Valve's Erik Johnson has very clearly, very succinctly opened up about the policy that it will adhere to regarding the sale of content through the Steam Store - it will "allow everything" said Johnson in a blog post,
"... We've decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. So what does this mean? It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don't think should exist. Unless you don't have any opinions, that's guaranteed to happen. But you're also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist."
This sounds great, in theory. Restricting content on the internet is wrong, and reprehensible, and from a superficial standpoint, Valve's move is appreciable in an anti-censorship kind of a way. This also has larger implications regarding the distribution of pornographic content on Steam, targeted especially towards VR platforms, which, until now, has more often than not raised red flags within the store.
HTC remains undecided on whether it will allow said content on the Steam Store for its Vive platform, but Facebook's Oculus has confirmed that its own policy will remain unchanged, and pornographic content will not be published from its side.
Johnson assures users that tools to extensively filter the store for content that suits one's tastes are in the works.
"We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you're not interested in. So if you don't want to see anime games on your Store, you'll be able to make that choice. If you want more options to control exactly what kinds of games your kids see when they browse the Store, you'll be able to do that."
On the other hand, the gaming community hasn't exactly been a bastion of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, with a penchant to rebuke game devs for daring to be a little more inclusive, and with a tendency to hurl vitriol against others who take a stand against a mix of stupidity and racism, it's anyone's guess what Johnson means by "straight-up trolling".
This move comes after the company was steeped neck-deep in controversy regarding the removal of a game that simulated school shootings - a topic that shouldn't be considered remotely controversial in the first place, but there you have it. Valve does, however, acknowledge that this game would remain banned under the new policy.
This is not the same train of thought that leads one to believe games are the leading cause of shootings - far from it - but a culture that is happy to monetize tragedy and outrage desperately wants for counterbalances, but for now, it appears Valve is content with taking its share of the money developers earn from their product, irrespective of how questionable the content may be.
There is some solace to be found in the fact that Valve is also looking into a more intensive submission process. Per Johnson,
"Our current thinking is that we're going to push developers to further disclose any potentially problematic content in their games during the submission process, and cease doing business with any of them that refuse to do so honestly."
Some see it as a worrying and problematic move on Valve's part. In a statement to the BBC, Rachel Weber of GamesRadar said,
"It's important to remember that Valve takes a significant cut of everything sold through Steam, so it's putting itself in a position where it could directly profit from racist and sexist content. Professionally, I dread to think about the games that will appear on the new releases list in an attempt to test just what Valve means by trolling, and personally I'm disappointed that such a massive company isn't willing to engage with important and complex issues."
As it stands, this change to Steam's policy is one of the most significant ones it has made in recent times, and it remains to be seen how the market reacts to this and just how much of an impact this will have on the community and its culture.