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Is One of the World’s Largest Video Game Distributors Restricting Adult Content?

Cover image credit to Steam. 3 minute read. If you are a small video game developer with hopes of putting out an adult content game on Steam—the...

Cover image credit to Steam. 3 minute read.

If you are a small video game developer with hopes of putting out an adult content game on Steam—the largest video game distributor out there—watch out.

Over the past few months, Valve, Steam’s managing corporation, has changed its stance many times on what content can be allowed on its platform. This flip-flop policy stance has been driven in large part to “adult content” and pornography.

So what’s the story?

Back in May, Steam sent out some warnings to a few developers indicating that their video game would be completely removed from the platform if they did not remove the adult content on, primarily, visual novels.

Visual novels are not so much like traditional video games. They are like a “choose-your-own” storybook, where the player can choose who they want to interact with, and how, through selecting different texts. While many explore complex relationships that include sexuality, others are dark, with straight-up explicit sex scenes, some with pedophilic content and rape scenes. Some of these visual novels are even explicitly labeled: they’re known as the eroge category.

Related: Mixing A Lot Of Porn And Gaming Fuels Social Isolation, Says Top Psychologist

Most visual novels are produced in Japan where they’re most popular, but when they are released outside, they can be uncensored. They can also be altered in sequels to contain explicit content or use passwords that unlock the more explicit content.

Then they changed their minds

Fast forward to less than a week after Steam sent out the initial warning messages. New updates by developers revealed that Steam stated the content in question would not be removed, but was up for revision. Confused? So were the developers. This confusion grew when just a few weeks later, Valve released a statement about its new policy, allowing:

“Everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”

This is a big change from what it previously protected against, such as adult content and content that is “patently offensive or intended to shock or disgust viewers.” Previously, adult visual novels have been censored or directly removed from Steam, So now, anything goes? That seems to be the stance Valve has now adopted.

This hands-off approach was an effort to allow developers and gamers alike that chance to have more options. As Valve exec Erik Johnson says, “Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this… 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.”

Any more changes?

What’s the latest? It seems some adult games in the last several weeks have been given the pause button on Steam. Some developers have tweeted that Valve has responded to this temporary freeze, stating, “The summary is that they are working on new features to give people more control over the content they see…before it can go live on Steam.”

Related: The Problem With Obsessing Over Porn And Gaming—For Girls

What is Valve deciding about adult content? What will this mean for developers and gamers? All of these questions are yet to be resolved, and with Valve’s history, it appears it may take a little longer before the final stance is known.

What we do know is that pornographic content, on any platform accessible to minors, is not acceptable. A free-for-all no restrictions policy does nothing to ensure that minors are protected, or prevent content that normalizes sexual violence and fuels porn culture from being distributed.