I regularly receive updates about some of the latest and most important marketing, industry and sales trends in the gaming industry thanks to reports from GameIndustry.biz. However, one article they’ve recently posted has left me absolutely baffled as to why it would be allowed to be published in its current state.
Writer Rob Fahey accuses Valve of allowing Steam to foster “toxic” communities, and that the prevalence of these communities are driving away potential consumers and developers.
Fahey’s piece would be compelling if it contained at least a shred of evidence, or at least a tangible and easily recognizable example (of which I’m sure there should be a few), but instead it’s little more than a harangue aimed at vilifying Valve for not taking a stronger position against these phantom menaces who make up for this large, nebulous terror group supposedly infecting Steam.
“The problem is this; Steam is almost entirely unmoderated, and Valve makes pretty much zero effort to reign in any behaviour on its platform that isn’t outright illegal. As a consequence, it’s open season for the worst behaviours and tactics of the Internet’s reactionary malcontents – the weapon of choice being brigading, whereby huge numbers of users from one of the Internet’s cesspits are sent to downvote, post terrible reviews or simply fill content pages with bile.”
Fahey doesn’t provide any examples of this brigading, nor does he mention exactly to whom this kind of thing has happened to. Instead he glosses over a generalized list of people that these supposedly heinous acts are carried out against, writing…
“Targets are chosen for daring to include content that doesn’t please the reactionary hordes, or for being made by a developer who once said a vaguely liberal thing on Twitter, or – of course – for being made by a woman, or for whatever other thing simply doesn’t please the trolls on any given day.”
Like the rather mixed reviews a game like Cibele received early on because a lot of gamers felt the actual gameplay was sub-par?
Unlike Fahey, I do actually have an example of some of the negative comments made against the game that was designed by Nina Freeman at Star Maid Games. The pros and cons were outlined in a review report for Cibele. However, attacks, “toxic” comments and sewage-dwelling behavior didn’t even make up for a fraction of the comments for a game like that. Scouring through many of the available user reviews did not show signs of brigading or consist of people “attacking” the game as a “reactionary horde” because it was made by a woman. The same applies to the folklore RPG Moon Hunters from Kitfox Games, and the husband and wife duo who made Lilly Looking Through.
If Fahey has some other example(s), he really needs to bring it forward because as someone who actually buys and plays games, as well as regularly produce content centered around user reviews with OAG’s Review Reports (of which we’re nearing close to 100 once the server migration is complete), I haven’t encountered what Fahey is describing. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist… but if you cry wolf, there better be a wolf where you’re screaming and pointing.
Either all the indie, mid-budget and AAA titles we’ve written about in our Review Reports have managed to just not include this “toxic” behavior, or maybe Fahey is indulging in some other corner of Steam where these supposed low-life scoundrels reside.
Nevertheless, Fahey states that Valve has opened up Steam to facilitate vile behavior from communities like Reddit and 4chan, writing…
“Of course, Steam’s not the worst of it in most regards; the places that spawn these brigades in the first place, places like Reddit and 4chan, are far, far worse, and concoct many other malicious ways to hurt and harass their targets. “
Again, Fahey paints a broad brush across these communities, but doesn’t seem to be able to provide examples. If his argument is that some people across the global expanse of the internet can sometimes be really mean and vile… well, welcome to humanity.
However, according to Fahey this is something that Valve should have been fixing over the course of years, writing…
“ I stated earlier on that Steam ended up this way because of bad decision making down the years, and this is what I meant; there has never been a sense that Valve wants to tackle this problem.”
It would have been nice to see a couple of examples of this kind of behavior, because we’ve seen from some of these minority groups that disagreements equate to harassment.
We finally get to the crux of Fahey’s solution to the problem: Valve needs to hire in people to censor customers who say things that certain “minority” groups may not like.
“[…] it takes a real, breathing, thinking human to counteract attempts by other humans to be unpleasant to one another, because if there’s one thing our species has demonstrated extraordinary affinity for over the centuries, it’s finding creative ways to skirt around rules in pursuit of being unpleasant to other people.”
And with this, we find out that Fahey wants Valve to likely adopt the same sort of moderators who would censor people from typing terms like “SJWs” or calling journalists lying scumbags. In fact, this very thing happened over on the PSO World forums, Gamespot, the Blade & Soul forums and over on the Anime News Network forums; users are prohibited from talking negatively about feminism, or in some cases even mentioning “Social Justice Warriors”.
Right now, Steam is ripe with a lot of consumers who absolutely hate Social Justice Warriors. There are a number of groups who have sprouted up to warn gamers against titles that have been censored due to SJW meddling or developers kowtowing to the loud regressive minorities on social media, such as Censorship Watch.
Nevertheless, according to Fahey, non-traditional games and titles tackling tough subject matter aren’t frequenting Steam due to all the “toxic” community members, where he writes…
“Anyone making a game that tackles a tough subject, or aims at a non-traditional audience, or who is themselves a member of a minority group; well, they’d probably love to be on Steam, but they’re thinking twice about whether it’s a good move. That’s not conjecture – it’s something I hear almost every week from developers in that position”
So are we going to ignore that games like Sunset covering a civil war outbreak from the lens of a female minority did release on Steam but just didn’t sell well because a lot of gamers weren’t into it?
Are we also going to ignore games like Hotline Miami that also cover “tough subject” matter? How about the whole Post Mortem/Still Life series? Those games cover tough subject matter and star female protagonists… or do we not count those?
There are games like The Beginner’s Guide, Bientôt l’été and The Path; we also have emotional and personal visual novels like Clannad, along with titles like The Rainy Port Keelung, the latter of which dealt with the cultural appropriation that the Taiwanese suffered at the hands of the Chinese following World War II (a topic many SJWs should be familiar with when it comes to gaming).
There’s a list of games currently available on Steam covering “tough subject” matter, so Fahey should really clarify what he means by games that “tackles a tough subject”. Just about any and every game under the sun is nearly allowed on Steam save for games with excessive or gratuitous sex, so the only thing stopping any game from becoming a success is gamers simply not liking the game.
Even still, Fahey argues with anecdotal evidence that some developers he knows have dampened their view of putting their games on Steam due to this “warped” community, writing…
“[…] it’s something I hear almost every week from developers in that position, developers whose starry-eyed view of Steam from only a few years ago has been replaced with absolute trepidation or even outright rejection of the idea of exposing themselves to the storefront’s warped excuse for a “community”.
The majority of excessively negative comments I see in the user review section, and in the discussion threads, usually spawn from a game being a scam, the developer abandoning the project half-way through Early Access, or some other kind of anti-consumer or game-breaking mechanic, such as the people who complained about games like Death Pirate , Zombies On A Plane or The WarZ, the latter of which was covered in expert detail by KnowYourMeme.
There’s also the groups that clutter around poor PC ports, with games like Tales of Symphonia getting lambasted for locked frame-rates and poor performance. Then there are groups like The Framerate Police forming in order to help warn or inform users about games that may either be broken or limited when ported to PC when it comes to frame-rate performance.
Fahey makes no distinction in his report which group of gamers he’s talking about, but we’re left to guess and assume based the lack of evidence provided in his piece.
Even still, if customers being proactive in pro-consumer activism are being labeled as “toxic”, then what sort of denigrating moniker should we apply to lazy journalists who publish fact-free hit-pieces without doing any due diligence while negatively generalizing their own community? I get the feeling that search engines wouldn’t be happy about the term I come up with, but it would likely be far more accurate than calling these individuals “game journalists”.
(Main image courtesy of iRage)