Steam’s Unfair Visual Novel Bans & Their Inconsistency
Steam is the most popular PC gaming storefront, holding a considerable portion of the platform’s gaming market. An attractive prospect for developers, but with a caveat: they know the game sales depend on them, so they don’t have to listen to publishers’ demands. And for visual novels and some adult-oriented titles (often those of Eastern origin), there’s a constant fear of facing Steam bans.
Before launch, Valve has to certify the game’s content, and that’s when the bans happen. Titles may include controversial elements, some of which can be political, sexual, or of some other nature. Steam has a considerably lax approach to curation most of the time, allowing very questionable titles such as asset flips and random erotic puzzle games to release on their platform. However, when it comes to games with sex, even major Japanese classics have suffered the fate of being unable to launch on Steam.
Once upon a time, no adult content was allowed on the store page, but this didn’t stop developers and publishers from having an All-Ages edition (as in, no sexual content) with an external patch. As such, the publisher would manage to retain significant sales while allowing players to enjoy the original content if they wanted. More titles were often testing the waters to see what could stick until, back in 2018, Valve decided to change its policy.
Valve opened a special section in the store dedicated to “Adults-Only” games. Steam would finally open the gates to more titles that explored sexual content, a promised oasis after years of companies’ trials and errors. Valve even went as far as saying the “Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don’t think should exist” and preaching about the right to have a voice.
However, years after this posture change, Steam’s process of selecting what can be published and what will be permanently banned still feels alien. There’s a staggering variety, with several titles having unapologetically disturbing and potentially offensive content. This apparent lack of limits makes the unspoken rules of bans even harder to grasp.
I don’t think anyone’s particularly sad about missing out on D:\HENTAI\Anime\Japan\Memes\Shooter, Hentai Story Purple, and some other small unpolished-looking titles. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the only kind of game that suffers with their decisions. Quality titles such as Meteor World Actor, Evenicle II, Amatsutsumi, and Abaddon: Princess of the Decay, weren’t allowed on the store page.
Even one of the most classic visual novels of all time, Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, was denied Steam entrance. Not only was it published on the JAST Store, but the game is currently available on GOG, a much more restrictive and carefully curated storefront. While this partnership and GOG opening its doors to adult games is a welcome opportunity for these publishers, the reality is that JAST has lost a fundamental pillar of sales as many gamers will not look for these alternate storefronts.
Even though the JAST Store and GOG are DRM-free platforms and allow for regional pricing – a sometimes necessary perk of Steam for gamers outside the US, their market share is much smaller. The result is an unfortunate reality in which publishers and developers of this sort of content live in constant fear of Valve’s unclear rules biting them in the ass. What seems like a dice roll may mean the kamige you’ve been waiting for is never coming to Steam.
I still remember back when Heliodor’s Meteor World Actor was banned. I didn’t know about the game, but it looked fantastic from what I could gather from the opening video. Its rejection consumed my thoughts for months until Shiravune announced the Johren release. I reviewed the game, and it’s honestly a world I love too much and want to see more of. Even though I didn’t know it yet, the ban left a hole in my chest that the official release managed to fill. I shudder at the thought they could have simply canceled it.
Years later, Shiravune published the sequel, Meteor World Actor: Badge & Dagger… and it’s on Steam now. Simply put, as someone who played the original, let me tell you: there was never anything wrong with the game in the first place. While you may come up with good arguments to reject titles such as Camp Buddy (main characters look like minors) or Full Metal Daemon Muramasa (a lot of non-consensual things, it gets messy), MWA would be perfectly fine.
JAST even made a streamable version of Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, and Steam still rejected that censored version. At the moment, they’re doing their best to make sure the BL game Slow Damage gets a Steam release, and that must be an excruciating process for their team. There’s too much weight here, as even a minor mistake might mean losing too much. A simple dialogue could fix this, but as far as previous records go, it seems there isn’t enough feedback or an opportunity to correct things.
Just a few months ago, we also had another interesting case that exemplifies the weird situation of the Steam rules. In June, the To Heart 2: Dungeon Travelers 2 assets appeared on SteamDB, indicating the game suffered a ban. We haven’t had an official announcement of a Steam release of the RPG, but the mind-boggling part is that the game was published on Vita and has an ESRB rating. Even if the PC version were supposed to restore censored parts, this is a game that should have had a chance for release.
Recently, SteamDB registered a movement on the Chaos;Head NoaH page that suggests Valve may have denied its release. Official sources haven’t confirmed this, so take this information with a grain of salt. However, if they banned the game and there is no reversal of the case, this is the biggest blunder in their lengthy case of inconsistency.
Chaos;Head is the first game in one of the most popular visual novel franchises: the Science Adventure series. Other titles that came after include the popular Steins;Gate, Chaos;Child and Robotics;Notes, all of which are available on Steam. Chaos;Head, however, had a troubling history that made it a supposedly “impossible release,” but here we are with the game on the brink of coming over.
Potential motivations for the ban would likely come from the school-age of the characters accompanied by Takumi’s erotic visions. A big part of the game is his tampering with the reality around him by delving into delusions. On one side, there are happy ones which can go horny (a natural aspect of his teenage hormones). On the other hand, negative ones can make him wary of people, inducing paranoia and some visceral descriptions of death.
As with other games in the series, it isn’t even attempting to go beyond the tape of “adults-only” sexual content. Curiously, the title is coming over on Switch in a double pack with Chaos;Child. That means it’ll be rated by ESRB, likely getting an M due to the serious content, which shouldn’t be an issue for Steam. Hopefully, the whole situation isn’t as serious as it looks, or Valve is open to negotiations with Spike Chunsoft.
Still, no matter if the game was really banned or not, Steam’s situation of inconsistent evaluation remains. The current scenario is one of the adults-only publishers living in fear, players missing out on great titles, and an apparent lack of proper dialogue.
I don’t have a solution for this matter, but I hope this piece helped inform some of you readers about what’s going on, so you may pay attention to the bans and the gems that struggle with finding a storefront that properly considers their value.
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