Internet platforms removing objectionable content from their sites has been one of the more difficult challenges for tech companies in recent years. Valve has also determined that it’s a pretty difficult challenge in their Steam gaming store, but unlike some of the other major platforms on the web, they’ve decided they’re not going to do anything unless the content is actually illegal or, as they put it, “straight up trolling.”
The company has also asserted that “the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values…”
Here’s exactly what else Valve employee Erik Johnson said in a company blog post, which you should read in full here:
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.
This post is largely in response to the company’s actions regarding a school shooting simulator (pictured above) that caused the ire of many. Valve removed the title from the store, but said it did so because the creator was previously banned and was a “troll.”
There are certainly plenty of those in the gaming community who would hold tightly to the idea that people will buy what they want to and Valve shouldn’t decide which content makes it onto their PC. Honestly, that could be a pretty ideologically defensible position if you didn’t think about the money changing hands here. The problem is Valve takes a pretty big cut of the revenue from titles sold through the store, so when it says that it doesn’t agree with content, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t want the money it makes from it.
If Valve wants to find objectionable content and then forego their cut while keeping the games available for download that’s one thing, and they can probably stick by the words in their blog post a bit more as a result.
Finding the line in terms of what is okay and what isn’t in gaming is admittedly painfully difficult. You can kill cops and mow down pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto V, which has brought in billions of dollars in revenue single-handedly, but ultimately I think its maker, Rockstar Games, would at least say that they can stand by their game. If Valve isn’t willing to stand by the games they sell as part of their “values,” do they even have values as a company that… sells games?
YouTube is having what seems to border on an existential crisis right now as they have to decide how to monetize videos on their site that contain “objectionable content.” Valve can hide from this kind of a crisis, but they can’t avoid it. Ad-supported models tend to obscure the money exchanging hands, but when someone buys a game on Steam, money goes directly to Valve as an effect.
Valve can ultimately do what it wants here; they can decide that they want to allow ugly content on their store or not, but they can’t act like Steam is just some giant bucket inside of which games just sit. Valve is a multi-billion-dollar business that inhales revenues from every paid title it sells.
Free expression on the web is an awesome thing, even if it seems to suck sometimes, but stores should be responsible for the items they stock on their shelves.