Steam Still Can't Seem To Keep Its Hands Off Some 'Sex Games' Despite Hands Off Policy
from the pron-store dept
It’s been three or so years since Valve announced a new “hands off” approach towards approvals for games on its dominant Steam storefront. This new “policy” was unfortunately rolled out in an extremely Steam-like manner: vague and largely indecipherable, full of holes, and all with a caveat baked in that Steam could still do basically whatever it wants. Later, the company clarified that the chief goal with all of this was to allow for more adult-oriented games while still giving Steam the ability to disallow “troll games“, as though that actually clarified anything. Predictably, this new policy set off confusion all over the place, and even years into the change its application appears to be aggressively inconsistent.
Three years in and it’s still a problem. The developers of Holodexxx, a VR sex game featuring VR-rendered real-life porn stars, has expended thousands of dollars to try to comply with Steam’s policies only to find the game banned from the platform. Interestingly, the developers of the game appear to have intended this to be less of a gross or trollish look at a sex video game and more as something that is both adult-oriented but a “sex positive” experience.
Holodexxx is a game in which simulated versions of real adult performers interact with the player in virtual reality, with AI guiding elements of the performance. Its creators bill it as an ethical, sex-positive game being made in conjunction with and featuring real sex workers. Steam, at this point, carries a plethora of games that include adult content—some of which venture into much dicier thematic territory than Holodexxx. But that didn’t stop Valve from chasing Holodexxx off its holodeck.
On pre-2018 Steam, this is a game that would absolutely not be allowed on the platform. But the whole point of the change in policy was supposed to be to allow for more content of this nature, so long as it didn’t dive into “troll” territory. And, to some extent, that policy shift achieved its goal. There are a great many adult sex games on Steam these days, with the level of raunchiness in those games playing across a spectrum for that sort of thing. But in this case, the game has been rejected several times, no matter what the developer tries to do to comply with Steam’s policy.
In a recent lengthy blog, the game’s developers outlined everything they’ve tried over the course of multiple months. To begin, they submitted a “PG-13 experience” to Steam starring a clothed version of adult film actress Riley Reid, along with a censored video of live adult stars. Valve, say Holodexxx’s developers, blocked the submission “with a boiler-plate explanation that video pornography was not allowed on Steam.” So then the developers spent additional time creating a new demo without video of adult stars, in which the player could instead look at a model of adult film actress Marley Brinx in a virtual environment. Again, Valve blocked it on the basis that it was “pornography.”
At that point, Holodexxx’s developers went back to the drawing board and spent “months” on Holodexxx Home, a more elaborate interactive experience with dialogue systems and direct physical interactions. It involves undressing a character, but so do other games on Steam, so in theory, it doesn’t necessarily activate any of Valve’s tripwires. However, you can probably guess what happened next.
“We submitted Home and waited a few weeks,” wrote Holodexxx’s developers. “After poking Steam via help tickets, our build was reviewed two days later… and banned. The explanation was again, that Steam does not allow ‘pornography’ on their platform.”
In all, the developer claims that it has spent something like $20,000 just trying to get a version in place that would meet Steam’s guidelines. Unfortunately, that effort appears to have failed as that last rejection once again simply regurgitated the anti-pornography stance previously iterated.
Now, let’s be clear on a couple of things. First, you may not like the idea of adult games showing up on Steam. That doesn’t really matter for this story. Steam shifted policies to allow for more of them and they can run their platform as they choose. Secondly, I’ll reiterate that point: Steam can block this game from its platform if it wants.
But the problem here is the lack of clarity in the policy and the inconsistency with which it is applied. If you need this broken down further, I’ll put it this way: when a developer can spend five-figures trying to comply with a platform’s policy and can’t manage to do so, the problem is on the platform’s end. Either the policy isn’t clear enough for developers (check!), hasn’t been applied in a way that’s consistent enough to allow it to be interpreted (check!), or the communication in feedback to developers about the policy as it applies to their specific games hasn’t been handled well (check!).
In this case, Steam has failed at all three levels. Again, the platform can do as it pleases with its property, but if the platform is going to have a policy, it might as well make it one that actually works.