Valve Has Been Quietly Changing the Rules for Adult Games on Steam

Adult Games on Steam Valve Developer Rules cover

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Valve Has Been Quietly Changing the Rules for Adult Games on Steam

April 26, 2021

By: Robert N. Adams

More Info About This Game
Developer
RLR Training
Publisher
RLR Training
Platforms
PC
Release Date
March 6, 2019 (Calendar)
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Publishing adult games on Steam has always been a tricky proposition, but the canceled launch of Super Seducer 3 has revealed an altogether deeper problem in the Steam developer rules.

The vast majority of video games are pretty benign forms of entertainment, but there is also a broad category of games that specifically targets adults with the inclusion of sexual content. Sometimes that content is suggestive or inferred, sometimes there's a bit of nudity, and sometimes it can get downright explicit. Adult games on Steam run the gamut, but one particular game had a problem getting published in the last few months — and that led to us looking into things a little more.

Back in 2018, Super Seducer 3 was announced just three days before the launch of the second game in the franchise. It was developed over the course of a couple of years before finally announcing that it was coming to Steam, but it encountered a problem — Steam rejected the first submitted version of the game. That lead to a painful, monthlong back-and-forth process before Valve ultimately banned the game entirely.

"We have finished reviewing your latest build and we aren't going to be able to ship Super Seducer 3 on Steam. As we have mentioned previously, Steam does not ship sexually explicit images of real people. After multiple product resubmissions and product reviews, we feel we are at an impasse and therefore this decision is final. We do not have any additional feedback or details to share beyond what we have provided in previous conversations." – Valve e-mail provided to IGN by Super Seducer Creator Richard La Ruina

The problems extended beyond Steam, mind; GOG and the Epic Games Store both rejected the game and a planned Nintendo Switch port of the first two games was rejected by Nintendo, leading Richard La Ruina to create an NFT of the Nintendo Switch ROM.

 
 

As for the PC version of the game, it ultimately ended up on Gamesplanet as an exclusive, DRM-free, and uncensored release; the first two games of the franchise were also made available for purchase on that platform.

The rejection of the game on Steam was particularly confusing, especially because none of the games in the Super Seducer franchise include any nudity or explicit sex as far as we know. That led us to do a bit of digging into what the rules actually are — and to put it simply, Valve's rules for adult games on Steam are downright puzzling.

Adult Games on Steam Valve Developer Rules slice

How Steam Developer Rules Changed for Adult Games on Steam

Adult games on Steam are allowed, but the Steam developer rules aren't exactly clear on the subject and leave a lot of room for interpretation. What's more, it looks like these rules have changed in recent months.

Let's start with how things look today: there are actually two sets of published "Rules and guidelines" for things you shouldn't try to publish on Steam. Here are the two versions that are live at the time of writing:

What you shouldn't publish on Steam

  1. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated
  2. Libelous or defamatory statements
  3. Content you don’t own or have adequate rights to
  4. Content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction in which it will be available
  5. Content that exploits children in any way
  6. Applications that modify customer’s computers in unexpected or harmful ways, such as malware or viruses
  7. Applications that fraudulently attempts to gather sensitive information, such as Steam credentials or financial data (e.g. credit card information)

Source: Joining The Steamworks Distribution Program page

 

What you shouldn't publish on Steam

  1. Hate speech, i.e. speech that promotes hatred, violence or discrimination against groups of people based on ethnicity, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation
  2. Sexually explicit images of real people
  3. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated
  4. Libelous or defamatory statements
  5. Content you don’t own or have adequate rights to
  6. Content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction in which it will be available
  7. Content that is patently offensive or intended to shock or disgust viewers
  8. Content that exploits children in any way
  9. Applications that modify customer’s computers in unexpected or harmful ways, such as malware or viruses
  10. Applications that fraudulently attempts to gather sensitive information, such as Steam credentials or financial data (e.g. credit card information)
  11. Video content not directly related to a product that has shipped on Steam.
  12. Non-interactive 360 VR Videos

Source: Onboarding page

Inconsistent documentation isn't exactly new in the corporate world; presumably, the longer set of rules on the right side is what actually applies to developers. Those set of rules also happen to have changed a couple of times over the last few months; coincidentally or not, this also happens to be around the time Super Seducer 3 was trying to get approved on Steam.

 

Only a couple of rules really apply to adult games on Steam, and those rules, in particular, went through at least three changes before it settled on the current version seen on the onboarding page today.

Joining The Steamworks Distribution Program (presumably the oldest version of the rules)

1. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated


Onboarding Page on November 25, 2020

2. Pornography

3. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated


Onboarding Page on January 17, 2021

2. Adult content which includes a visual depiction that requires age verification of an actual human being; see, for example, [18 U.S. Code § 2257]. Link currently found here.

3. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated


Onboarding Page as of Today

2. Sexually explicit images of real people

3. Adult content that isn’t appropriately labeled and age-gated

These changes indicate that Valve was attempting to codify a new policy for adult games on Steam. A ban on "pornography" was added, then removed in favor of a ban on a "visual depiction that requires age verification of an actual human being" before finally settling on "Sexually explicit images of real people."

