Valve claims visuals novels are "not a great fit" for Halloween event
Too sexy for spooking in Naughty List News #85
Valve is reportedly planning a Halloween-themed event on Steam later this month and has been reaching out to developers to submit their games for review. Unfortunately, many developers have reported that their games are being rejected even when they are suitably spooky.
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What seems to unite these rejections is that many of them are visual novels with LGBTQIA+1 themes. I’ve reached out to several developers who suspect the gatekeepers at Valve are singling out their medium.
Too sexy for spooking
Cursed Lands is a dating sim by WinterWolves Games set in a fantasy world. A mysterious mist has spread over the land, carrying with it the smell of the undead. Assuming the role of the Empire’s Envoy, you assemble a strike team to investigate and deal with this evil invasion.
As you might expect, the game features combat against vampires, zombies, skeletons, and other spooky enemies, as well as many romance options. However, the game was deemed “not a great fit” for the upcoming Halloween event.
WinterWolves Games told me that they decided not to pursue the matter further with Valve and instead focus their time on their other upcoming titles.
Another title manually rejected by Valve for this upcoming Halloween event is Hanako Games’ vampire-raising sim Cute Bite, where you play as the ghoul butler of a vampire lord. After an accident kills your previous vampire master, you take it upon yourself to raise the “daughter” he kept locked away in his crypt as your new mistress. Unfortunately, this new mistress has been asleep without blood for so long that she’s lost her memory and reverted back to a child-sized form.
Valve unceremoniously rejected Cute Bite as being “not appropriate for a Halloween sale” without any further explanation.
Finally, Lunaris Games Studio Director Kris Wise wrote in an ambiguous call-out post that Steam is “acting suspicious when it comes to LGBTQ+ indie games”, possibly referring to their own game First Bite, an LGTBQIA+ visual novel about putting your destiny in the hands of three (sexy) centuries-old vampires.
Three games make a pattern. What’s going on here?
I contacted Georgina Bensley from Hanako Games over email, who was kind enough to provide their thoughts on being rejected from the upcoming Halloween event.
She told me that she was surprised at the rejection from Valve. Georgina said that while vampirism is inherently sexually suggestive due to the neck-biting and blood-drinking, “[Cute Bite is] really not a very sexed-up game.”
All the characters in the game are female, including all the love interests and the random NPCs found wandering around the town used for vampiric sustenance. Georgina says that while the term “lesbian” never comes up in her game, it is intended to be a yuri experience about women who love women.
Due to the child-sized form of the vampiric mistress for most of the game, the romance is very much downplayed. Only at the very end, if you’ve succeeded in getting her adult body back, does she tell her love interests that she’s a vampire and invites them to be a part of her life. Each love interest has one romantic CG, sometimes showing a kiss but never showing any nudity.
Georgina suspects Cute Bite was rejected for being an “indie, anime-styled, ‘cute’” visual novel rather than the game’s LGBTQIA+ content. She points out that Steam generally does not have a problem with “that sort of thing”, meaning LGBTQIA+ content in games, and that the site has had many LGBT-themed sales in the past.
Indeed, Steam’s most recent page for an LGTBQ+ Games Sale is still up, even if the featured games are no longer available at a steep discount.
If it’s not about the LGBTQIA+ content, what does Valve have against visual novels?
Recently, the visual novel CHAOS;HEAD NOAH kicked up quite a storm. Publisher Spike Chunsoft announced on September 30th that they would not be able to launch the game on Steam “due to [Valve]’s guideline-required changes to the game’s content.”
The publisher declined to launch the game on Steam if it meant making additional changes to the content. That would usually be the end of the story, but a grassroots campaign under the hashtag #SaveChaosHead forced Valve to reconsider.
Valve has now provided the following statement to Spike Chunsoft, which the publisher has printed in an update:
Valve's content review team, the group that made the original decision, has re-examined CHAOS;HEAD NOAH and decided to reverse course and allow the game to ship on Steam, as is. We've also examined the process that led to the previous decision about CHAOS;HEAD NOAH, and made some changes to avoid situations like this in the future.
I want to note here that it is highly unusual for Valve to reconsider a game after it has been rejected from Steam. One developer told me on background that after being rejected, they would rather change their game’s main character and upload it under a different name than try to appeal the decision with Valve.
While it is suspicious that many games with LGBTQIA+ themes have been rejected from this Halloween sales event, it’s more likely that they were rejected for being visual novels instead. I’ve written before about how the manual review process for adult games on Steam is incredibly arbitrary, and this debacle seems to meet expectations.
As the events surrounding CHAOS;HEAD NOAH show, Valve still has work to do to overcome institutional bias against visual novels as a genre. It should not take a concerted effort from fans to get a single game on the Steam store.
And what hope remains then for the games that have already been rejected for a Halloween sales event?
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Until next time!
I’m using the acronym LGBTQIA+ throughout this article, which covers people who consider themselves Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, or outside those boundaries. Some of the people I’m quoting use a different or shorter acronym, which does not imply they are less inclusive.