Steam tackles mature content and troll devs in progress report

Now you can separate the flat-out porn games from those that just show some skin.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read

The game Active Shooter ignited a debate on how responsible the PC game store Steam is for the games it publishes.


Steam has taken flak recently over its hands-off approach to moderating the games it publishes, unsurprising given today's political climate that demands intervention. The platform, which is owned by Valve, on Thursday posted an explanation of the more granular system it's putting in place. 

This new system of tags and filters either hides or puts speed bumps between you and the content you deem too gory or violent, too sexual or just generally too mature. 

Part of that is adding two new filters for "Adult Only Sexual" and "General Mature Content." It looks as though Steam is still ramping up on tagging games with those attributes, however. That's probably what's been holding up its approval process for games which likely fit the "Adult Only Sexual" profile. (I've asked Steam for more detail.) 

The system relies less on automation or moderation than making you responsible for actively managing your preferences.

Steam is also dropping the ban hammer on developers it deems trolls, like the ones behind games like Active Shooter. These companies "aren't actually interested in good faith efforts to make and sell games to you or anyone," Steam said in a statement. "When a developer's motives aren't that, they're probably a troll."

"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.'"

Steam has for a while now visually deemphasized games with tags you've excluded in automated listings and its recommendation engine. But the new system further shows you how many games have been filtered automatically by tag -- as opposed to games you've specifically flagged to ignore -- along with an example of a popular one you didn't see. 


The new exclusion reporting on filtered results, like the Top Selling page here.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Filtered games don't even come up in search suggestions anymore, but if you perform the search you get the same exclusion notification.


The new tag-exclusion display.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

If you follow a link from outside Steam to a game excluded by your preferences, you'll get a popup with an explanation from the developer as to what the controversial content might be. You may not see that happen for a while, though, since Steam has to trawl through its catalog to ping the game developers to provide that content. It's likely that only a fraction of them will proactively update their listings. 

These changes are in addition to the ones we've already seen recently, including switching the "not interested" flag to "ignore," adding developer and publisher pages that you can follow and refining its presentation of upcoming games and content.

Steam also provides the answer to the question that plagues frequent browsers:

Q: "Why do you KEEP asking my damn age throughout the store?

A: We're with you on this. Unfortunately, many rating agencies have rules that stipulate that we cannot save your age for longer than a single browsing session. It's frustrating, but know we're filling out those age gates too.

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