In the wake of the recent flop that was Valve’s attempt to create a platform for paid game mods, you’d have thought that the company would be on its digital toes when it comes to being gamer-friendly. I have no interest in piling on Valve or the Steam platform, given what a great example of how game developers can make money in the digital age, but I was a bit surprised to learn that the company just announced it won’t be in charge of banning gamers from games any longer. Instead, it’s turning the keys to banning gamers over to the game developers themselves.
Because nobody likes playing with cheaters. Playing games should be fun. In order to ensure the best possible online multiplayer experience, Valve allows developers to implement their own systems that detect and permanently ban any disruptive players, such as those using cheats. Game developers inform Valve when a disruptive player has been detected in their game, and Valve applies the game ban to the account. The game developer is solely responsible for the decision to apply a game ban. Valve only enforces the game ban as instructed by the game developer. For more information about a game ban in a specific game, please contact the developer of that game.
Now, when anyone, including the Steam announcement above, talks about reasons to ban gamers from games, cheating is always brought up. And, indeed, nobody would be wrong to suggest that gamers cheating in online games reduce the fun-factor for the rest of the gaming community. Would it be better to exclude cheaters from games? Yes, no doubt. Is Valve’s announced plans above to turn the responsibility for banning games from its platform make for a good way to go about this? Hell no.
Why? Well, because giving that kind of control over to the game developers shifts the balance of power when it comes to being banned from games and the reasons why a player might be banned. The nice thing about Steam is that it has two sets of customers: both the gamers themselves and the game developers on its service. Therefore, when Steam is the one administering the ban-button, it essentially serves as an arbiter. It might be an imperfect arbiter, sure, but having all the power to ban customers from games residing in the hands of developers takes us from imperfect to completely broken. Whatever the developers say goes.
And developers haven’t always proven that they can be trusted with lesser forms of this power. Imagine Derek Smart in this scenario, no longer having the power to simply blanket-ban gamers from the Steam forums over negative reviews and comments, but now also being able to ban them from his games. Other developers have already attempted to ban players from their own single-player games over forum issues, so imagine what’s going to happen now that there is no “trying”, only “doing” when it comes to bans.
Steam made its mark by being fairly friendly to gamers in a myriad of ways. Giving this much power over bans to game developers is a step in the opposite direction. It would be a strange decision at any time, but now it seems particularly odd.