For years, Steam has existed as an unmoderated space on the internet. The digital video game store and platform allows its 125 million users to post to Steam forums, create their own community groups, and review games. But Valve, the company that operates Steam, almost never stepped in to enforce its own Community Guidelines. As a result, Steam is filled with hate groups and groups dedicated to worshipping school shooters. Now, Valve says it's taking steps to reign in the chaos.
Valve announced on Thursday that it would start taking more active steps to moderate Steam’s forums, beginning on September 25.
“Starting on Tuesday, when a discussion thread or post in your community is reported by a player, it will be added to a queue for our moderation team to review,” Valve explained in a blog post. “We’ll look at these reported posts (along with all other reported content we are already reviewing) and remove anything that violates our Community Guidelines. “
Every game released on Steam has its own forum, and moderation has traditionally fallen to the game developers. “In the past, we’ve been hesitant to get involved in the moderation of individual game discussions, as we didn’t want to step on the toes of game developers that want to have their own style of communication with players and their own set of guidelines for behavior,” Valve wrote in its blog post.
Most game companies, especially the larger ones, maintain their own private forums and Steam forums are often an afterthought. That laissez-faire attitude has made the Steam forums a hive of scum and villainy where harassment is common. “Over time, we’ve been hearing from more and more game developers that would actually prefer for us to take a more active role in discussion boards, at least to the extent of handling posts that are reported by other players,” Valve wrote.
Valve promised it wouldn’t actively monitor the forums, only look at what had been flagged, and noted that game developers will be able to opt out of the program. “If you do already have your own moderation staff, or want complete control over the reported content in your hub, you can opt out of this service by visiting the Steamworks settings for your game,” Valve wrote.
When a user flags a post in a group that's opted out of moderation, the system still pings moderators. “The reported posts would be listed in [the game developer’s] community hub’s ‘Reported Posts’ forum for the developer to review and moderate themselves,” Alden Kroll—Designer & Developer Outreach at Valve—told Motherboard in an email. “That can either be the developer of the game, or individuals that they specify as moderators of their community hub.”
Much of the most terrible content Motherboard has found on Steam didn't live on forums for to a specific game, but user created groups. “A Steam group can be reported, and those go into a queue for the Valve moderation team to review,” Kroll said. “We typically review those within 24 hours from the time they were reported. Discussion posts within a group are up to the group owners and group moderators to review and resolve. Groups are self-organized collections of people, and each group owner …have access to a suite of tools to manage the membership of their group and moderate content posted to their group.”
It’s good to see Valve taking positive steps towards moderating its content and communicating with both customers and game developers, but I doubt that this new policy will solve Steam's many problems.