2 Years Later, Valve's Hands Off Approach To Adult Games Is Still Confusing, Still Very Much Not Hands Off

from the bright-shiny-lines dept

Back in 2018, after a year of truly hammering down on independent game studios producing what many would consider “adult” or “porn” games, Valve finally relented and said its Steam platform would be more open. As part of the announcement, Valve indicated it would take a hands off approach to game curation and allow more adult-style games generally, later clarifying that it intended to prevent only “troll” games. If all of that sounds incredibly vague and ripe for creating a massive and confusing mess, well, that’s precisely what happened. Developers saw the chance that Steam would accept their games as a crapshoot, with some making it through and others not. The reasons for denials were equally vague and arbitrary.

The dust has settled somewhat in the subsequent years, but the lack of clarity for developers in what is allowed or not continues to rear its ugly head. One recent case is with Super Seducer 3, a game that appears to now be fully denied from Steam despite the developer being way open to working with Steam on any perceived issues.

Valve has refused to approve controversial pickup artist game Super Seducer 3 for sale on Steam. The company says the game breaks a rule, saying that Steam does “not ship sexually explicit images of real people,” according to messages posted on Twitter by game creator Richard La Ruina.

The first game in the series was suspended from Kickstarter and then barred from the PlayStation store back in 2018, but that game and its sequel continue to be available on Steam to this day.

To get it out of the way, Super Seducer 3 sounds almost precisely like the kind of game that I would absolutely not want to play. That being said, just because something is not my cup of tea neither makes it full on pornography, nor does it mean it runs afoul of Steam’s supposedly new lax restrictions. Adding everything up, actually, nothing about what Steam is doing here seems to make sense.

As noted above, the first two games in the series are currently for sale on Steam. It’s also worth noting that the feedback the developer got seemed to indicate that the issue with the game was a brand new standard of not showing any sexually explicit material featuring images of real live people.

In the case of Super Seducer 3, Valve seems to be citing a newly articulated standard of “not ship[ping] sexually explicit images of real people” on top of the “illegal” and “straight-up trolling” standards of the past. The vast majority of games listed under Steam’s “Sexual Content” store page feature hand-drawn 2D or computer-animated images of the scantily clad characters in question, rather than photographs or filmed images of real actors. On the other hand, titles like “Bad Ass Babes” or “iStripper” that do feature nude images of real actors have recently been removed from the Steam Store (though extremely NSFW discussion pages still remain on Steam to commemorate their brief availability).

Notably, the developer claims that the actual images included in the game would pass the Instagram test. This generally means that, while they may be sexual in nature, the images don’t contain anything crossing the arbitrary naughty-lines of nipples, penises, or vaginas. Also notable is that in February the developer and Steam were working together to get the game in a state where Valve felt it could approve its release, before Steam suddenly indicated that, no, all parties were at an impasse and Steam’s decision not to allow the game was now final.

Later in February, La Ruina said he had received “clearer guidelines” from Valve on what changes needed to be made to get Steam approval for Super Seducer 3 and later said he had begun making “targeted cuts” based on that guidance and “lawyer advice.” But over the weekend, La Ruina said that Valve told him they were “at an impasse” and that “we are not going to sell the game or re-review it… this decision is final.”

“I do not feel like we are at any kind of impasse,” he wrote in a message to Valve. “I’m ready to take a butcher knife to the game and take weeks to make all kinds of edits.”

It seems as though he will not have that opportunity, with Steam digging in its heels for whatever reason.

Content moderation sucks and is extremely hard to do in a sensical way. We’ve discussed this over and over again here at Techdirt. But, if you are going to do any kind of content moderation, particularly under the guise of having a mostly hands-off approach, it sure would be nice for developers to have a general idea for what will get approved and what won’t. Otherwise, well, you get this.

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Companies: valve

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Comments on “2 Years Later, Valve's Hands Off Approach To Adult Games Is Still Confusing, Still Very Much Not Hands Off”

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crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sounds to me like someone’s boss found out they were spending time helping this dev review their game and find all the areas that were liabilities or otherwise unacceptable and told them to do something better with their time and just tell him no.

Valve is in a tough spot here.. How much money do they waste on the effort of defining exactly what makes them think the game is hot garbage cheap pornography and not a real game and will just make steam look bad with no upside?

"won’t ship games with sexually explicit images of real people" doesn’t pass the smell test, but it’s probably nicer than the truth.. this is garbage and wasting our time

migi says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I thought the point of their ‘very open’ policy was that garbage will sink to the bottom and cream will float to the top.
I don’t know how well they think this experiment is going but this might signal a change in policy.
Or it might just be different moderators having different standards and the policy isn’t clear enough for them to act consistently and they end up looking schizophrenic (which was part of the problem previously).

