Valve’s erotic game bans may be a result of local obscenity laws

Update, December 17: Valve’s Jane Ng says that recent bans may be due to Washington State obscenity laws.

An artist at Valve has suggested that the recent bans of several erotic games may partly be as a result of obscenity laws in Washington State. Screenshots of direct messages with Jane Ng, one of the artists working on Campo Santo’s In the Valley of the Gods. Those images,  via OneAngryGamer, provide some context around the removal of the titles from Steam.

Earlier this month, Kotaku reported that the Steam pages of several adult games, including ross Love, Hello Goodbye, MaoMao Discovery Team, and Imolicious, had been taken down. A common thread between those games is that they all feature characters who appear to be of high school age or below.

In a tweet, which you can see below, Ng is shown to say that “I do know that Washington state obscenity laws are broader than federal law,” and that game submission guidelines in the region specify that titles cannot feature any depiction of child exploitation of any kind.

Ng’s messages, which you can check out below, go into some extra detail about one of the titles in question, The Key to Home. She also says that there was a lack of clear policy in place, and that Valve has not communicated clearly with the developers affected by the removals.

Top Hat Studios, developers of Cross Love, shared the email they received from Steam on Twitter.

“While we can ship most titles on Steam, we found that this one does features themes of child exploitation,” it read. “Because of that, the app has been banned and cannot be reused.”

Top Hat went on to say they believe Cross Love is being targeted not because it has young-looking characters, but because it tells the story of a yaoi romance in which one partner is a cross-dressing male. Further, the studio says, it has taken pains to show in the story that both parties are at least 18 years old, going beyond the usual disclaimer card at the opening of the game.

Here’s the start of the thread:

Hello Goodbye’s publisher explained to Kotaku that the Steam version of the game was going to be censored so as to remove adult content.

Valve has been wrestling with how to handle sexual content on Steam for most of the year. Earlier in 2018, the company sent out letters to the publishers of numerous sex-themed visual novels, telling the developers they had two weeks to censor their games or be removed. After a short but intense protest, Valve relented and said it would not police content on Steam except in the cases of games that were “illegal, or straight up trolling.”

Read more: Developers say they’re losing confidence in Valve

As Valve and developers have found out since then, that’s not as clear a line as it initially sounds. While developers argue that their explanations of characters being 18+ are sufficient to make whatever they’re depicting legal, Valve doesn’t appear to agree and has opted not to publish certain games.

And as Kotaku notes, that’s Valve’s prerogative, since it owns the storefront. For these developers, there are always other options – some have gone to itch.io, while others have opted for more hentai-centric sites like Nutaku and Fakku. But the loss of the revenue potential in Steam’s large user-base will make it tougher for them to turn a profit.