When the divisive school shooter simulation game, Active Shooter, was added to the PC game marketplace last week, the Steam Store was the target of public outrage.
Following that, the company removed the game from Steam and promised its users that it would address “the broader conversation about Steam’s content policies.” In a roundabout way, the company has fulfilled its promise in a lengthy 1,200-word blog post, but not in the way you might have hoped or expected.
To summarize the post in a TL;DR fashion, Valve will be completely hands-off. Valve will no longer police content on its store, no matter how offensive the game is or how much backlash it receives.
“We’ve decided that the best approach is to allow everything onto the Steam store, except for things we deem illegal or outright trolling,” Valve engineer Eric Johnson wrote. “By taking this approach, we can focus less on policing what should be on Steam and more on building tools that give people control over what kind of content they see.”
The tools appear to let you filter what content you see in the store using granular categorisation. If you do not want to see anime games, you can do so; if you want to limit the types of games your children see, you must make that decision.
The Active Shooter controversy arose just as Valve appeared to be hesitant to implement a content policy, having sent out removal emails to adult visual novel developers weeks before. It’s clearly a difficult subject for the company, which it shouldn’t be.
According to Johnson, Valve must decide whether to allow games “covering a wide range of contentious issues such as politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on.” Instead of dealing with the complexities of policing content like Active Shooter, Valve has stated that it will simply remove its hands from the deck and allow everything.
However, when developers submit their games, the company will require them to “further disclose any potentially problematic content.” However, disclosure does not imply removal. So, what does this all mean?
“It means the Steam Store will contain something you despise and believe should not exist,” Johnson wrote. “However, you will see something in the store that you believe should be there, and some other people will despise it.”
“To be clear, just because your game is on the Store doesn’t mean we approve or agree with anything you’re trying to say with it.”
In other words, Valve absolves itself of any and all liability for the games that end up on its platform. Apart from being the Steam Store’s gatekeeper, it has no interest in the content. Except for the money cut, of course.
Is it Valve’s responsibility to remove harmful, tasteless content from the platform? It technically does not, but by allowing the content to be available on Steam, the company is telling the world that they agree with it – no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. By taking a sizable cut of the profits from games that promote tasteless, racist, sexist, and homophobic content, Valve is saying, “Yes, we support you.”