Valve might be worried about some sort of copyright issue or the potential for underage pictures being included, but you’d think that would be pretty easy to explain.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Garbage is probably fine as long as it fits into the designated legal and P.R. bins.. The usual cheap porn games are incredibly formulaic and should be pretty simple to validate. Then you have the AAA titles, who should have their own legal departments and can validate things themselves.

If you have a small company that could vanish at the first sign of trouble, and the game doesn’t fall into established buckets, then I think it’s reasonable to think you have more potential for blowback that comes to steam and valve itself.

Steam can do that work for the developer and tell them what exactly they think would be acceptable, they could just put it up without validating it well and risk the blowback comes to them or they can just reject it

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Hmmm… on the one hand, a game that’s not graphically explicit would seem to be something that should be allowed under the rules stated in this article, especially if there’s other similar games available

On the other hand, a game that sounds like it’s expressly intended to simulate abusively sexual grooming behaviour toward vulnerable women is asking for a lot of trouble in today’s climate and I don’t doubt that Valve just want to avoid that right now.

Candescence (profile) says:

Not a surprise, there seems to be certain subject matters that Valve really doesn’t want to touch – "school settings" seem to be another such thing, even if the setting is university/college, because apparently Valve really does not want to take chances on potential "child porn" material. The visual novel Kissing Therapy was also permanently banned, despite being set in college and the characters actually looking at least college-age even with a fairly anime-esque style, but in the notice sent to the developer, the Steam team stated that they believed the game depicted sexual content involving a possible depiction of a minor and that even "gray areas" were considered off-limits.

Apparently Valve considers drawn or computer generated child porn imagery to be legally problematic, which I’m not quite sure is true but I might be wrong. Still, it seems like certain games are going to be collateral damage of Valve’s attempts to avoid legal liability.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Apparently Valve considers drawn or computer generated child porn imagery to be legally problematic, which I’m not quite sure is true but I might be wrong"

Whether or not it’s actually a problem legally right now, there’s definitely politicians who want, for example, underage-looking hentai characters to be treated the same as actual child porn. I’m sure that Valve don’t want to hand ammunition to those people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s due to Washington State where Valve are based having a vague definition of ‘Child Exploitation’ but with harsh punishments.

So Valve understandably don’t want to go anywhere near that line, especially when they have been coming under pressure from Religious Conservative Groups who are already unhappy that Valve sell games with general Nudity (and Violence) in them.


I also think one of the issues with the Anime Visual Novels is due to a cultural/translation issue – Japanese style Anime references the women as being schoolgirls or wearing school uniforms which to the average Western/American audience suggests U16, but what most of them really mean are what would be College/University students (16/18+) in the West which would be less problematic – but good luck getting the likes of Fox News to understand the difference, I also expect the fact that the art style of Anime makes the characters look younger doesn’t help.

Nor does the fact that drawn characters just have whatever arbitrary age you assign to them – draw one character that looks 16 but you claim is in fact 18/21/1,000 years old, and draw a second character that looks 18/21 but claim they are only 16 – which of those two characters are problematic? (Now change that 16 to a 13 and you can see the problems faced when you can arbitrary set a characters age).

Candescence (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I should note that Kissing Therapy is actually made by a western indie studio, so the whole cultural/translation issue isn’t part of it. I probably should’ve clarified, but it’s anime-esque in broad strokes but still kinda recognizably western in many ways.

But yeah, I can kinda understand in that context, though the source you provided is a bit questionable IMO (the author comes off as being a bit too much of a creep for my liking, judging by his other content and how he characterizes Valve’s behavior on this issue).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There’s a lot of problematic content out there, but locking people up because of something they drew is way more problematic. Sure, if you’re creating live action content that involves people actually being abused then you can talk about that, but drawings cannot do that.

Either way, it’s Valve’s right to refuse to let their platform be used to sell a specific product even if you find their reasons for doing so unconvincing. But, jail time for artwork should never be on the table, no matter how offensive you find it.

BG (profile) says:

Not really games TBH

These games are more like the bastard offspring of FMV and Chose Your Own Adventure. The games are essentially the product of a misogynist arsehole, sorry I meant to say pickup artist, where the said developer / protagonist of the game strokes his ego by chatting up attractive women while allegedly imparting "life skills" to the player.

