Valve has decided that they no longer want to moderate any of the content that goes on their store. “We’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling,” says Erik Johnson, a Valve executive, in a post on the Steam Blog. The idea is to introduce even more tools to allow the consumers to decide what they want to see on the store. This announcement, frankly, comes as no surprise to those paying attention to Steam’s evolution from a well-curated, prestige digital PC storefront to an untamed wilderness of dreck with glimmers of hidden quality titles. As past tools that were supposed to serve this purpose, such as Greenlight, Curators and algorithmically constructed “Queues” haven’t exactly worked as intended, there isn’t much hope that the trend will be reversed.
To be clear, this piece is not about wanting censorship. The idea that Valve wants to take a hands-off approach to what ends up on the store isn’t offensive on its face. While this will result in titles that are designed for the sole purpose of being offensive to a subset of one group or another, this was a situation that was occurring anyways. The recent release of Agony is a fine example of this, with many calling out its imagery and sexual violence. I have no interest in playing that thing, but will also respect its right to exist, wrongheaded though it might be. At least it tries to be an actual, designed game with actual effort behind it. Titles like that should be allowed unfettered onto the marketplace, and hopefully, be relegated to obscurity. The same applies to titles with a heavy emphasis on sexy time, to euthanize the euphemism. Consenting adults and all of that or, if you prefer, a fool and his money.
With that being said, a title like Active Shooter should not be allowed on the store. While it still may not be, as Valve has dismissed the “developer” as a troll and thus might not pass muster of the “straight up trolling” qualifier Erik Johnson offered up, my reasoning isn’t because of the content. A game where the player can take the role of a school shooter in hopes of racking up a huge body count of innocent students and responding law enforcement is vile, make no mistake, but the issue that would immediately disqualify it from the store in my book is the sheer lack of real effort behind the product itself. Using store-bought assets, stilted animations and a user interface that appears to be designed with MS Paint, this is a title that has no care behind it, attempting only to garner purchases from the gullible with as little effort as possible.
That has been Steam’s issue for too long now. The store is just stuffed with no effort trash from hucksters hoping to sell enough units to justify their purchase of the assets and listing fee, maybe making a profit. This keeps struggling, but honest, developers from reaching their audience. Even with the tools provided, it’s nigh impossible to cut through the muck to find that hidden gem. It’s to the point that even professional outlets like this one miss out on so much good stuff, and not every developer that poured their soul into a real title can afford to hire a public relations firm in hopes that they’ll get their name seen. If this is already a problem, how much better is it going to improve with the “screw it, release them all” policy that Valve is taking?
This isn’t to say that the situation is completely dire or that there isn’t a way to be the completely open platform that Valve wants Steam to be. One simple, effective method would be to create a completely different section for amateur games. Pre-approved publishers, such as Devolver Digital, would automatically be sent to the professional queue. Unknown entities would need to have the title checked by a person to see if it meets the standards to access the theoretical professional side of Steam or be relegated to the amateur pool. This would require eyes on the product, which Valve seems to be allergic to using, but it would alleviate matters quickly while allowing everyone to have a chance. This is then where the community can come into play. If an amateur title, such as the ugly but actually fun Sweezy Gunner, receives a good portion of attention, the title can be revisited and brought over to the higher prestige queue. Of course, I’m just spitballing here.
With games releasing on Steam without the exe file to run the game, titles filled with stolen assets and more, Valve hasn’t exactly been on top of their game with keeping “illegal, or straight up trolling” content off of their store, unless it gets caught and enough noise is made by the public to get Valve to notice. They need to engage in some more robust quality control. As a result, without some real changes, this new policy will almost certainly introduce more of these issues. Garbage titles are going to increase. Advertising that the buffet is open to all will, in the end, drive even more people to competing services like GOG as the public image of the marketplace has already been taking a beating. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end of Steam here, folks. Hopefully, I’m wrong and Valve will take some real steps to improve matters.