Steam Policy Plays Out as Expected

This took a bit longer than I thought.

Back in June of last year, when Valve announced that they would no longer do any sort of curation of games being submitted to Steam, I figured we would see some horrible game as a test case in the next three months that would prove they couldn’t pretend the games they were profiting from had nothing to do with them.

Actually, given that they almost immediately played the “trolling” card to block the game Active Shooter, I thought maybe they had quickly figured out that being as hands off as they were saying wasn’t a viable plan after all.  (That Valve then quickly announced that Steam was expanding into China, where all content would need to be heavily curated, was merely the delicious irony icing on this otherwise sad cake.)

But here we are nine months down the road and Valve has managed to thread the needle between not curating content and not damaging its own reputation by selling something truly offensive, to come out look bad on all fronts.

Seriously, as I said elsewhere, it is like somebody at Valve asked, “How can we do the right thing and yet still look bad to all parties?”

The test case was a game called Rape Day, which started getting press the moment it popped up on the site as coming soon.  On Wednesday the Steam blog posted a statement saying that they would not be hosting Rape Day on the service.

Over the past week you may have heard about a game called ‘Rape Day’ coming soon to Steam. Today we’ve decided not to distribute this game on Steam. Given our previous communication around Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?, we think this decision warrants further explanation.

Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary—we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct. We then have to make a judgement call about any risk it puts to Valve, our developer partners, or our customers. After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.

We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that.

This response, of course, satisfied almost nobody.

Defenders of the game, including the developer, pointed out that the game was hidden behind the “adult content” tag, so you had to opt-in to even see it and, of course, on a service rife with murder simulators how does rape stand out?   How does Grand Theft Auto V get a pass?  Per the developer:

You can’t reasonable [sic] consider banning rape in fiction without banning murder and torture

That the developer chose to emphasize a particular aspect of the game by choosing to title it Rape Day seems like they were looking for easy publicity.  The developer still plans to sell the title directly, and it will likely see much more success now that it has been in the headlines of various new sites, both gaming and mainstream.

Meanwhile others, myself included, looked at the game and wondered how that wasn’t straight up trolling given the past statements from Valve.  Did #MeToo pass its expiration date or something?  Did this occur during Women’s History Month by accident?  (Happy International Women’s Day by the way.)

Also, while I understand the whole “case by case basis” thing, since that is how real life works, I think they would have been better off reviewing the game before they let it appear on the store front, even behind the adult content tag.  Another random dev complaining about Valve rejecting their game would have been lost in the background noise.  This is only a story because Valve put it up on the store like they had approved it already.  And maybe they had.  I don’t know and Valve isn’t saying.

But whether or not they had approved it, their brief saying that the game would not be made available on Steam managed to squander any positive from the decision.  A strong statement, or even a lukewarm one, indicating that this game was not going to be on Steam because it crossed a line that Valve, as a company, could not endorse might have managed to wrest some good will.

Instead, we got:

After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.

“Costs and risks” could have been maybe meant to indicate something to do with the Steam community, but in that dry statement is comes off a lot more like a worry about some impact to the bottom line.  Feeling that endorsing rape might not be financially advantageous doesn’t win you much sympathy.

And so it goes.  Valve ends up looking good to almost nobody.  Depending on your point of view, they’ve either managed to betray their statement about not passing judgement on games or they’ve nearly come close to affirming rape as an acceptable entertainment option in their online store, only having been waved off at the last minute by bad press.

All of which was an entirely predictable outcome when they announced this nine months back.  I think they made the correct decision.  I am mostly bemused by how Valve managed to make things much worse for itself than they had to.  I hope they have a serious after action meeting to keep this level of stupid from occurring again.

Some further reading, none of which makes Valve look very good:

6 thoughts on “Steam Policy Plays Out as Expected

  1. Alunaria

    I don’t even know what to say. To one thing or the other. The fact there are games like this or the fact that, as you say, Valve think they do the right thing, yet word it so wrong. Not a first.

    I wonder where the Old Gods of the planet Earth are lurking. Let’s rid yourselves of them already.


  2. Kaylriene

    A joke I saw on Twitter really encapsulates the response to this by Valve. The response reads like it was generated by an algorithm, and has no human component. It sounds like an insurance underwriter carefully choosing words so as to not make a value judgment on the game (which is an attempt to appeal to the worst people on the planet) while also saying “This is bad and we won’t host it.” In trying to thread the needle, no one is satisfied – the awful people who want this will pretend this was a great injustice and buy it from the developer directly, Valve will wait for this to blow over (and it likely will, just the sad reality) and in the short-term, other distribution services may get a bump and people talked about it for a few days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Naithin

    Somewhere in Valve, “You idiot! You published the internal staff memo instead of the customer statement!”

    More seriously though, while I 100% agree the tone of this message was wrong, some of the articles positioning the very decision to remove the title as being an innately bad thing blows my mind.

    Knock Valve around all you want for the tonedeaf PR release and refusing to take any kind of real stand on the matter — but actually removing the title should only be seen as a good thing, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bhagpuss

    I read about this somewhere else today – I forget where – and it seemed like a new low. On the game itself, I’m not American, so I don’t feel duty bound to pay the usual lip service to “freedom of expression”. Given the choice between that kind of freedom and censorship, I’d prefer to live in a country where this game would not just be banned but the very making and promoting of it would be illegal. It does surprise me that that’s not already the case, actually. But then, I’d ban a *lot* of things that are currently legal. I’ve always felt that censorship’s just fine so long as I’m the one doing the censoring.

    As for Valve’s response, that’s not just the usual, corporate, lawyered-up, cloth-eared, ham-fisted, mealy-mouthed attempt at a fake apology – it’s a blatant, unapolegetic statement that profit is the sole and only consideration. There’s literally no nuance in “After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.” You can’t parse that to bring out a subtext revealing anything like a sense of guilt or responsibility or even a vague sense of discomfort. It plainly states that it would be uneconomical to publish the game and that’s that.

    If I was one for empty gestures I’d uninstall Steam right now, although since I hardly use it that wouldn’t be much of a loss, either to Valve or me. It would be hypocritical, of course. As you point out, most of what we entertain ousrelves with isn’t a whole lot better. Maybe I’ll go watch Taxi Driver again…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Esteban

    Well, you were right back in June, the hands-off policy was prime, grade A bullshit. Even if they’re motivated solely by financial reasons (and I’m told by the free-market-minded that that’s how corporate ethical behaviour is supposed to work) surely they could have foreseen scenarios like this one. In a world where all the other content platforms (YT, Facebook, et al.) are grappling fiercely with content excesses and moderation, I can’t fathom what motivated Valve to play it this way. Were they actually trying to appeal to the ‘political correctness goes too far’ constituency?

    Speaking of manure, the trollish argument that we murder in video games, therefore rape is fine, annoys me. Killing in games usually stands for ‘eliminate obstacle’. It is either highly abstracted into farce or morally examined by the narrative and justified or condemned. If anything, the comparison ought to be with torture.

    Liked by 1 person

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