Games that use blockchain technology or let users exchange NFTs or cryptocurrencies won’t be allowed on Steam, according to a rule added to Valve’s “What you shouldn’t publish on Steam” list. The change was pointed out by SpacePirate, a developer working on an NFT-based game, who said that the change was because the company doesn’t allow game items that could have real-world value. But Steam could also be avoiding controversy with the move.
Steam is one of the most well-known PC game stores, but it’s not the only one. While Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney has said that the company isn’t interested in touching NFTs, that policy doesn’t seem to apply to games in its store: Epic said that it’s “open” to the idea of games that use NFTs or cryptocurrencies in an email on Friday.
Looking at a Wayback Machine capture of Steam’s rule page from late August, there are only 12 rules and no mention of cryptocurrencies or NFTs. The new rule is also missing from other documents — it currently doesn’t show up on the Joining the Steamworks Distribution Program page.
Steam has a history of making controversial moderation decisions, especially when it comes to games with sexual content. In this case, though, it doesn’t seem like people are pressing F to pay respects to NFT games — a majority of the replies and quote tweets to SpacePirate’s tweets are praising Valve for the move (or mocking those that are upset about it).
It’s perhaps understandable why Steam would want to avoid having NFTs on its platform. Besides the justification cited by SpacePirate that they could have real-world value (which seems a bit weak, given the massive commercial communities around things like CS:GO skins and Team Fortress 2 hats), NFT and crypto-based games don’t have the best reputations. There’s the infamous Evolved Apes saga where a developer sold NFTs with the promise that they’d be included in a fighting game but then seemingly took the money and ran. There are some potentially interesting game concepts that use NFTs, but it’s hard to say how many of them would’ve been a good fit for Steam even if they were allowed.
Steam and Epic’s different approaches highlight the fact that any platform or store that moderates content will likely have to make a decision about whether it wants to allow apps or games to sell NFTs — one of the biggest question marks right now may be Apple and how it handles apps like OpenSea and Coinbase should they decide to start letting users buy the digital tokens.