In the wake of a controversy over its inclusion of a violent shooting simulator for pre-sale on its hugely popular Steam games platform, Valve Software has overhauled its policy on what sort of content the company will allow on the service.
Adopting a laissez-faire approach, one that favors the free exchange of ideas among both gamers and game developers over self-censorship, Valve announced in a blog post that it will “allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”
The decision, wrote Valve’s Erik Johnson, was especially challenging as online discussion continues to swirl over fine-line content controversies — like the recent pre-sale of the incendiary Active Shooter game, which was to include a section allowing gamers to play as a mass murderer.
Valve pulled Active Shooter from Steam in late May, following an online outcry from some critics over the appropriateness of offering players a first-person shooting experience in which school children and personnel were the targets. The company told CNN its research of the game’s origins suggested that the purported developer was in fact "a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation.”
But as other debates concerning pornography, politics, and even the distinction between games and art continue to engage a spectrum of views among Steam users, Johnson explained that the time already was right to clarify Valve’s overall content-policing role.
“The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content,” he wrote. “Instead, it's about whether the Store contains games within an entire range of controversial topics — politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on. In addition, there are controversial topics that are particular to games — like what even constitutes a ‘game’, or what level of quality is appropriate before something can be released.”
Valve evidently recognizes that any definitive stand it takes will not please everyone, but said allowing people to decide for themselves which content to engage has always been a part of the company’s ethos.
“[W]e ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam… Valve shouldn't be the ones deciding this,” Johnson wrote. “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.”
Valve said it also plans to strengthen and make more accessible Steam’s current set of user-controlled content screening tools. Cautioning that deploying those measures to the Steam Store will take some time, the company pledged to eventually allow users to more easily tweak the store’s view settings so that entire content categories won’t show up, if a user so chooses.