Back in June, Valve announced that it was no longer going to police what could and couldn’t appear on Steam, removing games only if they were illegal or “straight-up trolling.” This, we speculated, meant that Valve would be ending its rule disallowing “pornography,” and that appears to be the case.
After adding new filtering tools which allow users to opt into seeing “Nudity or Sexual Content” and “Adult Only Sexual Content” on the Steam store (those are two separate categories), Valve has approved Negligee: Love Stories for release this Friday, a game which was previously held up while those tools were being developed.
Negligee’s Kickstarter page includes censored images of the game’s “adult” scenes, and it’s clear enough what sort of game it is—though Valve still hasn’t removed “pornography” from its list of disallowed media on Steam.
Sexual content is hardly new to Steam. Popular mainstream games such as Mass Effect 2 and The Witcher 3 contain sex scenes, though only the most conservative would call them ‘pornographic,’ and censored or relatively tame visual novels have mostly been welcome. That was until Valve seemingly cracked down on such games in May, but the company rolled back the warnings, saying the games were being re-reviewed.
Not long after that, Valve announced its new ‘anything goes’ policy. “If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy,” wrote Valve. “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.”
Before that happened, though, Valve wanted to develop the filters that are in place today. Navigating to Negligee: Love Stories’ Steam page for the first time, I was greeted by a new warning informing me of the nature of the game. It features a description written by the developers, which all developers are encouraged to include as part of Valve’s new content filtering system.
One point of concern is that Valve—whose history of moderation doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence—may not pay close attention to what kind of sexual content is being sold. In a recent interview, Mark Antoon, president of adult games distributor Nutaku, criticized Valve for allowing House Party onto Steam, saying that Nutaku’s team rejected the game for violating its rules by depicting blackmail. Negligee itself contains “pressured sexual relationships” and “themes related to abusive marriages” according to its developer’s description, though not having played it I lack context for these elements.
If Valve is consistent with its new policy, it may be of some relief to devs who want to make explicit or experimental work without worrying about whether or not they can be included on PC gaming’s largest platform. Developer Robert Yang, however, criticized the initial policy announcement, saying that the hands-off approach only emboldens reactionary currents among Steam users and developers, opening the door but not truly welcoming vulnerable creators. Itch.io’s creator also criticized the policy. What tools Valve provides to developers to curb harassment may or may not make some difference there, though the long-term cultural effects of course remain to be seen.
Proponents of the policy, including Brenda Romero and QWOP creator Bennett Foddy, have echoed Valve’s view that it should act as a neutral platform. That does raise the question of whether or not Valve will truly be completely hands-off. For instance, it isn’t clear yet whether or not live action video (or FMV, in videogame parlance) pornography will have a place on Steam under these new rules. Nothing about the policy seems to prevent the sale of pornographic videos wrapped in a game-like UI, and that the focus has been on anime-style games thus far is incidental. It would be an odd sight if Steam, left unfiltered, resembled Pornhub, though it hasn’t been ruled out.
In the coming weeks, expect more games along the lines of Negligee to be approved for sale on Steam. In the process, we’ll presumably get a sense of where Valve draws its lines. The first game to be outright rejected under this new policy—that isn’t an obvious scam, say—will set a major precedent.
If “Nudity or Sexual Content” and “Adult Only Sexual Content” are among your interests, the option to see games tagged as such in the Steam Store can be selected in the ‘Store Preferences’ menu, which is reached by clicking your display name in the upper-right hand corner of the client. If you’re a parent who doesn’t want those tags visible, you may be best off not only keeping those boxes unchecked, but entirely blocking access to the Steam Store under the ‘Family’ tab in the main Steam settings.