Valve Clears Up Nothing With Its Latest Explanation Of What Games It Will Ban As 'Troll Games'

from the for-whom-the-bell-trolls dept

You will recall that several months back, Valve released a statement outlining what it considered to be sweeping changes to its game curation duties. While the company made a great deal of forthcoming tools on the Steam store for filtering game searches, pretty much everyone focused on the platform's claim that it would no longer keep any game off its platform unless it was "illegal or a troll game." That, of course, still left all kinds of ambiguity as to what is and is not allowed on the platform and it provided a wide avenue through which Steam could still drive its oversight truck. This led to our having a podcast discussion in which I pointed out repeatedly that this was every bit as opaque a policy as the one that proceeded it, which was followed by the real-world example of developers across the spectrum pointing out that they in fact had no idea what the policy actually meant. In other words, the whole thing has generally been an unproductive mess.

A mess which Valve tried to clean up this past week in an extensive blog post on its site which attempted to define what it meant by "troll games." As the folks at Ars point out, this attempt at clarity is anything but. Much of what Valve lays out as "troll games" makes sense: scam games that work Steam's inventory system, or try to manipulate developer Steam keys, or games that are simply broken due to a lack of seriousness on the part of the developer. But then it also said the definition included what most people thought of in the original announcement: games that "just try to incite and sow discord."

Valve's Doug Lombardi said at the time that Active Shooter was removed from Steam because it was "designed to do nothing but generate outrage and cause conflict through its existence." That designation came despite the fact that the developer said the game was "a dynamic SWAT simulator in which dynamic roles are offered to players" and that he would "likely remove the shooter's role in the game by the release" after popular backlash to the idea.

As the developer noted at the time, too, "there are games like Hatred, Postal, Carmageddon and etc., which are even [worse] compared to Active Shooter and literally focuses on mass shootings/killings of people."

It's as good an example as any for pointing out what has always been true about art forms: one person's inflammatory content is another person's artistic genius. More worrisome, Valve's own words on its policy put the company squarely in the business of mind-reading, with its post suggesting that troll developers are those that aren't actually interested in making or selling a game. It relies on Valve's own analysis of a developer's "good faith" in putting forth the game.

While good-faith developer efforts can obviously lead to "crude or lower quality games" on Steam, Valve says that "it really does seem like bad games are made by bad people." And it's those bad games from bad people that Valve doesn't want on Steam.

Absent a mind-reading device, determining a developer's motives isn't an easy task. Defining what separates a good faith effort to sell a game from a "troll" involves a "deep assessment" of the developer, Valve says, including a look at "what they've done in the past, their behavior on Steam as a developer, as a customer, their banking information, developers they associate with, and more."

We could spend a great deal of time discussing how qualified Valve is in making these determinations, or what value such curation provides for a platform like Steam. Or we could talk instead about whether this treatment sets video games back a notch or two as an art form, with corporate oversight playing the role of evaluating each artist's intent.

But the real lesson here is that, whatever you think of Valve's definitions above, it is clear as day that these explanations are not in line with the overall message in Valve's original notice of the change in policy. The company explicitly said at that time that it didn't believe it should be in the business of deciding what types of games with what types of content users should see on the platform. The whole point of this was for wide inclusion, whereas it seems really hard to see any daylight from this updated explanation and Steam's historical curation policy. Valve still gets to decide what goes on the platform.

So many words and so much time for so little effect, in other words.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    N Fringe-Mint, 11 Sep 2018 @ 7:54pm

    Yeah, you add nothing to nothing, then expect result is > 0?

    Why waste our time with this?

    Say, why don't you dash off a rant on Tickbox caving and agreeing to pay "ACE" $25 million for contributory infringement? Cause that's orders of magnitude bigger. -- Than what you state is nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:15pm

      Re: Yeah, you add nothing to nothing, then expect result is > 0?

      Some people find more importance in something than others.

      Given that the story you presented is on a much different topic... I'll leave you to finish that thought.

      I feel like my time was well used.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:22pm

      Re: Yeah, you add nothing to nothing, then expect result is > 0?

      You subtract.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:26pm

      Re: Yeah, you add nothing to nothing, then expect result is > 0?

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 10:23pm

      Yeah, you add nothing to nothing

      That title has got to be on your family crest.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:02pm

    Defining what separates a good faith effort to sell a game from a "troll" involves a "deep assessment" of the developer, Valve says, including a look at "what they've done in the past, their behavior on Steam as a developer, as a customer, their banking information, developers they associate with, and more."

    So when do they ban games published by EA?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Madd the Sane (profile), 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:11pm

      Won't work, sadly.

      Most of EA's games are now on their own platform. Especially those that use gambling microtransactions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:17pm

        Re: Won't work, sadly.

