In the wake of recent complaints from developers and players about toxicity on Steam, Valve has decided to introduce further moderation features to the platform. Starting next Tuesday, players will be able to report discussion posts in "all game hubs on Steam".
In a blog post, Valve explained the company already moderated a wide range of content, such as "screenshots, artwork, guides, user profiles, community groups, and user reviews". But this is the first time Valve will look into moderating game discussions. Valve stated the reason for its previous reluctance to do this was because it "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 behaviour".
So how will this work in practice? Firstly, any player can report a community discussion thread or post. This will then be sent to Valve's moderation team, who will decide whether to remove a post, issue a warning, or even ban a user based on Steam's community guidelines.
Developers can, however, choose to opt their community out of the moderation system. While this technically gives developers greater choice, a part of me thinks the opt-out feature is a way for Valve to distance itself from accusations of censorship.
Valve explained the change was prompted by recent requests for improved moderation. A few weeks ago I investigated problems within the TF2 community on Steam, and indeed found both players and developers had been frustrated by the lack of tools available to report toxic behaviour in their communities. Users were particularly annoyed that toxic players could be banned from one game forum, only to reappear in another. The new moderation system should give developers more control over the discussions surrounding their games, and Valve's involvement could see users banned across the entire platform.
While this seems like a positive step towards healthy moderation, the system's success depends on Valve's willingness to spend resources on moderation. As reported by PC Gamer, last year the company only had 42 staff moderating a user base of over one hundred million people. But there's some good news in this regard: Valve revealed it's been expanding the moderation team "to keep up with the increasing number of game communities and the amount of content added to the Steam community". Only time will tell if this increase in manpower is sufficient.
This episode will inevitably raise questions about Valve's philosophy towards moderation. The company has recently been criticised for allowing nearly any game to be sold on the platform - including an uncensored hentai game. Does this episode signal a change in direction, or an attempt by Valve to placate people on both sides of the moderation debate?