In 2014, Valve introduced a feature to help the 125 million users on its digital storefront Steam sort through the daily glut of new video game releases. Steam Curators, as the feature is called, allows groups or individuals to create pages where they recommend games. Motherboard, for example, can create a Steam Curator page where we'd recommend games we think Motherboard readers would enjoy.
To promote this feature and introduce Steam users to new curators they might enjoy, Steam now features six curators on the front page of its store. On Tuesday, Joe Parlock, editor-in-chief of games website Let's Play Video Games, posted a screenshot that showed Steam was featuring a Curator on its front page named "dank memes for faggots."
I've reached out to Valve asking how this Curator ended up on the front page of the Steam Store, but have not heard back.
That the largest digital video game store in the world and the platform that has largely come to define the way video games are played on PCs put a homophobic slur on its front page is obviously not a great look, but perhaps inevitable given the size of Steam's user base, the amount of content users can create on Steam, and Valve's notoriously hands-off approach when it comes to moderation.
What Parlock saw on the front page is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to see some ugly stuff just search Steam curators with terms like "Nazi," "Jew," and "Trump" and this is the results you'll get:
I've also reached out to Valve asking why the Steam platform is filled with racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic curators, groups, and other content, but have not heard back.
The numbers to the right of the curator name shows how many followers each has. As you can see, they are all very low, so it's not like each curator has a large, active following of racists. It's more that there are a lot of racist "gag" groups, which is a common thing gamers have been doing on Steam. For example, the Waifu Hunter Steam Curator recommends games based on whether a game "has attractive anime ladies in it."
However, Steam also allows users to create "groups," communities formed around games, shared interests, etc. When I searched Steam Groups for "Nazi" I found groups that didn't seem like gags at all. The Steam group Nationalsozíalismus -Neo-Nazis-, for example, says it's a "Group for all Neo-Nazis and White Supermacists…Fuck jews. Fuck Blacks. Fuck Islam."
The group "┼NAZI," which has the SS logo as its Steam Group image but no details in its "About" section, has 104 members.
I would go through all of these examples if I could, but it would probably take me several weeks since searching Steam Groups for the term "Nazi" brings up 7,893 results. Searching for the n-word brings up 4,520 results.
When I searched Steam Groups for the term "white power" I found a group called "Power to Whites" that has 85 members. In its "About" section it says that "We are a group deticated to killing Jews, Crips, Gays and Blacks."
A link at the bottom of that section says "If you think this group is serious:" and links out to the WikiHow page about how to tie a noose.
The "Rules and Guidelines For Steam: Discussions, Reviews, and User Generated Content" clearly tell users they should not "flame or insult other members" and they can't post any content containing "racism" or "discrimination" but it appears that Valve is not able to enforce these guidelines.
This is not surprising given that Valve is known for its hands-off approach when it comes to Steam. We've previously reported on its lackluster customer service, and its ongoing attempts to get a handle on review bombing and the increasingly unwieldy Steam Store. Valve has previously said that it plans to hire more people to improve its customer service, but the improvements it announces often rely on new algorithms or the way its automated systems interface with the community.
Last we heard, Valve employs only around 360 people, who in addition to operating Steam also develop its games and do the kind of research and development that has resulted in SteamVR.
According to Steam's own documentation, "Various parts of the Steam Community are moderated by a combination of official Valve staff, community moderators, and representatives of the game developers and publishers."
It's not entirely clear how Valve is currently handling the giant task of moderating a community of at least 125 million users. But it's clear that it's failing.