A disheartening piece of news has been floating around for the last few weeks that has now been all but confirmed: Steam will not allow crypto, blockchain, or NFT-based games on their platform. The question is, why?
Steam has become something of a central hub from gaming over the last couple of decades. There have been many occasions where my friends and I have scoffed at having to download any sort of imitation of Steam, typically by another publisher who only hosts games they have published. Nothing can rival Steam as a gaming platform and their sea of games is for all intents and purposes infinite. Its importance to the industry isn’t merely the number of games it has on its books or that it leads the way as a PC gaming platform, however. I would argue it’s more significant than that.
Why Is Steam Important To the Gaming Industry?
Steam may have started life with its popularity derived from being the central hub for many of the most successful games, but somewhere along the line its value pivoted to what it can do for indie developers. Steam enabled games of all sizes and genres to have a place they could market and host their content, making it accessible and discoverable to new players. That was an expensive problem to fix before Steam and outside of some lucky examples, indie developers struggled to find a way in front of the masses. Many of the success stories for smaller development teams that occurred were the result of creating mods for larger games. Now, a one-man band can make a game, put it on Steam, and if it’s good, reap the rewards.
What made and continues to make Steam such a great platform is its blend of noninvasive philosophy and the democracy that then put the world to order. That is, Steam accepts and hosts all manner of games indiscriminately, from first-person shooters through to adult games. This system works so well because through the reviews left by players on Steam game pages, an almost infallible process brings the good games to the top and lets the poor games fall away; a highly rated game is likely to be featured, shared, and bought by new players, whereas a game with a majority of negative reviews is less likely to be embraced.
Steam managed to give power to both the gamers and the indie developers without damaging the big players, and that’s part of why it’s such an important member of the gaming industry. However, when it leaves its post as nonpartisan and makes judgment calls above and beyond mere quality, it adds a filter that wasn’t needed. Whether that’s what has happened with blockchain games or not, is up for debate.
Why Has Steam Stopped Publishing Blockchain Games?
There have been rumblings of Steam stepping in and stopping blockchain games from joining the platform, even if the game meets all the required criteria. This has now been confirmed by Satoshi’s Games, developer of Light Nite, a third-person, multiplayer shooter that uses Bitcoin via the Lightning Network. In a press release last week, Founder and CEO at Satoshi’s wrote:
“NFTs and crypto games were allowed until a few weeks ago in Steam but sadly this apparently have changed. Steam has let us know that they will not be shipping crypto or NFTs games and they have retired the APP from the admin section. At this time, we do not even know how long the Store page will be up.“Carlos Roldan, Satoshi’s Games Inc.
Light Nite is not alone in still having their Steam page live, with other blockchain titles on the platform also visible, like Age of Rust, for example. Similarly, an ARPG we featured just last week, Mist, has been using their acceptance on Steam as a badge of authenticity for the project and will presumably be likely to lose that. It is here I believe the bone of contention might lie.
The decision to pull back from blockchain games and crypto might not be an aversion to the financial nature of the space. After all, they have an entire category for gambling games as well as games on investing. So, what has given Steam cold feet? Anything at this point is purely conjecture as even the developers of Light Nite do not know, but I think the most likely is discomfort around how Steam could be used.
Mist is not alone in using acceptance onto Steam as a way of legitimizing the project, and with a gaggle of scam and cash-grab projects popping up every day, Steam may be uneasy with being seen as complicit or enabling. If this is the reason, it’s hard to fault Steam, but such a holistic aversion to blockchain games will be unsustainable.
Steam’s policy change on blockchain gaming is unusual for the platform as they are ordinarily nonpartisan on gaming content where possible. While the knee-jerk reaction of the blockchain gaming and crypto enthusiasts appears to be that Steam, like many large corporations, just doesn’t like crypto, feels unlikely to me. I think the more likely result is a legal one that needs to be squared away before they open their doors to blockchain projects once again.
- Steam is no longer accepting blockchain games or games using NFTs or crypto.
- Blockchain games already on Steam remain and their store pages are still live, but for how long, we do not know.
- No official word on why, we speculate that it’s as a result of legal issues and/or legitimizing scam crypto projects.
Lead image as composite made using an image by RODNAE Productions, via PEXELS, and used under Creative Commons.