        And there are still people pissed off about that platform (and the decision to only have games there) to this day.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Sep 2018 @ 8:25pm

          Pissed about Origin

          On one hand I'm pissed that the Origin TOS, DRM policies, privacy policy and arbitration system (id est, when and why they will permaban) is enough that I'll never buy a game that demands Origin.

          On the other hand all of EA's games since Origin have been pure crap, by which I mean microtransaction bait, and required-multiplayer, in order to justify persistent online connection mandates.

          So EA has really saved me quite a lot of time and energy by giving me clear causes to give them wide berth in the first place.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2018 @ 11:13pm

            Re: Pissed about Origin

            I get what you mean...

            Only EA related game I've ever even take a remote interest in after Origin was dragon age inquisition... until I found out it was an origin game and the company had ties to EA.

            That was so much of a turn off that I bought Witcher 3 instead.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 12 Sep 2018 @ 12:47am

            Re: Pissed about Origin

            It's great that they give you such clear reasons to avoid them. The problem is when they go "we lost a lot of revenue, must be piracy" and use their muscle to make even more product less worthwhile as a result.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            ShadowNinja (profile), 12 Sep 2018 @ 7:16am

            Re: Pissed about Origin

            Yeah, I know what you mean.

            I've been tempted multiple times to buy The Sims 4 from EA, but whenever I consider it I read up on it online, and see enough negatives from people with the games to change my mind. The last time I checked they literally had 25 Sims 4 expansions, and divided them into multiple categories of expansions (that I had to google an explanation for).

            Like seriously, talk about getting ridiculously greedy EA.

            I hardly seem to be alone either in sticking with The Sims 3. Sims 3 communities seem just as active as Sims 4 communities despite the Sims 4 coming out 3 or 4 years ago.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2018 @ 3:52am

    This doesn't mean there aren't some crude or lower quality games on Steam, but it does mean we believe the developers behind them aren't out to do anything more than sell a game they hope some folks will want to play.

    I thought it was clarified alright by this section of the blog post (it isn't perfect), but cases of developers suddenly disappearing after releasing a "crude" or "controversial" game doesn't really happen on Steam.

    Hell, Techdirt itself has articles reporting on developers secretly having their employees write reviews as being a reason for Steam to ban them because it's a tangible sign of "bad faith".

    If the "trolling" rule starts being used proactively to prevent new, but "problematic", games from being approved, then I'll start worrying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2018 @ 4:12am

    The part that really bothers me is the comment that Active Shooter would have been removed regardless of the sketchiness of the developer.

    From my understanding of the situation, the developer seemed questionable enough that I could credit Valve with arguing that his behavior on the platform threw up enough red flags that they were skeptical of the good faith of the developer.

    However, when discussing the actual content, it sounds like Active Shooter would clearly fall in the "games we don't think should exist" category from their initial announcement - the exact sort of games they claim this new policy was supposed to foster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Grande and Cox, 12 Sep 2018 @ 4:14am

    On the other side of the river...

    I wonder what goes on in GOG's curation process. It is working, far better than Valve deciding it somehow has neither the energy nor the money to curate their own landfill, but it still has all its oddities. I hope the new community manager over there says something about that process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2018 @ 12:01pm

      Re: On the other side of the river...

      GOG has a pretty hard-line stance that some devs don't agree with, limiting their potential pool of games from the start. So it would make sense they have better quality control.

      The fact that their not nearly well known as Steam also works in their favor regarding that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 12 Sep 2018 @ 5:50am

    Read between the lines

    including a look at "what they've done in the past, their behavior on Steam as a developer, as a customer, their banking information, developers they associate with, and more."

    In other words, how much money you made us, how much money you spent with us, and how much money you have left.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 12 Sep 2018 @ 7:33am

    GAME OR TROLLS

    (The new hit series from Netflix)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2018 @ 8:59am

    Does not make sense

    Much of what Valve lays out as "troll games" makes sense: scam games that work Steam's inventory system, or try to manipulate developer Steam keys, or games that are simply broken due to a lack of seriousness on the part of the developer.

    A broken game is not "trolling" by any reasonable definition. Nor would it be illegal, unless perhaps via false advertising. It's easy to understand why Valve doesn't want to distribute broken games. But they said they'd only block illegal content and trolling, which we see now was a lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 12 Sep 2018 @ 4:23pm

    If only there were some way a developer or game programmer could sell their products to the internet at large without having to deal with Valve's vague rules. Someone should invent something like that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2018 @ 7:49pm

    "Troll games" was a strange phrase to use because it's meaningless. Even on this site, one commentor's troll might be another commentor's LOL vote.
    Valve could say something like "Games with no artisitic merit" or "Games with no functionality or purpose". Yes, it's still vague, but is far more meaningful than "troll games".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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