The background is that a pickup artist realised book stores are cluttered with a dime a dozen books on how to be a "super seducer" but that the gaming space was very light, if not completely clear, of that type of content. The various adult dating sim type games that Valve keeps flipflopping on don’t really enter this space. So the developer saw an untapped market just waiting breathlessly for his glorious presence.

In reality the games are essentially a short video clip where you chose the super seducers response from a set of 4 or so possible responses, which then play the appropriate video clip. The first game seemed to rely on a lot of negging techniques so you know you’re dealing with a positive role model that respects and values women. While there is no nudity in the games from what I understand, I can see why Valve decided they don’t really need the additional revenue such a miserable series of games brings to the table.

/S in liberal quantities for the folks who don’t recognise it when they see it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not really games TBH

This. This is what i was thinking – maybe Valve doesn’t want to be associated with the PUA asshats. The weird thing, and likely the whole of the "unclear rules" issue in such a case is: Why state that the reason for denying the game a home on Steam is "pornographic imagery"? Why not just simply state that Steam doesn’t want to host Abusive Rapey McGaslight fantasies?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: It's a pretty simple standard to follow

Capitalism 101 – if something makes money, then do it. If it results in a real potential danger of losing more money than it earns, stop it. Car companies, for example, will run metrics to work out whether lawsuits from design failures will cost more than the cost of a recall or the lawsuits from the people who get killed / injured in the accidents they caused.

This is why occasionally government have to step in to stop, say, child labour and literal rivers on fire, because history proves that when left to their own devices corporations consider human life to be secondary to profit.

Valve aren’t in any danger of actually killing people, but like any company they will sell things that make them money, up until the point where they believe that it won’t

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Anonymous Coward says:

The steam rules aren’t really confusing they clearly list what isn’t acceptable in their guidelines (which is more than pretty much anyone else does – What are the GOG, Epic or Sony guidelines?):

And whilst the ‘Sexually explicit images of real people’ rule is new if you look at older versions of the page it’s just Valve further refining what they mean by Pornography – back in 2018 that rule just banned Pornography and over the last couple of years they have narrowed down what they mean, so if anything the new rule is better as it more narrowly defined what they don’t want on the store.

Also in this case we only have the devs side of the story and they have been selective in what info they have made public – they released the rejection email but they haven’t released any of the back and forth emails pointing out what parts of the game Valve objected to and why Valve where unhappy with the changes made – reading between the lines makes it sound like they only made selective cuts each time and at some point Valve just got tried of repeating themselves, also if you read the released emails the dev only offered to make wholesale changes after Valve had rejected the game (and it also looked like the dev was going to revert those changes with an un-censored patch).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I wonder what steam would do

The original games are on Steam. A new version? Well, that would likely be problematic without the shield of "these games were made in a different time".

You can watch Cannibal Holocaust right now with all the very problematic issues of exploitation and real animal murder. That doesn’t mean someone could get away with making a new movie featuring the same levels of cruelty.

Anonymous Coward says:


The first "game" wasn’t touted as a game… it was pushed as a ‘training simulator’ to learn some really greasy, shit-heal, techniques that supposedly helped you "pick up" women in real life…

The guy behind it is not exactly known as a ‘good guy’ and this certainly isn’t the first place he’s been asked to no longer push his sleaze.

I applaud Valve for keeping someone known to be a real asshat elsewhere off of their platform… they gave him a chance with the first "game"… since it’s not a game, nor does it fit any other category, it’s not really something Valve seems keen on carrying

(notice how any other "training" software only seems to get one release … it’s not worth the overhead to only sell a handful of copies)

You can decry this as moderation, but to me it just makes sense to stop doing business with folks that are so sleazy, they can’t book a conference room at hotel for his ‘training’. I wouldn’t want to associate with this fellow either

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reputation

No one decries moderation here. (Except mr. crazypants when he shows up.) The point is that the rules are unclear. Which they are, if Valve won’t step up and say really why it refuses to host the game. Honestly, that would be a big win in the eyes of many people, but maybe Valve chooses to take the flak for "bad moderation" over offending the obviously large gamer bro / tech bro customer pool by basically calling them awful people. Or maybe they just suck at writing here-is-the-reason-you-are-moderated notices like basically everyone else.

Alec Heesacker says:

Help! I could not turn off Mature Content!

I had unticked the boxes for Mature Content,
I had blocked listed content that was Mature,
and still Mature Content shows up in my store.

I am offended to the point that I could legally contact the authorities due to United States Mature Content Laws,
if Valve could not resolve this Technical Difficulty.

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