Valve caused quite a ruckus last week when it made the surprising and welcomed announcement that, starting immediately, almost any game would be allowed on its digital storefront, Steam.
The vast majority of games media called foul and lambasted Valve for the consumer- and game developer-friendly decision. They’re all wrong.
But before I get into why, let me explain the controversies that led up to Valve’s policy change.
In mid-May, Valve notified the developers of several risqué anime games that they had to remove adult content from their products or have them pulled from Steam. It was a confusing move considering many other, more scandalous games—several of which are more popular and have far better production values—were given no such ultimatum.
After some pushback, Valve rescinded its threats and apologized. As far as I know, no such games were ever removed. It’s as if Valve, after some reconsideration, had a change of heart.
Not long after, another controversy arose when Revived Games announced “Active Shooter,” a game that would allow players to experience a school shooting from the perspective of a police officer or, to the dismay of many, the shooter. Valve barred the game from being sold on Steam, noting the developers were “trolls.”
These two incidents led Valve to settle on a more hands-off approach when it comes to deciding what’s allowed on Steam. For whatever reasons, the new policy has irked many games journalists, but I, as usual, side with the gamers when I say this was the right move for Steam to make.
In a blog post, Valve unveiled the company will pretty much no longer bar any game from being sold on Steam, so long as it’s legal and not “trolling”--whatever Valve defines that to be. In other words, a game containing offensive, disgusting or grotesque content isn’t enough to convince Steam to censor it.
The blog post reads, “If you're a player, we shouldn't be choosing for you what content you can or can't buy. If you're a developer, we shouldn't be choosing what content you're allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.”
This is advantageous to everyone for several reasons.
From Valve’s perspective, the company gets to profit from more games being sold on Steam. It’s just smart business sense to sell whatever games possible, whenever possible.
Furthermore, Steam has basically a monopoly on digital PC video games. If you’re a small-time developer, you basically need your game on Steam because there really aren’t many other places to sell it. Now, developers can rest assured their creative vision won’t be stifled by the possibility Steam won’t allow it, giving game creators—the artists—more freedom.
And of course, gamers benefit the most from this.
With Steam being a free market, gamers will have a wealth of options to choose from—more so than they already do. Sure, there will be some truly terrible games available under this new hands-off approach, but gamers are smart enough to separate the good from the bad. And who knows? Maybe a game that might have otherwise been banned on the grounds of being too controversial will actually turn out to be good and find a solid audience.
Games journalists almost entirely outright rejected Valve’s decision, repeating largely the same talking point that the company is shirking responsibility by allowing whatever games developers want to sell onto Steam. My question is this: Why is what gamers buy and play anyone’s responsibility but their own?
Gamers are largely freethinking adults who can make their own decisions. They don’t need Valve to act as an authoritative mother figure to do their thinking for them. Parents of young Steam users can filter content so kids never even see games they’re not supposed to, so there’s no real worry there, either.
And for adults who can’t bear to see offensive games on Steam? Just ignore them. Don’t buy them. Don’t even talk about them, and they’ll never hurt you. Solutions don’t get much simpler than that.
Only a couple of games journalists I saw actually agreed Valve made the right call, one of whom was Jeff Grubb, the guy I had a spat with after he filed a false copyright claim against a tweet of mine. Let it be known Grubb and I have agreed on something at least once.
As for the rest? There’s no greater evidence of games journalists being out of touch with their readership. Gamers want the freedom to choose and know they have the maturity to handle it. Games journalists apparently disagree, and that’s a sad—if not unexpected—sight to see.