Instead of deciding where to draw the line on the content of video games sold on its Steam website, Valve is choosing not to decide at all.
Valve will allow any video game onto its digital storefront, regardless of how controversial the content is, the Bellevue gaming company said Wednesday.
The announcement, in the form of a blog post from executive Erik Johnson, comes just a week after the company was embroiled in a controversy involving a computer game that depicted a school shooting. Valve didn’t develop the game but it was set to be sold on Steam, Valve’s online marketplace that allows any game developer to pay a small fee to upload, sell and make their game playable online.
A developer was preparing to launch the game “Active Shooter” when online outrage broke out over Memorial Day weekend. The trailer for the game showed a shooter killing people in the halls of what looked like a high school.
Valve eventually removed the game, saying the developer was a “troll with a history of customer abuse,” and said it would be addressing its broader content policies soon.
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Under the policy announced in the Wednesday blog post, chances are that the “Active Shooter” game still won’t appear on Valve’s Steam website, the biggest retailer in online gaming.
“We’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling,” Johnson wrote. Everything else, though, will be fair game.
Valve has been struggling with where to draw the line on what game content is allowed, Johnson wrote. It will always be a problem, he said, because different people find different things offensive. That’s true in the general public, and true even among Valve employees, he said.
Instead of deciding where to draw the line, Valve is choosing not to decide at all.
“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 will instead build tools into Steam so that players can filter what types of games they do and do not want to see, and parents can add filters for kids. It will require developers to disclose controversial content within games so they can be categorized for players.
The company, which has developed popular video games such as “Dota 2” and “Half-Life,” is known for being tight-lipped and offering few peeks inside its operations. It didn’t specify when the updated tools for controlling content would be available to players.
Valve employees will still screen games to make sure they work, but only illegal content will be banned – something Valve acknowledges is convoluted since laws vary across the country and internationally.
Dealing with controversial content is “messy and complicated,” Johnson wrote. He admitted that this meant people would sometimes be offended by what they saw on Steam, and said many games wouldn’t be emblematic of Valve’s own values.
“It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don’t think should exist,” he wrote. “Unless you don’t have any opinions, that’s guaranteed to happen.”
Valve has faced touchy issues with games on Steam even before “Active Shooter.” It was hit with a hail of criticism last month when it told developers they would have to pull games for violating a no-pornography guideline. Valve then seemed to rescind that demand.
In the midst of the “Active Shooter” outrage last week, Joseph Olin, executive director of the Video Game Bar Association, weighed in. The game was “personally reprehensible,” he said. But, “ultimately all of the major game platforms have the right to control the content they post on their site,” he said, noting that game creators have the same protections as any other creative media.
He said Wednesday he was not surprised by Valve’s decision, noting that Valve is often seen as an agnostic platform for all games.