Developers of games with sexual content are saying that Steam is threatening to remove their games, and they don’t know why.
Update, 5/19, 7:52pm—MangaGamer, Huniepot and Lupiesoft have tweeted that they’ve received emails from Valve saying that their games are being re-reviewed for content and they will be informed if there are any specific concerns, and that their respective games are no longer in danger of being removed from Steam in two weeks.
Yesterday, at least four developers said that they had received emails from Steam saying that their games, some of which had been on the platform for years with Valve’s blessing, had been reported for “pornographic” content. These developers said that they have to take out said content or risk having their games removed from the platform two weeks from now.
Steam’s policies on sexual content on their platform are hardly clear, and they seem to fluctuate over time. In 2012, when games with sexual content were being pulled from the now defunct Steam Greenlight program, Valve said that, “Steam has never been a leading destination for erotic material.” Sex games could still make it on Steam, though, usually with the developers linking to patches that would uncensor the games. In 2015, the yuri visual novel Kindred Spirits made it onto Steam without any censorship, and in general, a number of more sexually explicit games could often be seen on the new releases tab. At the time, it looked like Valve was beginning to ease up on their policies regarding risque content. In 2017, Valve forbid developers of game with sexual content to talk about or link to patches that would allow players to uncensor their games.
In July of 2017, Steam started removing sexually explicit games from the storefront again. House Party, a bawdy joke game with a button dedicated to whipping out your dick, was taken down and then re-uploaded after the developers added censor bars. Adding confusion to what type of games are allowed on the platform, in 2017, Christine Love, a friend of mine, eventually got her sexually explicit visual novel Ladykiller In A Bind on Steam. The game, which was a lesbian visual novel about BDSM, allowed players to skip sex scenes. Love also added a “safe for work” mode that puts novelty Christmas sweaters on everyone, thereby censoring the nudity.
What this timeline suggests is that It’s never been been easy for developers to understand what is or isn’t allowed on Steam, as the policies seem inconsistently applied, or prone to change. Today, several developer’s have said that games that have been on Steam, some of them for years, have gotten emails threatening their removal because of sexual content.
Yesterday night the developer Lupiesoft, makers of the sexy visual novel Mutiny!!, posted a tweet to the studio’s Twitter account saying they got an email from Steam that said that “[Steam] has decided to pull down our titled “Mutiny!!” within 2 weeks for ‘reports of pornographic content.’” According to Lupiesoft, while the game features uncensored breasts, there is no penetration of genitalia in the Steam version. Huniepot, the developers of titilliating match-3 game Huniepop, and Neko Works, developers of risque cat girl visual novel Neko Para, made similar tweets about their games. MangaGamer, publisher of Kindred Spirits, said in a blog post that they also received such an email. While some games hit by this wave are arguably more sexual than others, Kindred Spirits’s sexual content is very limited. Rather than a game about having sex, it’s an exploration of female sexuality, with some uncensored breasts after many hours of gameplay.
What’s especially confusing about some of these removal notices is that some of these games didn’t sneak onto the platform according to their creators. “We went to great pains to run the game’s content by Valve representatives––including sending along every potentially questionable graphical asset along with advanced builds of the title––to ensure that that feeling was mutual,” a representative from MangaGamer wrote in a blog post concerning the potential removals of Kindred Spirits. “The game would have never appeared on the platform if we had not confirmed with Valve representatives that they did not feel the content was pornographic and was appropriate for the platform.”
Peter Rasmussen, a developer for Lupiesoft, says that the game’s sales on Steam account for 80% of their revenue. “We’re at least half a year away from releasing our next game,” Rasmussen, a developer with the studio said over email, “so [the removal of Mutiny!! from Steam] could potentially ruin us.” Mutiny!! Is certainly a titillating game, though, like Neko Para and Huniepop, it is censored on Steam, only showing bare breasts in-game. If you visit the website for Mutiny!!, you’ll see instructions for how to download an “Adult Patch” and the game features explicit sex scenes with penetration and genitalia on other platforms like MangaGamer and Nutaku.
Rasmussen said that the guidelines of what is or isn’t allowed lack specificity. “They’re vague in the sense that they say ‘Pornography’ is banned, and that is a very broad term which means different things to different people,” Rasmussen said. “I think the most natural definition is any subject matter that shows aroused genitals or penetration (which Mutiny!! does not).” Some games that are on Steam, like The Witcher III, have sex scenes and nudity that look pretty explicit, despite not showing penetration or genitalia, just like Mutiny!! Kotaku reached out to Valve for comment but did they did not respond in time for publication.
Rasmussen said that he hopes this is all an algorithm error. Other developers seem frustrated by the sudden, apparent change in policy. “Despite our best efforts to respect both the letter and spirit of Valve’s content guidelines as we were made to understand them, we are wholly in the dark with this latest apparent shift in policy as no clear guidelines or standards have been provided,” a representative from MangaGamer wrote in their blog post on the situation. Time will only tell if these games will be on Steam by the end of the month, or if more developers will be left wondering if their games are just too sexy.