Last week, a handful of game developers who have their titles published on Steam reported that their games were reported for pornographic material and were under review. In some cases, these games had been published on Steam for a while, and it was unclear exactly why they were suddenly under review. Of course, Steam has the right to curate what games are on its platform. But, if it is to do so, it should take care to consider the lives of the developers who publish there.
The primary issue here is that what constitutes pornography on the platform isn’t exactly clear, so there isn’t a clear set of rules to which developers can account for. Because Steam is a major digital distributor of games and, as of now, has a lot of influence on what games get into the hands of gamers, their standards are an important consideration.
Consistency is key here and, as of yet, Steam is anything but consistent. Not only do the parameters seem to change with time, they seem to be inconsistent across the board. At this point, developers linking to patches that uncensor their games is even forbidden, but this wasn’t always the situation. On a case-by-case basis, Steam seems to determine what is considered pornographic; it doesn’t matter how long a game has been available on the platform.
Because of this, developers can never truly feel comfortable with their stream of revenue. As living human beings with life expenses and costs of development to consider, this unnecessary unpredictability seems unfair. Again, if Steam were to lay out specific guidelines, this would be helpful. It isn’t a problem relegated to Steam, however. Twitch also has imprecise rules about what dictates sexual content. The appearance systems like this gives is that what is and isn’t allowed is somewhat subjected to a whim and, as such, not entirely fair.
Beyond that, it’s unclear exactly why the content needs to be policed as much as it is. For the most part, the content is pretty tame, showing a boob here or there. Depictions of penetration up the ante and make it even more likely that a game will be banned. But, considering Steam’s position as a digital distributor of games for the PC, one has to wonder why they bother to the extent that they do; these machines have internet browsers on them. Perhaps Steam can just step back and let gamers buy the games they want without concern that their public image will be heavily tainted.
That said, if they were more friendly towards adult material, maybe their front page would look a little different and be a cause for concern for parents. But what if the front page is curated? Is that a decent enough compromise? What if the onus is on parents to watch what content their children consume? I can respect Steam’s concern for their image, but again, what exactly is it that they are forbidding? It’s hard to even make a judgment call when they are wishy washy on the subject.
Adult games have a place in the industry. Virtual novels often tell romantic tales and sometimes those tales and the investment of the players can be heightened by the possibility of lewd content; there is no need to judge players who seek that. Some games, like Ladykiller in a Bind, show that nudity and sexual content can be powerful parts of a narrative. If the powerhouse that is Steam isn’t hospitable, what options are there?
For one, GOG seems to be more open to visual novels with adult content. Itch.io has always been a good place for indie developers and that may take off as a bastion for this kind of content. Currently, they aren’t nearly as prominent in games as Steam is but an open mind may draw gamers of different sorts to their platform. And hey, while the gamers are there looking at visual novels, maybe they can see what other non-adult content is available. It’s a viable way to gain customers and also show courtesy to developers and gamers with adult interests.