The developers of Holodexxx are at a loss. After spending months attempting to get their VR sex game onto Steam, they’ve hit a wall that no amount of self-censorship or mechanical refinement has been able to drill through: Valve’s nebulous definition of “pornography.”
Holodexxx is a game in which simulated versions of real adult performers interact with the player in virtual reality, with AI guiding elements of the performance. Its creators bill it as an ethical, sex-positive game being made in conjunction with and featuring real sex workers. Steam, at this point, carries a plethora of games that include adult content—some of which venture into much dicier thematic territory than Holodexxx. But that didn’t stop Valve from chasing Holodexxx off its holodeck.
In a recent lengthy blog, the game’s developers outlined everything they’ve tried over the course of multiple months. To begin, they submitted a “PG-13 experience” to Steam starring a clothed version of adult film actress Riley Reid, along with a censored video of live adult stars. Valve, say Holodexxx’s developers, blocked the submission “with a boiler-plate explanation that video pornography was not allowed on Steam.” So then the developers spent additional time creating a new demo without video of adult stars, in which the player could instead look at a model of adult film actress Marley Brinx in a virtual environment. Again, Valve blocked it on the basis that it was “pornography.”
At that point, Holodexxx’s developers went back to the drawing board and spent “months” on Holodexxx Home, a more elaborate interactive experience with dialogue systems and direct physical interactions. It involves undressing a character, but so do other games on Steam, so in theory, it doesn’t necessarily activate any of Valve’s tripwires. However, you can probably guess what happened next.
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“We submitted Home and waited a few weeks,” wrote Holodexxx’s developers. “After poking Steam via help tickets, our build was reviewed two days later... and banned. The explanation was again, that Steam does not allow ‘pornography’ on their platform.”
In the end, Holodexxx’s developers say they spent “over” $20,000 in development time, but it was all for naught.
This is far from the first time developers of adult games have been stymied by Steam, whose rules around explicit content have never been fully outlined and remain inconsistent even after years of collective head scratching. Numerous developers have taken to releasing external adult content patches for Steam versions of their games to either get around bans or avoid playing Russian roulette with Valve’s opaque rules. What little documentation there is, meanwhile, has a tendency to change. As Daily Dot points out, Valve’s development toolkit banned “pornography” back when Holodexxx’s developers submitted their first demo, then specifically barred “adult content which includes a visual depiction that requires age verification of an actual human being” in January 2021. More recently, Valve once again altered that language to blanket ban “sexually explicit images of real people.”
Holodexxx’s developers say they asked Valve for a more detailed explanation of what constitutes pornography on Steam, but Valve declined to elaborate. They speculate that Valve takes issue with nudity involving photogrammetry scans of real adult actors, but the Steam steward has proven unwilling to discuss where exactly its hang-ups lie. This, the developers pointed out, raises further questions.
“If a 3D artist recreated a virtual adult performer from scratch, utilizing traditional 3D modeling and texturing not obtained through photogrammetry, is that acceptable?” the developers asked. “If we stylized our adult star characters, but kept their identities intact, would that trigger the same repulsion from Steam? Most interestingly, can Riley Reid appear in a realistic and sexual game like Cyberpunk  if they show her breasts? Can she be in any game, at all?”
Kotaku reached out to Valve for more information about its definition of pornography and Holodexxx’s ban, but as of this publishing, it did not reply.
Holodexxx’s developers think Steam could massively streamline this process by providing actual guidelines as to what constitutes “pornography,” allowing developers of adult games to submit a “paper review” of game features that might be in violation of the rules instead of spending time and money developing Steam-specific builds, refunding submission costs of banned games, and giving developers information on what specific changes they could make to avoid having their game denied multiple times.
At the very least, Holodexxx’s developers wish Valve was more open to a conversation around adult games, explicit content, and digital depictions of real people.
“Our fanbase increases each month, which tells us that there is a growing demand for the type of content we’re creating,” Holodexxx creative and communications director Mike Wilson told Kotaku in an email. “We’d say that the issue of developing photo-real digital humans for adult [content] isn’t going away anytime soon, so best to have these conversations sooner than later.”
Wilson said that when it comes to Valve, he assumes “there may be some hesitation [or] uncertainty around how to deal with the potential liability associated with utilizing known actors in adult digital performances” despite the fact that “we haven’t left any loose end open from a legal perspective.” But those can only ever be assumptions, because he said Valve won’t return his calls.
He also echoed sentiments shared by fans, pointing out that Holodexxx is an attempt at involving real people more ethically than the sorts of games Valve might be worried about.
“We do not feel the need to push the boundary when it comes to some of the darker sides of pornography,” said Wilson. “Our team will not put the digital stars into compromising or unethical virtual situations. Secondly, we love the idea of the adult performer taking control of their online identity and earning power. That’s why you’re seeing the amazing success of platforms like OnlyFans. As Holodexxx grows, we plan to adopt similar practices, but with the performer’s digital avatar, ideally enabling them to earn a royalty or residual off of their avatar’s digital performance.”
It seems that what Wilson and the Holodexxx team have said is resonating, given the amount of Twitter chatter and press coverage the game’s Steam rejection has generated in the past few days. But even after all of that, Valve does not seem willing to budge. When asked if the recent outpouring of support had opened any doors, Wilson replied tersely.
“Radio silence,” he said.