Steam introduces new filters to hide controversial, explicit games

New Adult-Only ratings mean those without interest in certain games can avoid them, while those who want to play (or make) these titles will maintain access.

Valve is giving users more ways to filter out games and content they don’t want to see on Steam.

The company has announced that it’ll introduce new filters that will let users to avoid certain games marked as controversial or explicit, such as those with gratuitous violence or sexual content/nudity.

It comes after Valve originally planned to police the games that were made available to buy on Steam before rescinding the plan and allowing all kinds of games onto the store unless they were illegal or, in Valve’s own words, “straight up trolling”.

In a post on Steam’s website, Valve said that it was introducing two new filters, on top of an existing filter to block out games with frequent violence/gore or nudity sexual content. The first filter is a overall Mature Content filter. With this filter, it’ll allow users to filter out games that has mature content without going into details what the content actually is.

The second is an Adults Only rating, similar to the ESRB’s own AO rating, where users will be allowed to filter games that have 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,” added Valve in the blog, saying that the context of the game’s content was “important.”

“When you're looking at the store page of a game with mature content, we'll display that developer-written description to you.”

Source: Valve
Source: Valve

Games that have been filtered through the content a person doesn’t wish to see will also be blurred, with the reasons why given when hovering the cursor over the game in question. Older games will be examined by Steam moderators to determine whether they’d fit under these labels.

Before these filters, users could only ignore certain games or the types of game you could play - VR, for example. Now, in addition to the “maturity” filter, Valve has also introduced ways for users to ignore content from certain publishers, developers, or curators. So if users wanted to avoid games published by Bethesda, developed by CD Projekt Red, or chosen by certain curators, they now have the options to do so.

Finally, when it comes to trolling developers, such as those who made Active Shooter, Valve has banned more trolling developers from Steam. It added in a quick Q&A on the blog in vague context (by its own admission) that these developers that came in all shapes and forms were “simply trying to rile people up with something we call ‘a game shaped object’.”

It went on to add: “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.”

The bottom line is that while these filters will help keep a majority of these games with mature or adult only content away from a good chunk of the paying players, there are games that will fall under them that will still be available to a niche audience. One such genre is eroge visual sims, which contain sexual content.

But it does seem like Valve, after a couple of troublesome months of trying to figure everything out and how to curate its storefront, is letting those developers with genuine intent to entertain their audiences, however niche. The limits and caveats that they’ve put in place to protect Steam’s users from explicit or offensive content (without censoring or banning the potentially questionable content itself) is a good measure, but it isn’t perfect. Games will slip through the cracks, developers will scam the system, but the users who want to play sexually-explicit (or grotesquely violent) content will still be able to do so.

Johnny Cullen is a freelance writer who has written for the likes of Eurogamer, VG247, Official PlayStation Magazine UK and so many more since 2009. Come talk his ear off about The Last of Us or Metal Gear Solid 3 being the best games ever on Twitter @JohnnyCullen.