BANNED FROM STEAM??? HOW ONE INDIE GAME DEV IS COPING
[UPDATE : We submitted an appeal to Steam, in the hopes of being given a chance at submitting a modified build. Also, after further discussion with other devs, we conclude that the reason the footage is the issue is NOT necessarily the nature of the content, but most probably the presence of real-life actors involved in kink activities. Steam probably seeks to protect those people by refusing our work to use that footage.] I kinda always wanted to write one of those unapologetically dramatic headlines, you know the ones poorly made to grab attention in the most dishonest way. Turns out this one...is 100% honest.
You read that right. The game we are currently working on, SPEK.TAKL - Steam Edition, will have to change its name because it won't be released on Steam. Following our completion of the adult content survey during app submission, the game was reviewed internally by Steam, and as a result banned from publication on their platform.
No appeal. No discussion. No proposal for modification. Straight up banned.
Cannot resubmit, under the same name or another, even with modifications. Straight up BANNED.
"[...] we have determined it to include sexual content containing depictions of real people which we are not in the business of selling."
Now, to be fair to Steam, the game does contain public domain footage of real-life people, some of them doing light kinky stuff (some playful padding), and some of those people are wearing underwear.
All nudity had already been edited out of the source material by me, what was left in was already censored in the original public domain source, and all of that footage was self-contained into the first 4 minutes of fake 'television programming' shown through the in-game TV set. Also, like, I get the intention behind that rule from Steam. Let the uploaded content go unchecked for long enough and the internet will do its thing and turn Steam into an impromptu major smut distributor. However, I do not think the spirit of (or intent behind) this rule applies to \SPEK.TAKL\ and I trusted whoever was in charge of reviewing the game would view it the same way. I was wrong. Lesson learned, I guess.
What bothers me is that this footage could have been removed, quite easily so, since this specific content was not essential to gameplay or game completion. I would've been opened to modify the game accordingly to Steam's demands, if there had been any.
But discussion was cut short by simply banning the app outright, without the chance to re-submit a modified version, which is a disappointment to me.
Now, on a very mundane, human scale, I suppose the Steam reviewer saw the content, which can be accessed in the first minute of gameplay, and was like "welp, real people being naughty, let's ban that app!" without thinking about how easily it would've been to cut it out from the game, on a technical level. They probably have a LOT of games to review in a day, and in their eyes our title is just one more insignificant thing in a sea of mind-numbing new hopeful games waiting to be reviewed on the platform.
Am I irked by this? Of course I am. I am 100% conscious of what our game contains, and I consequently approached the mature content review from Steam with an opened mind, and an intention to work with them to make it work, although that earnest intention is very difficult to communicate to the faceless and busy Steam staff. Is it another negative thing to add to the pile of our overall experience with the Steam platform so far? Yeah, it is, although I try to rationalize it and see their end of the situation as well. We are definitely small fry for them, so why bother with the back and forth of solving the issues with that one game where they could just ban it, save themselves some time?
Perhaps the rest of the game content would've raised more flags for them, as well. Perhaps it did and they just gave us the easiest excuse they could give : "real people doing kinky stuff? Not on our platform!" How would they have dealt with the other challenging game content, such as the wound on the wall (which was wrongly interpreted by most players as genitalia)? [By the way, this wall wound stuff was pointed out by me in the mature content survey as well, including an explanation of how it is perceived by players. In fact, I detailed a lot of stuff for them to check out and make sure it was okay, but it turns out the first thing they could check was already crossing a line.]
To be fair, I was expecting to concede to Steam setting the game as 'Adults Only' and have it hidden by the default filters. I was ready to work with that. That would've been kinda cool.
I was also absolutely willing to create a sanitized version of the game for a Steam Edition : the idea of having a truly different version from what is available on Itch or elsewhere was appealing to me. I don't even consider it censorship, it was just fun to think about how it related to the movies that influenced the game, some of them having many confusing cuts and versions available over time. It was in line with the themes of the game.
But nope, not this time. Straight up banned. I'll respect Steam's call on this case. But I cannot help and feel a bit frustrated when I think about what could have been. I just wanted the opportunity to modify the game according to their criteria, but I wasn't even given that.
So what now? I cannot let the work done on this game go to waste. I'll finish the modifications as planned, drop the 'Steam Edition' from the name, and release it elsewhere. This is not the end of the story for \SPEK.TAKL\, of course.
We consider it our most thematically complete and best-realized vision so far, and we would love to give players a chance to experience it again. It is a game we are mostly proud of, and believe it deserves its own little place online. It just won't be Steam. Oh well.