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What Is Trolling? Steam Cracks Down on Troll Games

(Image credit: Valve)

Anyone who's been online for more than a few hours knows the internet's full of trolls. It can be hard to define exactly what that means--usually it's someone posting inflammatory nonsense or deliberately annoying people--but the "I know it when I see it" rule generally applies here. But that didn't stop Valve from taking a stab at offering a more specific definition of what a troll is, at least as it applies to games sold via Steam.

Most people who make games do so because they want to inspire fun, make a statement, or otherwise engage with the medium as a creative outlet (and let's not forget that pretty much everyone is secretly hoping to ship the next Stardew Valley so they can bask in financial success). But some people release things on Steam because they want to get people to buy what can only nominally be called a "game" so they can make a quick buck. Valve considers the latter group to be trolls who disrespect the bond between developer and player.

Valve said in a blog post this week:

"On Steam, some are simply trying to rile people up with something we call 'a game shaped object' (ie: a crudely made piece of software that technically and just barely passes our bar as a functioning video game but isn't what 99.9 percent of folks would say is 'good'). Some trolls are trying to scam folks out of their Steam inventory items, others are looking for a way to generate a small amount of money off Steam through a series of schemes that revolve around how we let developers use Steam keys. Others are just trying to incite and sow discord."

At least from Valve's perspective, whether or not a developer is trolling Steam customers has little to do with the quality of their game and everything to do with their intent. Some developers just can't make quality games; that doesn't mean they're intentionally provoking any potential customers. It's like the difference between standing on a street corner and screaming "Despacito" at anyone who walks by and bombing at an open mic. Neither is very pleasant, but at least the person at the open mic was earnest in their intentions and in the right environment.

Valve offered up its definition of a troll game as part of a broader announcement regarding changes to how Steam displays titles. The company introduced several changes meant to make it easier to find or avoid games you don't want to see in the marketplace. Finding new games was improved by adding home pages for developers that show all of their works and by improving the Upcoming Games Lists "so they're much better at showing you upcoming games that you might be interested in, or upcoming extra content for a game you've been playing a bunch."

Hiding non-relevant content involved a few more updates. Valve will now require developers whose games feature violence or sexual content to explain why exactly they bear those content markers. There's a big gap between "game that features some nudity" and "literal porn" and offering in-depth descriptions can help curious shoppers figure out which is which. Two new content tags--Mature Content and Adults Only--will also make it easier to stop Steam from showing games that feature intense violence or sexually explicit content.

Valve also increased the number of tags you could say you aren't interested in from three to 10. The company also said it's made this a "harder filter," so Steam "now assumes you want to ignore all the games that feature any of those tags in their most popular tags, instead of just using them as suggestions to our recommendation engine." You can still find games with blocked tags via Steam's built-in search tool, however, so it's not like blocking the tags will prevent you from finding a game you already know you're interested in. That seems like a fair compromise.