Destructive Creations' Hatred looks horrid. It's a mass-murder simulator, created seemingly in order to offend, and so far it looks tacky and unpleasant. But then, you know, it's allowed to be that if it wants to be. It's not, however, allowed to be sold on Steam. Valve has taken the move to delist the game from Greenlight within a couple of hours of its appearance, despite its showing enormous popularity amongst potential customers. Which asks the question, what are Valve's criteria for accepting a game?
It's easy to get up in arms about Hatred. Letting you play as a madman killing indiscriminately, the trailer appears to me to be a really nasty piece of work, cynically created to get attention. Perhaps that's unfair, and for creators Destructive, it's a heartfelt piece of art. Hmmm. Seems unlikely given their own dumb statements on how it's a reaction to "political correctness" and "games as art". However, the immediate hullabaloo generated by a gaming press so horrified by the release of its first trailer that they had no choice but to embed it on their websites to say so, fed directly into a fear held by a minority of games players who believe the industry is rife with censorship. Which then raises the chances of Hatred becoming a cause célèbre for the professionally disenfranchised.
Something that now seems unavoidable after Valve have taken the peculiar measure of removing Hatred from Steam's Greenlight only hours after it appeared, despite its shooting straight up to become the 7th most popular game in the queue with 13,148 votes. The reason, they told the developers, was:
"We wanted you guys to know that based on what we see on Greenlight we would not publish Hatred on Steam. As such we'll be taking it down."
This raises a whole slew of issues. Firstly, it leaves people wondering what exactly are Valve's criteria for what they'll publish. Right now, on Steam, you can buy a copy of Rockstar's infamous murder simulator, Manhunt. And indeed civilian murder-fests Hotline Miamis 1 and 2, and Postals 1 and 2. Let alone the hyper-realistic killing that takes place in everything from COD: Advanced Warfare to Medal Of Honor. We've got in touch with Valve to ask them what their rules are for what's accepted onto the Steam shelves.
Which leads to the other enormous issue: Steam's shelves make up approximately 70% of the online market. And the online market is pretty much all that's left for PC in many major markets. Valve, via Steam, have something bordering on domination of PC gaming sales, with GOG, Direct2Drive, GamersGate and so on reportedly making up a significantly smaller portion of the scene. While Steam has been proven not necessary for success (there is no more enormous example than Minecraft), it can be extremely difficult to get attention for your game without appearing on their site. So when the relatively small-scale independent games developer that has total control of that online store gets to decide which games they're willing to sell, you do rather have to raise questions of fairness, and even competition law. To what extent is Valve's curation of Steam acceptable?
You can ask the same questions of us, of course. We didn't post the Hatred trailer because, well, fuck that. It's hideous, and we're a small-scale, independently owned gaming site that curates what we want to appear on our pages. But then, we're not yet a gaming site with a monopoly (by 2018, that should be sorted). (Plus the hypocrisy of posting the trailer in order to tell people how awful it is that it exists seemed a little much.)
Destructive responded to the news with a sort of faux-magnanimity, saying they "fully respect Valve's decision," and that it would not affect development.
"The whole situation only pushes us forward to go against any adversity and not to give up. It also makes us want to provide our fans Hatred pre-orders sooner, as many of you have asked for them."
The reality remains that anyone who doesn't want to play Hatred can probably find a way to somehow not play it. And those worrying that it will raise a new generation of serial killers can take solace in there being no scientific evidence that such a thing has or could happen, and indeed that previous generations have scraped through Manhunt, Postal, Soldier Of Fortune 2, and so on. And we reserve the right to say at this point it looks foul, but will hold our judgement until we've played it. Just not via Steam, apparently.