Greenlight and censorship: Valve’s first screw-up

5 mins read

I, like everyone else in the game’s industry, likes Valve. The passionate team over there has produced some of the finest games ever crafted, and Steam has almost singlehandedly made PC gaming relevant in an era of console and device gaming.

But Greenlight proves the company is not infallible. I’m don’t doubt the good intentions behind the project in the slightest. Giving the community the ability to vote for the games they would like to see appear on Steam is noble. But boy did they get the launch wrong, in almost every single way.

At a technical level, discovery became an issue mere hours after the project launched, and this was Valve’s first misstep. Every indie with a game immediately leapt at the opportunity to have their game thrown into contention for Steam visibility. And why wouldn’t they? The exposure that Steam offers is not dissimilar to Apple picking a game to include in its weekly “New and Noteworthy” wrap up. Or in other words – it could literally launch a career, and that’s not an opportunity any halfway savvy businessperson would allow themselves to miss out on.

But, because a game needs a fair few votes before it can get accepted through this program, what has quickly happened is that so many games got listed that it became difficult to find ones that you actually wanted to vote for. Or in other words it became like listing all the Apple App store games by release date and hoping to find one you wanted to play. Valve just recently introduced a $100 fee to list a game on Greenlight to ward away the genuine “troll” game listings, but $100 isn’t going to deter enough indie developers to stop this discoverability issue.

Of course, the discovery isn’t really Valve’s fault, and long term it’s no doubt fixable. It’s a flaw in the noble idea, but it’s not a screw-up.

No, the screw-up happened when Valve decided it has the right to be a censor of good taste. No one is arguing that Seduce Me is a good game – no doubt it would be as much fun as having teeth pulled, but I take great issue in Value removing it from Greenlight on the basis of “offensive content.”

Here I was thinking the point of Greenlight was to give that vote of what is and isn’t good taste to the community. The whole point of this was for the gamers – not the corporate suits – to separate exploitative sex-fests from those games that use sex in an intelligent fashion.

Instead, Valve has decided that it will decide what is and isn’t offensive, and Greenlight has become guilty of the corporate moralising that it was always meant to argue against. And so that noble idea of what Greenlight was meant to stand for has just come crashing down.

Considering the value that independent producers bring any creative field is its capacity to be transgressive in a way that the mainstream could never achieve, Value really should have stood up for the right for material of a questionably offensive nature to appear on Greenlight. The community has the power to down vote material that they find offensive, and given how many people are offended by sex it would seem to me that sex games would find themselves quickly voted into oblivion. And, if these games do get approved, then who is Valve (or anyone else) to say that it’s even offensive content in the first place? The masses have spoken and they decided they wanted the game, after all.

I’m disappointed in Valve, as I always thought that Value had a socialist philosophy that it stands for the people. It clearly has other agendas at play than giving gamers what they want, though, so while Greenlight will forever be a grand idea, that idea has been forever tarnished.

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  • If Valve has removed games before that are similar to this one, then I don't see it as a big deal. They certainly had an "approval" process before, so we don't really know how/what went into those decisions. Are there any "Adult Only" rated games currently available on Steam, and is this what the game that was removed had? If so, then it might be a legimate issue.

    If the game was getting an "Adult Only" rating though, and Steam has removed other "Adult Only" games, or not even allowed them in the first place, I don't see it as a big deal.

    What do I find as a big deal though? The number of votes required right now to get a game approved! It looks to be around 100,000 from what I can tell, and that's just odd considering how few will probably use the Greenlight service, and imagine trying to get 100,000 of the users all on one game. I'm sure some will happen, and maybe the Steam community is more involved than others (new to it, and still learning), but I sure hope that 100,000 votes is not required to get a game on Steam.

  • The difference for me is this: Greenlight is meant to be community-driven. Which also means it should be the community that determines what is and isn't offensive. If by some weird miracle an "Adult's Only" game actually gets approved by the community, then Valve should have been prepared for that.

  • I don't think Valve is doing this out to take out games with "offensive content". For one, I don't think Valve really care about offensive content, but cares very much about the idea of supporting adult games (as in Sex-related games, and not simply M-rated games). This is not because they are very conservatives and whatnot, but rather because they've built a strong platform around credibility, and allowing adult games would be a liability, and damage the platform's reputation by having it eventually associated with Adult games (as the amount increase). We know that even if a single one of those games gets in because players voted for it, Adult games developers will "swarm" Steam too and I think that's what Valve wants to avoid, as allowing adult games would mean Steam would be required to adapt it's platform to fit legal standards in some countries or states, and prevent younger players from accessing those games. Doing this would possibly hurt the Steam platform even more.

