Game marketing is about to become a little more honest: Valve announced that developers will no longer be able to include pre-rendered photos, concept art, or marketing images under the "screenshots" section of a title's Steam page. This content will still be available on a title's listing--Valve doesn't plan to stop companies from bragging about their accomplishments--but it will no longer be used to stand in for actual content from the game.
Valve's change in policy comes ahead of a planned change to Steam's discovery process. The company said this update is designed to show off "games in interesting new ways to customers prominently on the home page," which could sometimes include sharing in-game screenshots after people log in. Requiring developers to share legitimate screenshots (and to mark any screenshots as NSFW if they contain adult content) is the first step in that plan.
Here's how Valve explained the reasoning behind this change in its note to developers:
We haven't been super crisp on guidelines for screenshots in the past, so we'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some rules in this space. When the "screenshot" section of a store page is used for images other than screenshots that depict the game, it can make it harder for customers to understand what the product is that they're actually looking at. Additionally, we're going to start showing game screenshots in more places as described above, and these images need to be able to represent the game.
The company noted that even its own listings don't yet follow these guidelines. For Dota 2, the "screenshots" are really just concept art, and Valve called that out as an example of what developers shouldn't do with their own titles. (It also said that it's working to make Dota 2's listing comply with the rules.) Valve isn't calling out game developers so much as it's letting them know that the industry as a whole needs to be more open with its potential customers.
This is a well-known problem for game marketing. It can be hard to know exactly what to expect from a given title when the trailer doesn't show gameplay, the media doesn't have the opportunity to review it before its debut, and the "screenshots" on Steam aren't even from the game itself. Valve can't fix the first two issues, but it can at least make sure that Steam doesn't continue to be a part of the problem by addressing the last one.
The company originally informed developers about Discovery Update 2.0 in September. Then, on November 1, it reminded them about the update and said that it was "asking developers to take action" even though the update is "still a couple weeks away from going live." Valve did not say whether any developers who haven't updated their listings before the new discovery tools debut will have a grace period or how they'll be penalized for their inaction.