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EditorialJun 7, 2018 8:00 am CT

Valve just made a massive mistake with Steam, and Blizzard should go in for the kill

shadow priest at raid entrance

This article is an opinion.

Valve has decided to essentially allow all content on Steam. They are going to permit everything onto the store except what they decide is illegal or outright trolling. This is troubling for any number of reasons, many of which are obvious: games promoting hate, bigotry, and the moral delinquency that is slowly but surely eating away at western civilization will start to appear. Valve has previously removed these games, and rightly so, but now it’s apparently too much of a challenge for them.

This is a joke, and Blizzard should move in for the kill.

How Valve justifies grotesque games as a fun gaming experience

Keep in mind that Valve recently banned a game that promoted school shootings. It caused a lot of whining and outcry from people who thought that kind of thing should be purchasable, right alongside Final Fantasy XV and Elder Scrolls Online. That happened nine days ago. One cannot ignore the timing when compared to Valve’s blog post yesterday.

Valve starts off their blog with this:

The challenge is that this problem [of moderating games] is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content. Instead, it’s about whether the Store contains games within an entire range of controversial topics – politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on. In addition, there are controversial topics that are particular to games – like what even constitutes a “game”, or what level of quality is appropriate before something can be released.

Let me respond directly to that: controversy is not necessarily a bad thing. Opposing opinions are what enables us to look at ourselves and at others to find the best, and worst, in one another. They are what teach us lessons throughout life, as kids and adults.

What bothers me is not that Valve considers controversy a challenge, because it’s a challenge for every publishing platform and media company, it’s how Valve lists off sexuality, race, gender, and identity as controversial topics. This is 2018, not 1958, despite what some may want to make America into again. Any company that considers there to be any side to these things other than “it’s okay whatever you are” is not on the right side of history, and any game that promotes values opposite of that has no place on the virtual shelves of the world’s largest game store. In the 1980s there was an incredibly racist game made for the Atari that was eventually pulled from the market. In the 1980s Atari knew what was right vs what was wrong. Is Valve really washing their hands of this?

I’m not saying a game can’t have a bigoted character or people with abhorrent behaviors, just as in literature the juxtaposition can be necessary to produce a story. To Kill a Mockingbird would be nothing without its characters, the good ones and the bad ones.

I question how Valve is lumping these topics together as controversial. This seems like Valve is catering to the cadre of bigots who consider gay characters to be ruining “their” game and don’t want “that stuff” to invade their “escape from reality.” There is nothing controversial about sexuality, race, or gender if you’re willing to accept those around you. It’s only controversial if you don’t consider people different from you actual people.

Valve fails at showing moral leadership here, and it gets worse:

Common questions we ask ourselves when trying to make decisions didn’t help in this space. What do players wish we would do? What would make them most happy? What’s considered acceptable discussion / behavior / imagery varies significantly around the world, socially and legally. Even when we pick a single country or state, the legal definitions around these topics can be too broad or vague to allow us to avoid making subjective and interpretive decisions. The harsh reality of this space, that lies at the root of our dilemma, is that there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad.

This is tackling the problem from the wrong approach. Valve is a leader, the owner of the online gaming distribution space. They should act like leaders instead of asking a community that is grappling with significant problems of hatred what it wants. Has Valve been watching the horridness of Twitch streams and other revolting content and decided that they need to consider that perspective? A good company listens to the players, has a dialogue with them, and then helps move the community in the correct direction. It does not cave to the lowest common denominator, the vocal minority, or the haters who just hate.

Mike Morhaime is the polar opposite of this; he has looked the community in the eye and told it that it can and should be better than the hatred that’s spreading around gaming. Instead of showing the same leadership, Valve has decided to roll over. The legal and cultural reasons they provide are frankly a cop out. When the company should be showing leadership, it says these “controversial” issues are for game developers to decide.

Valve digs their hole deeper:

Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

With that principle in mind, we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.

They’re right. They don’t get to choose what content I buy, just as I can choose not to buy content from them. If I found Barnes & Noble started carrying alt-right propaganda and anti-Semitic crap I would never set foot in the store again. There are not good people on both sides; someone needs to stand up and take the moral leadership in the community to say that <insert terrible ‘game’ here> is not going to be sold on the most popular distribution platform.

The final straw for me is this:

It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values, beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create & consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it’s almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you.

When a company does not adhere to their values they will lose. This is not a new fact. It’s not something that was invented during the dot com boom of the 90s. It has been known for centuries and explained in every business course ever taught. It boggles my mind how a company could be so foolish and shortsighted.

The Blizzard Launcher should become the new Steam

Whereas Valve has thrown away their values, let’s examine Blizzard’s Eight Core Values:

  • Gameplay first
  • Commit to quality
  • Play nice; play fair
  • Embrace your inner geek
  • Every voice matters
  • Think globally
  • Lead responsibly
  • Learn and grow

Would terrible games make it to the Blizzard store? Would a game that promotes racist or alt-right garbage make it past those values? Would a game that promotes school shootings make it past Blizzard? While the old Steam store would not allow the game — Valve did pull it down — does the new attitude of “everything goes” allow it to be distributed? Valve needs to answer this, but for Blizzard the answer would surely be no.

Blizzard is far from perfect. But their final value, “Learn and grow,” means that they understand they’re going to make mistakes, learn from them, and become a better company. The same is reflected in our community. When Tracer’s sexuality became known the company didn’t budge, it stood for its values of every voice mattering and leading responsibly. There was no controversy in Blizzard’s eyes around who one of their characters loved; but in Valve’s that’s apparently considered a controversial topic.

The Blizzard Launcher is already taking in Activision games on the PC. Granted that’s far from the gigantic catalogue that Steam has. However we also know that Blizzard has been building a massive distribution network of their own and has the groundwork to start to take on a project of this magnitude. It won’t be an easy lift and Activision-Blizzard execs would need to get together soon and quickly decide to take on this market with a solid plan and understanding of how their product can significantly differ from Valve’s. They have a once in a lifetime opportunity to swipe in and provide real competition against Steam which has had a stranglehold on the market for over a decade. If the Blizzard Launcher can become the place to find quality games it will have a substantial advantage over the competition.

All Blizzard has to do is follow its values.

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