Progress Update

Shodan/ Settembre 6, 2018/ Steam

It’s been a few months since we talked about how we want to approach shipping games with controversial content. In that blog post we talked about some of the tools we felt we needed to build and we thought it would be good to give you an update on where we are. We’ve done a number of things since that post, some which may seem unrelated, but if we are going to maintain an open view of what gets onto the Store, then you’ll need good tools to find the games you want, as well as avoid the things you don’t.

The first set of our changes focused on improving how you can find new games. We’ve added Developer & Publisher homepages so you can easily get from a game you love to others made by the same creators, or follow them if you want to be notified whenever they say or make something. We significantly reworked how our Upcoming Games Lists functioned, so they’re much better at showing you upcoming games that you might be interested in, or upcoming extra content for a game you’ve been playing a bunch.

A second set of changes was focused on improving how you can ignore things you’re not interested in. In the past you’ve been able to ignore individual games or product types (like VR, or Early Access) you didn’t want to see again. But now we’ve added ways for you to also easily ignore individual developers, publishers, and curators.

We’ve also improved the game tag filters on your account preferences. Previously, it was a list of 3 game tags that you wanted to see less of. We’ve now increased the number of tags you can list to 10, and made them into a harder filter – in short, the Store now assumes you want to ignore all the games that feature any of those tags in their most popular tags, instead of just using them as suggestions to our recommendation engine.

We did our best to ensure you can safely ignore swaths of games in the store, but still find them if you look directly via the search tool. If the game that we think you’re searching for is hidden due to your mature content settings, we identify that and let you know in a safe way. For example, if you have your preferences set to hide mature games with violence, but you search for The Witcher 3, you’ll see this:

If there are games that your search should contain that you’re ignoring for other reasons (due to its developer, or game tags, for instance), we’ll still include it in the list, but we’ll blur it out and when you hover over it you can see why it is darkened. For example, if you’ve chosen to ignore games by Valve, and then search for Left 4 Dead, you’ll see this:

A third set of changes focused on allowing you to have better control over the kinds of mature content you see. So far, the Store has allowed you to filter out games that feature Frequent Violence/Gore or Nudity/Sexual Content. After looking at the mature content in submissions we’re receiving, and at some games that are already in the Store, we’ve added two more options. The first is a general Mature Content filter. We often see developers who tell us their game contains mature content, but not sex or violence, and you can now filter those games out if you wish. The second is an Adults Only filter, which allows you to filter out games that feature explicit sexual content.

We’re also now requiring developers of games with violent or sexual content to describe the content of their game, and we’re using that information to help you decide whether a game is something you’re comfortable with. We think the context of how content is presented is important and giving a developer a place to describe and explain what’s in their game gives you even more information when browsing and considering a purchase. When you’re looking at the store page of a game with mature content, we’ll display that developer-written description to you. We’re also displaying it on the interstitial page we show you if you ever follow a direct link from outside steam to a game that should be filtered for you:

Finally, we’ve continued our efforts in removing bad actors from the Store. Last year we made changes to Trading Cards to address the ways a small set of developers were producing ‘games’ that generated revenue without anyone actually buying and playing them. Recently we made more changes to address other ways these bad actors were continuing to do it. We’ve also permanently banned several developers of games that we felt fit the “straight up trolling” description of games we’re not going to allow onto the Store. There’s actually a surprisingly small number of individuals behind almost all of these games, and their bans have been a straightforward series of decisions, thus far. You can read more about the shorthand of “straight up trolling,” and the process of making those decisions in the Q&A below.

With these sets of changes, we hope you have a better sense of how we’re approaching building a store that works for all developers and players. There’s still plenty of work to do. In our previous post we identified a range of things, from parental controls to tools for developers to manage their communities. In addition, some of the changes described in this post will require more options when we see new kinds of content in game submissions. Going forward, we aim to continue this strategy of shipping features as they’re finished, and posting periodic updates as to the nuts and bolts and the thinking behind their development.


Q: What about games that are already in the store that include mature content?

A: Every developer will be encouraged to update their game with the customer-facing descriptions outlined above but in most cases Valve moderators will going back through the catalog and making sure games are complying with the new requirements.

Q: What do you mean, in practice, when you say you won’t ship games that are “outright trolling?” That seems vague.

A: It is vague and we’ll tell you why. You’re a denizen of the internet so you know that trolls come in all forms. On Steam, some are simply trying to rile people up with something we call “a game shaped object” (ie: a crudely made piece of software that technically and just barely passes our bar as a functioning video game but isn’t what 99.9% of folks would say is “good”). Some trolls are trying to scam folks out of their Steam inventory items, others are looking for a way to generate a small amount of money off Steam through a series of schemes that revolve around how we let developers use Steam keys. Others are just trying to incite and sow discord. Trolls are figuring out new ways to be loathsome as we write this. But the thing these folks have in common is that they aren’t actually interested in good faith efforts to make and sell games to you or anyone. When a developer’s motives aren’t that, they’re probably a troll.

Our review of something that may be “a troll game” is a deep assessment that actually begins with the developer. 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.”

This doesn’t mean there aren’t some crude or lower quality games on Steam, but it does mean we believe the developers behind them aren’t out to do anything more than sell a game they hope some folks will want to play.

Q: Sometimes I see blurred out games on my Store front page. Why is that?

A: There are a number of sections on the front page that we fill with games, and to ensure the servers behind it don’t melt down as everyone tries to use it, we do a lot of data caching. This works great for data sets that we can easily pre-compute – so if there’s a game you shouldn’t see due to your mature content filters, you’ll never see it on the front page. But if you’ve chosen to do some more personal filtering of particular developers, or specific games, we can’t do that pre-computation as easily. As a result, it’s possible you’ll see a blurred out game on the front page because your personal filters should cause it to be hidden. In practice, though, this will only happen if you’ve filtered out so many games that it can’t find enough to fill a section of the front page, and again, like the search results, we’ll blur that game out and tell you why.

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.