That, of course, leads to another question — what counts as a "sexually explicit image" of a real person? Where is the line and who makes that determination? Unfortunately, we don't have those answers — but it does look like these changes may have been used as the justification for blocking Super Seducer 3's release on Steam.

Adult Games on Steam Valve Developer Rules slice 2

 

'Vague' Steam Rules Made Publishing Super Seducer 3 Impossible, Developer Says

Valve's rules for adult games on Steam have already had an impact on one game that we know of: Super Seducer 3. We reached out to the creators of the games and they revealed just how frustrating the process can be from the developer end.

"[Valve's latest [rule] 'sexually explicit images of real people' is so vague as to mean that they can do whatever they want," said Kate La Ruina, Super Seducer cast member, Russian translator, and wife of the franchise's creator and producer Richard La Ruina. "(We also believe there is nothing in our game that is sexually explicit)."
  
"The other interesting point is that the removal of 'no pornography' means that Steam now welcome any and all porn games as long as they do not feature real people. This is the reason why games such as [HuniePop 2] are uncensored on Steam and also heavily promoted."

"The top Adult Industry lawyer I consulted said [that the] final rejection [from Valve] was 'bulls***'." – Richard La Ruina on Twitter

Aside from blocking the publication of Super Seducer 3, the game's creator Richard La Ruina says that it had submitted a demo for the Winter Steam Festival featuring a single level. According to a series of tweets, that demo was removed from the Steam storefront by Valve with no explanation whatsoever.

As for the claims regarding HuniePop 2's promotion, there's a big caveat there — HuniePop 2 is an adult game and those are handled very differently on Steam. You can't even see them on the platform unless you're logged in and have your account set up to view adult content, and some countries block particular adult games or pieces of DLC entirely no matter how you've set up your Steam account.

What is perhaps even more frustrating is the lengths that La Ruina went to in order to get Super Seducer 3 published on Steam. It ostensibly complied with all of the rules at the time, but Valve appears to have been changing them around the time that the game was trying to get approved. He had the good sense to get passport info from all of the women in the game (which proves that they are over the age of majority), likely negating any concerns over verifying the age of the actresses, and fulfilling the requirements of at least one set of rules Valve had set.

The situation surrounding this game gets even weirder than that, though — Richard says that he went as far as to offer to get the game rated by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) and believed that he could get an M rating (Ages 17 and up). According to him, Valve said that it would not even approve the game if it got an M rating (17+).

"My wife and I have been working through this stress and we never say 'If only we had...' because they even rejected the ultra-tame [Steam Winter Festival] demo," Richard La Ruina explained. "We still have no idea and feel that it could even be political or personal. If not why not give us a clear example of what was not okay?"

Adult Games on Steam Valve Developer Rules slice 3

The Future of Adult Games on Steam is Uncertain

So, what happens now? Is publishing adult games on Steam okay or is it not? That's a question that no one really seems to have an answer to, Valve included. Naturally, we reached out to Valve on this subject in an attempt to get more clarification on what the rules for adult games actually are. Unfortunately, we have yet to receive a response.

Mind, this certainly isn't the first time that Valve has difficulty with delivering a consistent message for what is and is not okay on Steam. A number of adult game developers were told that their titles were going to be removed from Steam back in 2018; Valve later rescinded these removals and clarified its position on the subject.

"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," Valve's Erik Johnson explained in a blog post released a few weeks later in June of 2018. "Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see."

That certainly seemed like promising news, but a number of developers still had issues with publishing adult games. Months later, multiple adult game developers had problems getting their games published on Steam, despite ostensibly complying with all of the rules set for by Valve at the time. Another game titled Bokuten - Why I Became an Angel was removed months after publication, although this situation appears to have been an error and the game is currently available for purchase on Steam [NSFW]. Other games appear to have avoided any trouble; Studio FOW Interactive's inaugural release Subverse, for example, launched at #2 on Steam, beaten only by Valheim.

"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." – Valve's Erik Johnson in 2018

Despite this, Valve showed its intent to make it easier than ever to find adult games on its digital distribution storefront. It created a specific "Adult Only" games section with a Steam Labs experiment late last year; that experiment has since ended its beta and gone live. And yes, the Adult Only games section [NSFW] is viewable on Steam.

As best as we can tell, getting an adult game published on Steam is pretty much a crapshoot. The rules have changed multiple times and are still terribly vague even today, and even games that appear to comply with the rules or developers who are willing to work with Valve to make changes are not necessarily safe. It's certainly not great that one of the biggest digital platforms is having these problems; thankfully, there are still a fair few adult-specific storefronts that are all too happy to sell legal products that customers want to buy.

What do you think of Valve's rules for adult games on Steam? Do you think adult games should be allowed on its platform or would you prefer a more family-friendly environment? Let us know in the comments below!

A photograph of Robert N Adams
Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!

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