Steam’s new policy on games is regrettable, but unsurprising. As others have noted, it is a tacit acknowledgment that they don’t care one bit about the content on their site as long as it makes them money.
I want to start with one sentence in Erik Johnson’s post that bears review.
If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending.
And yet, Steam is providing a sales channel for these games through its site. Steam is also providing platform support for the distribution and marketing of these games, and Steam is actively taking money from the sales of those games. Steam may not be siding with offensive game developers, but it seems really seems happy to have those games and their developers side with it.
Steam isn’t a forum, it’s a store. As such, it should be known for the quality and type of content it sells. Apparently, Steam wants to be known as the “anything goes” game provider: the slush pile of gaming. I wish them luck with that.
However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it.
If that was it, then Steam isn’t needed. Developers can already do that. Contrary to its statement here, Steam isn’t the arbiter of game expression. No one is silencing these developers. They have every right to make and distribute their game. In the same way, sales platforms, like Steam, have every right to not sell a game. Steam isn’t taking away anyone’s voice by not selling their product. They are making a choice about the company they want to be and what products they think they should be selling.
Steam is the current powerhouse in gaming, but that power comes at a considerable price. We’ve all spent a lot of money on Steam games. In doing so, we need to acknowledge that we don’t actually own anything purchased through Steam. We only own the right to access those games via the Steam client. That is it.
Steam’s policy decision is banking on that powerhouse position. It prioritizes quantity and sales over quality content. Beyond the offensive content, these are the decisions that lead to a growing slush pile of bad games. What is especially galling is that they’ll even get kudos for their decision as if they are doing something noble. In all reality, they are just taking money from whoever will give it to them. The sad fact is that Steam does this because it honestly thinks it will make more money this way. In the short-term, I think it will, but this kind of tactic is not sustainable. It shows that Steam doesn’t care about the broader community it serves and the messages it conveys via its platform.
I hope Steam reconsiders this approach. It has done a lot of good things as a company, and I hate to think that this kind of policy will define what it becomes in the years ahead. The good news for those of us who care about the content we buy is that Steam is not the only game sales platform. There are plenty of places out there that still care about the games they sell. Thank goodness for that.