    What most likely happened was not a case of censorship, but a case of oversight. Valve took all the necessary precautions to combat copyright-infringing games, but completely forgot to make it clear what games are unacceptable for Steam (probably because they never had to deal with this issue prior to Greenlight). The removal of the game was not done in the most professional way however, a short blog update to explain their stance would've been welcome to explain to their Greenlight userbase the newer "rules" as well as warn future developers.

  • Good input, Heimn, I do think the truth lies closer to the middle.

    For one, Valve always talks out against closed platforms, and Steam is specifically designed to be "open," – but when it comes to adult games, it's not open at all. Valve protects the offensively-violent, but not sexual content. This lack of consistency annoys me. Outside of America the rest of the western world has far fewer hangups than sex, so Valve is tailoring its content to support an American audience. That, too, is not open.

    There's no reason that erotic games should not be on Steam. Netflix has erotic "art" movies side-by-side with Disney films. Netflix enjoys a perfectly fine reputation.

    All that brings me back to this: Valve is selectively censoring games to its own political agenda. This is the moment where Valve has lost its legitimacy as a platform for the gamer to me, and shown its true colours – it's every bit as corporate as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

  • I think the difference lies in the fact that movies and video games are not perceived the same way. Video games are still relatively new compared to movies, you could say it only started to became mainstream within the last 5 to 10 years, and video games are still very much misunderstood outside the gaming community. People still link (falsely) video games to violence in real life (E3 this year didn't help much to combat that). Even amongst the gaming community, adult games (sex-related) are easily shunned (much like furries are shunned by the internet community).

    Adult movies have been around for much longer, they're acted by real people. Porn is something more easily and more openly discussed, and is seen as perfectly normal behavior for men (not as much for women still, sadly). Until society, and more precisely, the gaming community gets over that social stigma, I don't think adult video games can be compared to adult movies.

    I don't think I'd go as far as putting Valve in the same basket as Microsoft and the likes because of how differing it's internal structure is, and how much focus they put on increasing their community's involvement at Valve. I think it's still too early to call it censorship until Valve explains their decision. I don't think it will happen however (so I guess this is sort of a strawman argument) as I don't think the community itself will pursue an answer (because of the social stigma I mentionned earlier).

  • I do agree with everything you're saying here.

    I think the main reason I'm so disappointed in Valve is that I expected Valve to make a stand here and not engage in censorship for sexual content (and, unless the game was removed for copyright infringement, that's why it was removed:

    Violence is a very adult concept to deal with in media, too. There needs to be parity there if games are genuinely going to become legitimised as an art form, and as long as the big platform holders all resist sexual content, it never will be.

    Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Apple have already made it clear that they're not going to allow parity. Valve was the great hope for openness. Not any more.

  • Thanks for the link, had not seen anything from the Seduce Me developer yet.

    I've not actually seen the comments that were posted under the Seduce Me game on Steam, but only heard about it. This article seems to strengthen my initial impression when Greenlight was announced. It's something I talked with a lot of people around me (as I don't have a blog :P). I said that Greenlight may very well "fail", not because the idea is bad, but because it could draw it's users to be more elitist and block games that could actually be successful on Steam out of pride or ignorance.

    With that being said, seems Valve has finally made a small statement regarding this game.
    Not sure if this works as a link… but here's the short statement :

    "Steam has never been a leading destination for erotic material," Valve's chief spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Kotaku. "Greenlight doesn't aim to change that."

    It was a voluntary move of censorship. I understand where they're coming from, but it's definitively bad for Valve.

  • You know, if Valve was really honest about providing open platforms, perhaps they could set up a second, separate distribution network for adult content. Same professional layout and infrastructure that gamers can trust, but adults-only.

    Call it "Steamy" or something – that way, Valve gets to remain the hero of democratic game publishing, while protecting those Steam users that don't mind tearing people in half amongst fountains of blood, but have a heart attack over an exposed boob. 😛

  • Eh, the game was removed because enough people hit the "Report" button and maybe said "offensive content" in the reason. It's just democracy, like the entire Greenlight process.

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