When it comes to content control on its game distribution platform, Steam, Valve has a bit of a shaky track record. Hatred was removed from Steam Greenlight in 2014 because it allowed players to control a mass killer character. The game was then re-released when Valve President Gabe Newell apologised. Similarly, Valve experienced controversy in 2018 for permitting a videogame that allowed gamers to play as a school shooter; the game was later withdrawn. It was also chastised for banning anime-style titles with adult themes. Soon after, the corporation altered its regulations to allow “anything” on its platform while still retaining a basic set of restrictions.
Valve has now changed its restrictions to prohibit all games built on blockchain technology from being played on its platform. SpacePirate Games, the developer behind the blockchain-based Age of Rust, was the first to notice the change. This is due to Valve issuing a notification claiming that it is eliminating blockchain-based games that allow the trading of cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens (NFTs). According to SpacePirate Games, Valve’s argument is as follows:
“Steam’s point of view is that items have value and they don’t allow items that can have real-world value on their platform. While I respect their choice, I fundamentally believe that NFTs and blockchain games are the future. It’s why I started this journey with all of you.”
This is unusual, to say the least, given that Valve provides a specific marketplace for exchanging cosmetic in-game items. Depending on their rarity and demand, these things can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars in real-world currency. Valve also receives a portion of every transaction. As a result, just prohibiting blockchain-based games makes little sense.
It is unknown when this change in restrictions was applied to Steam’s onboarding page. It has been added as rule 13 to the standards, along with the prohibitions on content that promotes hate speech or sexual photos of actual persons, among other things. Valve has yet to make an official statement on the topic.
Meanwhile, Epic Games CEO and co-founder Tim Sweeney announced on Twitter that the company’s storefront is now accepting blockchain-based games. The executive continued, saying:
“Epic Games Store will welcome games that make use of blockchain tech provided they follow the relevant laws, disclose their terms, and are age-rated by an appropriate group. Though Epic’s not using crypto in our games, we welcome innovation in the areas of technology and finance.
As a technology, the blockchain is just a distributed transactional database with a decentralized business model that incentivizes investment in hardware to expand the database’s capacity. This has utility whether or not a particular use of it succeeds or fails.”
While the market for blockchain-based games is unlikely to be large at the moment, it remains to be seen whether the mass exodus of affected creators from Steam to the Epic Games Store would push Valve to reverse its policy once more.