to educate people and ignite a discussion about DRM. To learn more visit, and share your opinions and stories about DRM and how it affects you.

(This seemed like the best place to post it, since it’s kinda tangentially related, as it deals with a Steam’s competitor.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Internal divisions?

I think they released that big statement because there was a real internal division. They took responsibility on a company-wide scale so that naming names became unnecessary.

That’s all tinfoil and guesswork, though. So long as the problem with content censorship (eventually) gets fixed, I have no further problems with the people I think are responsible.

This limbo state on top of things isn’t really helping, though. Apparently even games with already well-known “uncensor” methods were told to keep that information off the Steam Discussions pages or their own self-hosted forums.

Does that mean only places like GameFAQs can host the uncensor method information in cases like that? sigh Clarity from Valve would help in all of this…

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