Update: MangaGamer and several other visual novel developers announced over the weekend that Valve has contacted them and said that their games will no longer be de-listed by the end of the month. Instead, Valve will re-evalutate their games for content, meaning some visual novels might still be at risk.
Several visual novel publishers and developers are reporting that due to a sudden change in Steam's content guidelines and policies, their games are under threat of being removed from Valve's platform. Several visual novel makers have made public that Valve threatened to remove their games if they aren't altered to fit content guidelines by the end of the month.
Early this morning, MangaGamer published a blog post regarding its visual novel Kindred Spirits. The company writes, "Kindred Spirits, has also been targeted by Steam's sudden and abrupt content policy shift and has been threatened with removal if the content of the game is not modified."
Kindred Spirits on the Roof first made headlines as Steam's first "uncensored" visual novel. However, reviewers seemed to respond positively to the game's frank depiction of sexuality, with Kotaku even calling the game "pretty tame."
MangaGamer made it clear in their blogpost that the company "went to great pains to run the game's content by Valve representatives." This meant mangagamer sent "along every potentially questionable graphical asset along with advanced builds of the title-to ensure that the feeling was mutual."
In fact @Lupiesoft has been one of the strictest developers in terms of following Steam's guidelines, and absolutely nothing in Mutiny!! violates their guidelines. After our Steam publisher @MangaGamer met with Valve in person, they were told that ecchi content was fine on steam.— Lupiesoft (@Lupiesoft) May 18, 2018
John Pickett of MangaGamer told Motherboard that Kindred Spirits underwent a "vigorous" review by Valve's representatives, and "Valve spent several weeks reviewing the game to check the content and game MangaGamer its full approval and guarantee that it fell within Valve's content standards."
Other visual novel developers and makers have chimed in on the sudden policy change at Steam, which if anything, appears to have caught the VN community completely off guard. Lupiesoft, another visual novel developer working on a game called Mutiny!!, announced on Twitter that Mutiny!! has been flagged by Steam for "reports of pornographic content."
Like MangaGamer, Lupiesoft says that the developer "has been one of the strictest developers in terms of following Steam's guidelines, and absolutely nothing in Mutiny!! Violates their guidelines." Lupiesoft goes as far to call Steam's sudden policy change as a "nuclear option."
Christine Love, developer of the award winning visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind, also tweeted against Steam's sudden content changes. Love says, "Regardless of how you feel personally about the games affected, Valve pulling harmless content on a whim, with no consistency or policy, will absolutely have a chilling effect on small developers."
We've reached out to Valve for a comment on these recent developments, and are awaiting a response.
As of right now, none of my games have been affected by this. If in the future we are asked by a storefront to censor the content that was the reason players bought the game in the first place, we won’t do it. (Even if a game ends up delisted, if you own it, you can play it.)— Christine Love (@christinelove) May 18, 2018
In the meantime, there are some questions about the policy changes that visual novel developers bring up. Lupiesoft asks what Steam defines as pornography. "Every GTA game, every God of War, every Witcher game, and thousands more that have nude breasts. Reality is Mutiny!! Is appropriately labeled as having mature content in Steamworks, and our store page is as well."
We asked Valve if these policy changes will affect games beyond just visual novels. It's true that games like The Witcher have sexual themes and nudity, but there's been no such notice to alter their content. This has lead to some in the visual novel community to believe there is some double standard at play.
Likewise, there's a chance these changes will do harm to developers' livelihood. While it's true that Steam has a problem with shovelware games that are cheaply made and released to turn a quick buck, Lupiesoft says that the studio "spent tens of thousands making [Mutiny!!]" and that the studio paid their writers, artists, and musicians a fair rate for their labor.
Other visual novel devs apparently affected by the changes include the makers of HunniePop and Tropical Liquor, though according to reports many other visual novels have received similar warnings from Valve. A grassroots network of visual novel developers are currently trying to help each other find alternative store fronts for their games.