Good news: Creators of raunchy visual novels and other such things on the fringes of Steam's content rules can now probably breathe easy, despite Valve's worrying and unpredictable behaviour recently.
Less good news: In a lengthy and jaw-dropping Steam blog post, Valve's Erik Johnson has effectively abdicated all responsibility for what is sold on Steam, stating that:
"-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".
Alright, deep breath... Let's take a look at this and try to pick apart some of the implications.
The whole statement feels like doubling down on Valve's laissez faire libertarian leanings. So long as the company is taking its cut from games sold on the site, and no laws are being overtly broken, the company couldn't care less. One of the most startling parts of Valve's big blog post is their earnest admission that - even within the company's bounds - nobody really seemed to have much idea of what could or couldn't be sold via Steam. To quote:
"-people have falsely assumed these decisions are heavily affected by our payment processors, or outside interest groups. Nope, it's just us grappling with a really hard problem.
Unfortunately, our struggling has resulted in a bunch of confusion among our customers, developer partners, and even our own employees."
The horrible thing is that, on some level, I feel that within the bounds of how Valve is known to operate, this may be the best possible outcome. They've at least realised that their content restrictions were vague at best and incoherent at worst, and have just accepted that they cannot handle the situation. Other storefronts such as Itch.io do have hands-off moderation policies, and they've become a flourishing ground for weird, queer and often totally explicit games.
Unfortunately this also means they'll likely be taking a similarly hands-off approach regarding wildly sexist, racist or homophobic content. How much of that falls under their 'straight up trolling' header is anyone's guess, but if I were a betting man, I'd say we're going to see a significant upswing in the number of games that should ideally be sold from a locked vault at the bottom of a long flight of stairs, in a disused storeroom, possibly guarded by a half-starved tiger.
There's also the question of what happens to games that have had to cut content previously to be released on Steam? Are they now allowed to release the uncut version of the game, or officially publish a content patch on the Steam forums? Will games that were previously removed be allowed back? There are a huge number of questions, and the only one Valve seems willing to answer is 'Will I be able to make the anime go away?'. The answer, of course, is 'yes'.
"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."
I somehow feel that they're not quite addressing the elephant in the room, and may instead be pointing furiously at some large-breasted anime girl painted on a rock. These changes will apparently not be taking place immediately, but once they've implemented some new tools for filtering what content you see on your own personal Steam storefront, the floodgates will open. Welcome to a new frontier; Where we're going, we don't need anime eyes.