Your move, Epic Games Store
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 told The Verge 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’s point of view is that items have value and they don’t allow items that can have real-world value on their platform. While I respect their choice, I fundamentally believe that NFTs and blockchain games are the future. It’s why I started this journey with all of you.
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).
Valve didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
NFTs allow you to buy and sell ownership of unique digital items and keep track of who owns them using the blockchain. NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and it can technically contain anything digital, including drawings, animated GIFs, songs, or items in video games. An NFT can either be one-of-a-kind, like a real-life painting, or one copy of many, like trading cards, but the blockchain keeps track of who has ownership of the file.
NFTs have been making headlines lately, some selling for millions of dollars, with high-profile memes like Nyan Cat and the “deal with it” sunglasses being put up for auction. There’s also a lot of discussion about the massive electricity use and environmental impacts of NFTs. If you (understandably) still have questions, you can read through our NFT FAQ.
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.
Updated October 15th, 6:20PM ET: Updated with information from Epic that it’s open to blockchain-based games on its store.
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