Ah, Steam. The biggest gaming platform in the world and, unfortunately, one without a similar comparison. Sure, there are other platforms like Origin and Uplay, but these only cater to their respective developers. Smaller platforms like GOG exist for DRM free options, and itch.io for indie developers and gamejams. But for larger games? For people who want their games to be seen and played? There’s not a lot of other options. They’ve cornered the market. And, while this is an issue, this is not today’s issue in particular.
To understand, first we have to go back to the days of Steam Greenlight. This service, closed in early 2017, was a sort of quality control by the community, for the community. Indie games and games from smaller teams had to go through this process, in which they submitted their game to be voted upon by the community. This process also allowed consumers to voice their concerns about a game and developers to update consumers on the process of their game being made. Once upvoted enough, the game would be approved for release on the Steam store for anyone to purchase.
Greenlight was dropped, and, according to Valve, this was because the process was too uncertain for developers. Which seems fair enough on a surface level. The process allows itself to be open to trolling by people flooding a game with negative comments and downvotes, developers never knew for certain whether their game would get through, and it’s up in the air as to whether or not we’ve missed out on some classics because of it. In response, Steam dropped the system and introduced Steam Direct.
This process works as follows:
Users fill out some forms, submit $100 and in the case of new users, a 30 day waiting period for Valve to confirm the user in question is legit and not some kind of bizarre game making bot.
And this is where the issues arise. Sure, no magical game making robots have begun submitting games, but there might as well be. Troll developers have become Steam’s biggest new threat, releasing games of questionable quality and content upon the platform. Most of these are harmless. Absolutely awful but harmless. The idea is, the games provide an easy way to get achievements and trading cards for low prices, $1, $0.50, that kind of thing.
And trading cards in particular are pretty juicy for developers, given that Steam users love collecting them to boost their level. Which is almost entirely a cosmetic feature, by the way, unless you’re savvy enough to play the Steam market to make enough money from the trading cards to buy yourself a couple of cheap games. But the developers earn a cut from every trading card sold. And so, a lot of developers have seen this as a quick and easy way of making a little extra.
But this isn’t the only problem that’s arisen from Steam’s lack of quality control. There’s a much more insidious issue rearing its ugly head. Steam is allowing hate speech on its platform in the form of video games. Of course, Valve has recently had a pretty big controversy over the subject of censorship, with games like Huniepop and Kindred Spirits being threatened with takedown notices without explanation, while other titles with explicit sex scenes like The Witcher III are left untouched. These games were later issued with apologies, though are still under investigation.
But this issue isn’t about censorship. I really must stress this fact. This issue reeks of Gamergate and similar anti-feminist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and everything you can think of under the ‘hatred of minorities’ flag that ends in ‘-phobic’.
Arguably, the trend gained momentum with the popular (and awful) game, Feminazi: The Triggering. The game is just as awful as it sounds, spouting ‘satire’ of feminists and ‘sjws’ (social justice warriors). Also, take note of the cheap price and trading cards. It fits the bill of the above cheap, nasty games while creating such a huge controversy with its ‘humor’. I’m not even going to bother linking to it because it doesn’t deserve the traffic, but clearly Steam must be aware of this game as the traffic is definitely there. The game has 811 reviews, the majority of which are positive, earning the game a thumbs up rating.
From here, other games with similar themes have popped up. Games with the same cheap price tags and the same awful message. The hatred toward anyone deemed an ‘sjw’ is apparent, and perhaps a game that was more subtle in its approach and started a discussion rather than throwing a rock through the window of people who just want to play a nice game would be acceptable. But no. We’re left with a spate of games that are cheap, nasty, aim to stir up controversy to earn the developer money and reinforce the fact that Gamergate and their ilk are still alive and well.
But now, there’s a new trend slowly making its way into the Steam market. One that’s less immature and instead perhaps a little more worrying. Anti-SJW games that are disguised as games made by diverse developers but are still sold in the same cheap, nasty, achievement and trading card filled way.
To us, this game is clearly a parody. No one actually talks like this when they’re talking about left-leaning politics, anti-Trump notions, etc. We know this. It’s obvious. However, we’re not the target audience. The target audience lies in 4chan. Again, I’m not going to link it, I’m sure we’re all aware of what goes on there. But these games are being posted on 4chan’s video games board, /v/. The basic gist of the threads is that ‘wow, look what those wacky SJW’s are up to this time! Look how bad their games are and what they absolutely definitely believe!’. These threads are likely made by the developers themselves, but I can’t actually prove that part.
The following is a selection of comments taken from various threads advertising games like the above to prove my point. They’ve been taken from the /v/ archive hosted at fireden. Content warnings for all kinds of nastiness:
It goes on like this in various instances. It’s impossible to track just how frequent it is, even with the archive, due to the sheer volume of content on /v/ but it’s a trend none the less. A worrying one at that, only further serving to separate gamers and cause more vitriol in the community.
So, the question is: Why does Steam allow it? Why isn’t there any kind of better quality control? Why can I, right now, fill out a form, spend $100 and have my two second game put up on Steam?
While perhaps Greenlight isn’t the answer, we need some kind of alternative. Some kind of panel of human judges from various backgrounds looking at these games. Transparency in the system. Anything with a focus on cleaning up the state of Steam as it currently is while allowing genuine indie games through. Perhaps even a modified version of Greenlight itself.
Whatever the answer, we need it soon to stop this before it becomes a bigger issue and creates even more feelings of isolation for a group of gamers who are already fighting to have their voices heard as it is.