It’s been a strange summer for Steam. Since the implementation of the Steam Direct program last year, the service has seen a tidal wave of new, largely unfiltered content, much of which has proved to be controversial, in poor taste, or in a couple of cases, malware. Steam’s moves to curate its new releases have been unfocused, inconsistent, and/or simply nonexistent, finally settling on the principle, as they stated in a blog post in June, that they “shouldn’t be the ones to decide this.”
In the same blog post, Steam’s representatives promised that new tools were in the works to help users filter their experience in the storefront, and to help cut down on trolls, scammers, and other bad-faith users of the Steam publication process. This included a rework to how the Steam Trading Cards system worked, where games would no longer automatically receive card sets until they reached a certain degree of actual player involvement. This addressed an exploit where players would generate “fake” games in order to farm them for trading cards with bot accounts, which could then be redeemed for badges, coupons, and other items, many of which could be traded for real money on the Steam Marketplace.
This week, Valve provided a progress report to the community. The company has introduced a number of methods to make it easier for users to explore Steam, such as dedicated homepages for developers and publishers, a rework (in July) to how its list of upcoming games worked, and provided more and better options for you to filter the types of content you can see when randomly browsing the store.
One big change here is that you can now tick a series of boxes in your account settings that determines what you are and are not willing to see on Steam, based upon not only the general age rating, but the type of content involved. For example, I unchecked the box on my personal Steam account for nudity and sexual content, so now, when I go to search for Funcom’s survival game Conan Exiles, which is notorious in certain circles for not only frequent but intensely customizable nudity, I simply can’t see its store page at all.
Steam now also requires publishers of games that feature mature content to go into detail about the type and context of that content (i.e. Left 4 Dead 2 being listed as featuring not just explicit violence, but “decapitation and dismemberment of zombie-like creatures”), in order to assist players in determining whether or not a game is suitable for them. Previously, a game’s Steam page would typically only hint at whatever the game might actually contain, through marketing copy and a handful of keywords; now, a consumer should know exactly what they’re in for before they purchase a game.
What’s likely going to be the most controversial part of these changes, however, is Steam’s ongoing attempts to remove “bad actors” from its storefront. They describe a relatively small population of would-be developers that are simply out to release titles with which to troll Steam’s userbase, but then remain vague on what precisely fits their internal definition of trolling.
“Our review of something that may be ‘a troll game’ is a deep assessment that actually begins with the developer,” Valve wrote on its blog. “We investigate who this developer is, what they’ve done in the past, their behavior on Steam as a developer, as a customer, their banking information, developers they associate with, and more. All of this is done to answer the question ‘who are we partnering with and why do they want to sell this game?’ We get as much context around the creation and creator of the game and then make an assessment. A trend we’re seeing is that we often ban these people from Steam altogether instead of cherry-picking through their individual game submissions. In the words of someone here in the office: ‘it really does seem like bad games are made by bad people.'”
In other words, they know trolls when they see them. It’s an open-ended declaration that seems guaranteed to cause some problems, just as soon as a given issue comes down to a matter of interpretation.
As for the issue of sales bloat and a lack of curation on Steam, Valve currently remains quiet. The new systems they announced are in place on Steam accounts as of this writing, but the store is still flooded with new games every week, and Valve still considers it, for the time being, the community’s job to police their storefront.