Valve has been under fire over the past week or so after Steam policy changes stemming from removing the active shooter game from their library. The company revised its policies, but backed down from adding a new one over adult content, especially when the issue was raised that any first-person shooter could be considered adult content since it is an act of simulated violence, which could have lead to a very slippery slope of censorship and cries to have games removed.
Today, Valve's Erik Johnson took to the site and wrote a blog clarifying the company's stance on content and their current policies. Below is a snippet from the post, but its very clear the company are trying to set a precedent that most everything will be allowed on the Steam store, except for items that "we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling."
The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content. 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.
Common questions we ask ourselves when trying to make decisions didn't help in this space. What do players wish we would do? What would make them most happy? What's considered acceptable discussion / behavior / imagery varies significantly around the world, socially and legally. Even when we pick a single country or state, the legal definitions around these topics can be too broad or vague to allow us to avoid making subjective and interpretive decisions. The harsh reality of this space, that lies at the root of our dilemma, is that there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad.
In addition, Valve is not a small company – we're not a homogeneous group. The online debates around these topics play out inside Valve as well. We don't all agree on what deserves to be on the Store. So when we say there's no way to avoid making a bunch of people mad when making decisions in this space, we're including our own employees, their families and their communities in that.
So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn't be the ones deciding this. 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.