Content curation is a really tricky art, one that no platform has seemed to get correct yet. Youtube is floundering with notification systems that don’t work and people being demonetized for no reason, Facebook is being blamed for the rise of “fake news” and Twitter can’t seem to go a day without making some some sort of mistake when it comes to who is and isn’t allowed to use their platform. Valve and their monster distribution platform of Steam are trying a totally new idea: they’re saying “screw it” and letting almost anything in. In a blog post titled “Who Gets to Be On The Steam Store?” the team admitted they’ve struggled with content curation, so anything not breaking any laws or “just straight up trolling” is now totally fair game. So what does this mean for the PC market, and gaming as a whole?
First a bit of context. Valve have come under fire quite a bit for censorship on Steam, be it the removal and re-admission of the game Hatred, the nudity censorship of House Party, or more recently the announcement that adult games without censorship, including many visual novels and anime inspired titles, would be removed. That last one was later rescinded and as of this writing games with nudity appear to be allowed, and with this latest announcement probably won’t face any threats anytime soon.
As the blog states, Valve just aren’t interested in policing the content they host, but instead are working on tools to empower the users to curate their own experiences. This has some interesting connotations, first and foremost it’s an admission that Valve doesn’t want to deal with the politics of curation, but it also allows them to step aside and remove themselves from the equation. There’s an entire paragraph explaining that, just because Steam is allowing certain games on the store, it does not mean that Steam, Valve, or anyone else involved supports the game, they’ll merely allow it to exist and not bother you about it.
Reactions have been varied. Many are praising Valve for reducing their level of content control at a time when it seems like every other platform is raising theirs. While there will no doubt be games that don’t appeal to everyone, the option for those games to exist encourages creativity and freedom. The promise of extended user curation tools is also something to look forward to, again a far cry for the algorithm madness other platforms seem to prefer these days.
However this also brings with it a lot of issues. First is the problem of opening the floodgates on a system already decried for being overloaded with bloatware and cheap cash grab games. Sifting through Steam looking for a great hidden indie game is quite literally like trying to find a gem in sewage. To allow even more trash is only inviting trouble. Second is the issue of the quality and content of the games now allowed on. There are already games on Steam people wish weren’t, and now that’s only going to get worse, not exactly painting gaming in the greatest of lights.
Still, even if the whole thing is just a grand experiment for curation it’ll be interesting to watch. If it works this may become the new curation norm, something that could roll its way downhill through the internet. And if it doesn’t then it’ll help us to understand the how and why of content curation. Either way it’s certainly something the gaming industry should be keeping a close eye on in the months to come.