Steam’s 2018 Policy Change – The Current State of Affairs

In June, it will be the 2nd Anniversary of Steam’s 2018 policy changes. With me sporadically coming back to my Curator, it’s time to assess the current state of the Steam Store in reference to VNs.

If you don’t know, my WordPress site isn’t the first presence I had on the internet. I initially started on Steam as a reviewer. Like all things, it began as a hobby. I never thought something would actually pan out from it but since September 2, 2015, its amassed a following of over 800 people. This led me to meet some amazing individuals like Tony Huo, Kitty Skies, Liah, Sam K., and groups like Fruitbat Factory, NekoNyan, and even SNK themselves. 

VNs and anime games in general were a very small collection on Steam when I started. There were few major titles and only a handful of indie games. Moreover, any VN that contained vaguely sexual content (including merely text) was heavily censored. This led to the selling of incomplete games, holes in dialogue covered up by patchwork if at all. To get this missing content, you’d need to leave the Steam site entirely, go to a different seller, buy the 18+ content and install it to the appropriate Steam directory. Sometimes, there wasn’t even an 18+ patch individually for sale and to get access to it, you needed to buy the complete game again uncensored. It’s for that reason that JAST, Denpasoft, and MangaGamer, were so popular.

The Fruit of Grisaia still doesn’t contain an on-site 18+ patch. Instead, you’ll need to head over to Denpasoft and buy the Unrated Version.

Eventually, more anime and VN content made it onto Steam and when it looked as if it was truly gaining traction, Steam started issuing mandatory censorship and even (in rare cases) takedown notices. That’s when the audience made itself known through the petition here. Sitting at 21,135 signatures, it was a fairly vocal cry and Valve soon made a response.

Regarding the issue of what constitutes a game, the portrayal of sexual content (both clearly in reference to VNs), politics, racism, gender, violence, identity, and how to assess the minimum standard of quality; they went back to their roots and stated:

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. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.”

These words opened the floodgates for VNs from prominent publishers who had noticed the want of VNs. However, with those VNs, this broad approach from Valve allowed quite a number of developers with ill intent to litter the store with what I can only describe as utter garbage. This isn’t an attack at unoptimized or flawed games. Everyone makes bad games. Everyone’s a novice at some point. That isn’t what I mean. I’m talking about games that have no passion behind them. Games that are merely asset flips. Games that prey on audience expectations and offer nothing in return.

You can see Liah’s art on the left. In this case, she posted it as a free asset that you could complete monetize. However, it’s a complete waste for it to be used in Anime Girls Loot Box Simulator. All you do is select a “crazy job,” get currency, and open loot boxes which have more free art inside them. It doesn’t matter if the game only retails at $2.99 It’s terrible.

*Slight tangent, but as of the publishing date, Liah is going through some trouble with people charging money for art she made free to all people. Please show her some support.

It honestly sickens me because both users and other Curator groups do nothing about it. If offered a review copy, they praise it with honey coated words. Users too, ironic or not, boost games with positive reviews and you can’t help but to think Valve hasn’t cracked down hard enough on review bots and alt accounts (Admittedly, this is unfounded and evidence swings truth in the other direction). This only increases the chances a consumer buys a garbage product.

This was my perspective one year ago and looking at the current state of Steam, nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing. Not the Curator groups, not the dubious reviews, not the games. More high quality VN and anime games are available, but that doesn’t dismiss the others which should fall below the minimum standard of quality.

What to do then? What to do?

This isn’t a simple problem. Valve themselves, like I had mentioned, stated that the assessment of quality was difficult. To allocate more staff to that stage of game submission won’t help in assessment nor will it provide an adequate long-term solution. To tackle this is beyond me and I feel as if all I can do is express my dissatisfaction which is largely pointless. 

At this point, there exists Steam Labs which tries to recommend quality products among other experimental programs. Could that possibly solve the problem? If it offers only good products, then the low quality will still be allowed, but at the least it’s put to the side. It doesn’t sound great and that’s because it isn’t. New games without reviews, especially those self-published by indie developers, can sit without reviews for months. Even if they are reviewed, there needs to be more than a handful for Steam’s algorithm to give a proper rating. That means those games will be in limbo and if, by chance, it somehow manages to gain traction after so long, the developer will most likely have moved on to making their next project. 

My main issue once again is this: Low quality games are brought onto Steam.

The problem we’re faced with then is: Quality can’t be properly assessed.

With an inexhaustible amount of resources, we can go a route like this:

When a game is submitted to Steam, after the safety (Whether it contains malicious software) is ascertained, the type of game it’s supposed to be should be noted.

This is then sent to a group of players who are experienced with the noted genre. These serve as a sample of the overall Steam population. Those not familiar with the genre (or at varying levels of experience of knowledge) should also be part of the sample so it’s fully representative.

After [X] amount of playtime, their opinions are recorded and this determines whether the game will pass. *Those in the sample must be fully aware that their own opinion of a game’s content and the quality of the game are not one in the same. 

Developers should receive this feedback (Regardless of whether the test is passed or not). If it didn’t pass, developers may try again in [x] amount of days/months. If the product is continually submitted with no attempts at improvement, it’s removed from the pool and not to be considered.

Theoretically, this would be decent. The thing is, we don’t have infinite resources nor an infinite amount of time in which testers can play. Thus, the submission process would slow down infinitely and cause a constant backlog. More games are submitted to Steam than we know and even an hour of playtime is extensive. Moreover, a loosely similar system exists already on Steam: Early Access. This is the only way enough playtesters could even be found. After years of it being in existence and with the sample size being the whole community, it’s clear that this isn’t a good option and very easy to exploit. 

I’m extremely tempted to say that the solution to be found has to do with community approval, but that was tried too in the now faded Steam Greenlight. It’s irrelevant that most Greenlight products had no test or demo builds. It’s still open to exploitation. 

Honestly, I don’t have a clue. For most intents and purposes, I’m a reviewer that knows psychology. I’m out of my depth in tackling a platform wide problem. Still, it’s really irritating. This is the second article I’ve ended without giving a good answer. I’m certain Valve has thought about this extensively and have determined the best course of action is doubling down on personalized recommendations and promoting products deemed good by the community. It just doesn’t sit right with me though…

If you have an answer or suggestion, I’d love to hear it. It would be great if we could bring more attention to this because I think these low quality games are something we like to keep out of sight, out of mind. Maybe it isn’t a problem? Who knows? What do you think?

Hopefully, I’ll be able to follow up on this article with more concrete and less idealistic answers. 

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