By now, I’m willing to bet you’ve heard about Valve’s recent decision to “allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.” This decision comes shortly after Valve threatened to remove games with sexual content, and more recently Valve’s removal of a game about mass shootings. The initial reaction I heard was mostly positive, with the hopes that this would mean Valve would be more accepting of games with sexual content.
But after that, I was thoroughly surprised at the number of articles criticizing the new policy. From Ars Technica to PC Gamer, Rock Paper Shotgun to Eurogamer—Kotaku would have joined the list, but Nathan Grayson hasn’t decided to write an article yet—the general point seems to be that Valve, by its near-monopolistic position in PC gaming, must exercise some degree of moderation as to what it allows on its store. By stepping away from determining what’s allowed on Steam, they say, Valve is effectively endorsing everything they allow on Steam, even if it contains racism, sexism, or other such offensive qualities.
While I might not be very happy to see games of such nature on Steam, I’m willing to bet it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as others seem to think. Just being on Steam isn’t enough anymore for a game to be successful, and when a game is supporting ideas that are generally considered offensive, achieving success would become yet another obstacle success on an already overcrowded playing field.
As part of Rock Paper Shotgun’s article on this issue, John Walker points out the presence of laws in certain countries banning homosexuality or the promotion of it, then wonders if Valve would obey such laws in those countries by banning games with homosexual people shown positively from being sold in those countries. I find this argument particularly odd, as this is something completely out of Valve’s control. Yes, banning homosexuality is terrible, but at the end of the day, Valve is not in a position to force countries to change these laws. Withdrawing from these countries would not cause these laws to change, it would merely create a temporary vacuum that competitors would rush to fill.
Personally, I’m not really seeing much downside to Valve continuing to step away from curation. Yes, there are a lot of low quality games, shovelware, and asset flips on the store, but you won’t see most of them unless you’re intentionally looking at newly launched games. I’m willing to bet anything offensive will be lost in the noise, too. Between the almost certainty of the games being low quality and the inevitable review bombing the games will get—because let’s face it, given some of the reasons incredibly popular and well-received games have been review bombed, anything offensive that even gets a little bit of attention will almost assuredly receive such treatment—games that support racism, sexism, or such will almost certainly fail to gain any form of traction on Steam, even if Valve allows them.
In the end, I think this is all a tempest in a teapot. Everything will be fine, Steam won’t get flooded with school shooting or lynch mob simulators, and good games will still find their way through the noise, for the most part.