Mature Visual Novels are at Risk of Being Taken Down from Steam [Update]

A sudden content guideline change blindsided the visual novel community.

News by Matt Kim, .

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.

Original Story

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."

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.

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.

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Comments 8

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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #1 Fourfoldroot 5 months ago
    A disgusting thing to do to small devs. Absolutely nothing a mature rated visual novel depicts in terms of sexuality should ever be censored. They are bloody animated, fictional characters! Clearly someone has developed an extreme puritanical streak but not the guts to go after the big fish.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #2 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    Well, this is an industry where getting an AO rating effectively kills your game. I'm sure there's sites that collect such novelties, but it's necessarily Valve's duty to right that ship.

    It really sucks though that they told some of these devs that they'd be approved and then turned away from that. That doesn't look like a good business move no matter how you view it.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 5 months ago
    @Fourfoldroot That’s the most irksome thing for me of the whole mess, even beyond the censorship: Games like GTA 5 and the Witcher 3 also skirt the AO label, yet Valve isn’t going after them because they are so big. Meanwhile they don’t have a problem chastising smaller developers that produce niche games. It’s disgraceful.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #4 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    My understanding is Hunniepop's uncensored mode is unlocked by putting a blank file with a certain name in the data directory. This means the actual verboten artworks are delivered by Steam. That's similar to Hot Coffee and quite different than a user hacking a nude skin into DOA5 or Tomb Raider.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #5 link6616 5 months ago
    @UnskippableCutscene that actually makes sense for being problematic.

    And to echo above, I don't think it would have been problematic if valve had been denying these vns from going up on steam to start with, but going through an approval process only to suddenly have it change on them... Less great.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #6 CK20XX 5 months ago
    I deliberately avoid games like these because when you censor them, you lose the entire point of playing. There's never enough game left over to stand on its own.

    But the whiplash from this change makes me glad I've been migrating to GOG. Steam has become like Facebook; it's not a service you use because you love it, but a service you exploit and take advantage of until you find something better to fulfill your needs. Now I'm just waiting for the ultimate sign of Steam jumping the shark; these developers and their games fleeing to the Nintendo Switch.
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  • Avatar for AceOfCakez #7 AceOfCakez 5 months ago
    Am I the only one here that doesn't mind too much when things get censored? Usually when I see things get censored, they generally just add more clothing than its original version. Since I'm a person who cares more about gameplay than whether or not someone is in a bikini, I guess I don't mind too much. Like seriously, If I wanted to watch porn, I'd go watch porn.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #8 TernBird 5 months ago
    @AceOfCakez It's not so much the censorship that matters here (although I do agree, many gamers get way too angry about what they perceive to be "censorship"--they wouldn't know censorship if it hit 'em). It's that Valve had pulled a 180* on these devs out of absolutely nowhere, and put them in such a precarious position--all the while, imposing a double standard, seeing as other games with sexual content like GTAV or The Witcher III weren't even looked at.
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