Games and other applications that involve minting or trading cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens are no longer allowed on Steam.
The company behind Steam, Bellevue, Wash.-based Valve Software, quietly updated its content rules and guidelines for studio partners at some point in the last couple of months. They now specifically disallow programs “built on blockchain technology that issue or allow exchange of cryptocurrencies or NFTs.”
By the terms as listed, it should still be possible to publish a game on Steam that’s built on blockchain technology, as long as it doesn’t involve crypto/NFT trading. Other game-related applications for the blockchain, such as unique in-game objects keyed to a specific player, theoretically wouldn’t be prohibited by Valve’s new rule. Several blockchain-based games that don’t involve crypto or NFT trading, such as 8 Circuit Studios‘ Project Genesis, are still available on Steam at time of writing.
GeekWire has reached out to Steam for comment, and will update this article when and if the company responds.
Valve appears to have tried to sneak its new guideline under the industry’s general radar. It hasn’t yet announced the change in any public-facing way, and as noted by the Verge, some of its onboarding documentation for new publishing partners still doesn’t mention it.
Instead, the news broke through SpacePirate Games, the developers of Age of Rust, an indie game that had previously been scheduled for release on Steam later this year. Age of Rust is described on its official website as featuring “detailed puzzles, a new storyline, new destinations, and in-game treasure hunts for blockchain assets and currency,” with one hard-to-find in-game treasure that’s worth 20 Bitcoin ($1.22 million as of Oct. 16) to whoever finds it.
SpacePirate Games’ Age of Rust, a first-person puzzle/adventure game that’s been kicked off Steam, contains multiple blockchain-based financial rewards. (Spacepirate Games Image)
On Thursday, the official Age of Rust Twitter announced that it had been kicked off Steam, reportedly with very little warning. “Steam’s point of view is that items have value,” the Age of Rust developers wrote, “and they don’t allow items that can have real-world value on their platform.”
Steam had previously removed Light Nite, a “play to earn” multiplayer third-person shooter that rewarded in-game victories with tiny amounts of Bitcoin, on Sept. 30. Its developer, Satoshis Games, reported at the time that, as of a few weeks previous to the announcement, “Steam has let us know that they will not be shipping crypto or NFT games.”
There are a couple of other crypto/NFT-focused games that are still on Steam at time of writing, such as the infamous South Korean MMORPG Mir4, but it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last.
In Mir4, players who’ve reached level 40 can turn an in-game resource into a unique cryptocurrency called the “Draco.” That resource, Darksteel, has to be collected from rock seams, which means Mir4 is literally a “cryptocurrency miner.” That, in turn, may explain why it’s got a consistent pool of around 47,000 players despite bad reviews from both critics and users.
Without an official statement from Steam on the issue, it’s hard to guess what’s motivated its new anti-crypto/NFT rule. The reasoning given by SpacePirate Games, regarding “items that can have real-world value,” is bizarre on its face, as Steam itself features a marketplace where players can trade actual currency for in-game goods. Last year, an anonymous Chinese collector set a record by dropping $100,000 on a single cosmetic item in Valve’s first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
However, the Steam Marketplace has also hosted its share of scams and controversies. Multiple parties have filed suits against Valve over it, including the Quinault Nation in Washington State, which accused Valve in 2019 of using loot boxes in Counter-Strike as a form of illegal gambling.
Another problem arose in 2018, when an indie game called Abstractism managed to get all the way to release on Steam without anyone noticing it was a well-disguised cryptocurrency miner. Steam removed 170 other “troll games” later that year, many of which were reportedly scams meant to steal digital items out of Steam users’ inventories.
With that in mind, it may simply be that Valve is wary of getting into any more hot water, particularly given the current state of play in NFTs. Steam is already riddled with controversy at any given time just by virtue of being the biggest digital storefront for PC games.
Would-be crypto/NFT game developers aren’t entirely out of luck, however. Epic Games told the Verge on Oct. 15 that its digital storefront, the Epic Games Store, remains open to the idea of publishing games that support NFTs or cryptocurrency, albeit with significant restrictions and regulation. Epic itself, according to CEO Tim Sweeney, “isn’t touching NFTs.”